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Women’s progress in the law profession has been steady, and it will continue to accelerate. Today, more than half of the first-year students at law schools nationwide are women, and at large firms, females typically constitute 40 percent of all associates and 30 percent of all attorneys — far more than just 20 years ago. The increase of female lawyers in a traditionally male-dominated profession does not come without challenges. Let’s face it: Men and women are different. However, with one in every three lawyers being a woman these days, firms that address the needs of their female practitioners will reap the rewards of greater productivity, increased loyalty and better retention of a key asset: women lawyers. First, let’s address marketing. Firms must make woman-focused marketing a priority. In addition to the annual golf tournament, offer marketing events that some women will find more to their liking. A day at the spa, an elegant evening of dinner and wine-tasting, and child-friendly events may pique the interest of some female executives more than a night out at the ballgame. This may sound trivial, but it’s essential to think of women when ordering the firm’s marketing giveaways. Second, one of the most important things firms can do to keep women on even footing with the men is to provide for fair allocation of work that allows them the same opportunities for exposure to clients and cases that the men have — allowing them to compete on a level playing field. Accomplishing this takes strong leadership on the part of the firm, especially at the practice area level. It also requires that practice area leadership knows what everyone is doing and who needs more (or less) of what kind of work to keep the balance in place. Some men find working with other men more comfortable than working with women. However, without a standard work allocation system in place and constant communication within the firm, women at all levels may tend to get less high-profile work and less desirable clients. Third, firms need to support the development of the “good ol’ gal” network. Women lawyers who are just getting their feet wet need strong women mentors to train them in the ways of the profession. Firms should establish programs in which women who have been down that road — who have had children, who have struggled with the challenges of developing a career in a male-dominated profession — serve as mentors for the up-and-coming women lawyers. Consider hosting regular meetings of the women in the firm to address some of the challenges that are unique to being a female practitioner. This can be easily parlayed into the outside world so that the women in your firm can network with female business owners and community leaders. THE BABY ISSUE Finally, an issue for women that men never will face is giving birth. With the number of women lawyers on the rise, firms must be prepared to effectively address this issue. If flexible working arrangements are not already a part of, or being considered at, your firm, the topic probably should become a top priority. Many firms are being faced with the dilemma of how to handle requests for part-time hours with part-time billable goals, telecommuting and other issues related to women becoming mothers and needing more time at home. For those moms who decide to come back to work, firms need to be sensitive and assist in making the transition as easy as possible. Provide assistance in locating quality childcare, initially allow the new moms reduced hours and provide a private lounge for nursing moms. Some firms provide a database where, at the touch of button, parents can find information on everything from summer camp referrals to birthday party ideas. In addition, setting up a working parents group to discuss the obstacles they face can be helpful. It provides a great support network for all working parents, but especially for moms. As the number of women lawyers increases, more and more institutional clients are demanding that minority and women lawyers be part of their client team. Firms must take the initiative in retaining the women lawyers they have spent so much time and effort recruiting and training. Of course, the bottom line is that it’s not all up to the firm. Women must recognize their own responsibility for finding their path to success. Women need to embrace their own power and feel comfortable openly discussing the issues at hand. Patricia A. Nolan is a partner in the trial department at the Dallas office of Thompson & Knight.

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