Kelly Ann Cartwright

Currently, there are only 108 women general counsels in the Fortune 500, representing a mere 21 percent of the total. While that number is disappointingly low, it is clear that it will not stay at that level forever. There are a number of highly successful female inside counsel who have made a point to “share the power,” sending business to female outside counsel. 

One woman who knows something about this movement is Kelly-Ann Cartwright, executive partner of Holland & Knight’s Miami office. Cartwright specializes in the area of labor and employment law, and received a Transformative Leadership Award from InsideCounsel magazine in 2011. 

In the legal profession, what matters most is an attorney’s book of business. Therefore, when female inside counsel can send business to female outside counsel, that goes a long way toward sharing the power. Cartwright agrees. “I think that GCs can open the doors for women in private practice by acting as a mentor, giving them work, and giving them a seat at the table,” she said. “They should also hold their outside legal counsel accountable by monitoring the diversity of client teams. Teri McClure, GC of UPS, which is a Holland & Knight client, sets a fine example in all of these areas.”

Cartwright points out that gender disparity is as prevalent in private practice as it is in corporate law, citing the fact that the gap becomes even wider when you consider equity partnerships. She is proud, however, of the success she has seen in young female associates at Holland & Knight. They have built their careers, become partners and have their own clients and their own chances to share the power.

She also sees a great deal of value in mentoring. “Most achievements in life are not accomplished without the help and mentorship of others,” Cartwright said. “Mentoring is important for all young lawyers to succeed and it’s important for women lawyers to have both female and male mentors. I attribute much of my success to having strong mentors.”

In recent years, Cartwright has seen policies change to benefit female attorneys. She cited maternity leave policies as one example of increased support for work-life balance (which, she points out, is an issue for males in the field as well). She seems women gaining more representation on law firm executive committees and becoming practice group leaders.

She sees a bright future for women in the field. “As the numbers of women in law firm management and as in-house counsel increase, the opportunities for women in the law should also increase and the challenges they face should decrease,” Cartwright said.

Returning to the idea of women who work in-house sending business to women in private practice, Cartwright notes that the number of female general counsel has increased in recent years, and this gives more opportunities for them to send business to female outside counsel. But this will lead to women in private practice getting bigger books of business, which will lead them to more leadership positions, like executive committees and being practice group leaders.

An upcoming event, Women Influence & Power in Law, will provide a unique opportunity for female outside counsel to connect to female inside counsel. The event runs from October 2-4 and will be held in the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC.