On Monday night the organization had its soft open at the New York offices of Davis Wright Tremaine, barely seven months after its initial conception as a vehicle for connecting female entrepreneurs with female legal executives.
Dozens of female entrepreneurs, in-house counsel and industry leaders gathered to network and learn what the initiative was all about, what the platform could do for them, and what they could give back.
The group was created to address a problem that many knew existed but few had tried to solve: how to create the equivalent of an old boys club for women.
Founder Breen Sullivan and co-founders Aparna Srinivasan and Sarah Feingold wanted to create a medium that helped a female client base get the advantages, through networking, mentorship and guidance, that they believe many men have been receiving for decades.
It works like this: After receiving membership to the group, female entrepreneurs or co-founders of a pre-Series B companies are connected with female in-house counsel with at least eight years of experience through a curated networking event. The attorneys provide advice and guidance on how to expand and grow the company. Should the company take off, the lawyer would then potentially sit on the advisory board or have another influential role in the growth of the business, helping both parties.
Feingold said last week that the group had already fielded more than 200 applications from 10 U.S. cities and three countries.
Lynn Loacker, partner-in-charge at Davis Wright Tremaine, met Sullivan through a common interest in helping empower women professionals. Loacker founded Project W, which sponsors and organizes meet-ups, pitch sessions and other events to help women entrepreneurs build their networks, access funding and develop scalable and successful businesses, according to the firm’s website.
Project W is also an early sponsor of The Fourth Floor, along with Dentons, McCarter & English and KPMG, among other partners.
“Breen’s idea of engaging in-house lawyers is a great idea and a great resource that I don’t think has been tapped,” said Loacker, who was responsible for bringing Monday’s Fourth Floor event to Davis Wright’s offices.
Sullivan, who is the chief administrative officer and general counsel at Watermark, said that most of the in-house lawyers she knows think of themselves as “business executives first and lawyers second.”
Sullivan said the name “The Fourth Floor” was inspired by the sense of professional achievement and the ability to help others that comes with entering your 40s.
The startup company founders attending the event were enthusiastic about getting strong advice from accomplished women lawyers, but also about helping to get more women on corporate boards.
Caroline McCaffrey, a former general counsel at Clarifai Inc. and founder of ClearOPS, said it has been very difficult to find a “truly independent” board member and that she would like to be able to put as many women as she can on her board. She said that The Fourth Floor is giving her the opportunity to meet the right people to fill the open seat.
Suzanne Sinatra, founder of personal care company Private Packs, said she had not even thought of having a lawyer on her board. But after hearing what sort of expertise and experience in-house counsel can bring to the table, she said she wants her first board member to be an attorney.
“It’s important we have more women running companies,” Loacker said. “Change starts from the top, and if we have more women running companies, there will be more women on boards, there will be parity in pay and promotion. It rolls forward.”