Megan Belcher, Vice President and Chief Employment Counsel, ConAgra Foods, Inc. and Co-Recipient of the Sharing the Power Award
Megan Belcher, Vice President and Chief Employment Counsel, ConAgra Foods, Inc. and Co-Recipient of the Sharing the Power Award

In 2012, Megan Belcher, VP and Chief Employment Counsel at ConAgra Foods, Inc. and Nicky Jatana, partner at the Los Angeles, California office of Jackson Lewis, LLP won the Sharing the Power award at the Transformative Leadership Awards. The award is presented jointly to “a women general counsel or senior leader in a law department and a female partner at a law firm who have collaborated to increase the economic empowerment of one or more female partners in that firm.” The work that Belcher did, as in-house counsel, to share the power with outside counsel, promoting female empowerment, was noted by the TLA awards committee. I recently spoke to her co-recipient, Nicky Jatana, about the concepts of sharing the power and female empowerment.

Jatana said she was honored to receive the award and it is clear that she understands the concept of sharing the power. When I spoke with her recently, she stated that award meant a great deal to her, but instead of focusing on her own accomplishment, she emphasized her message to female attorneys: “Be yourself, be who you are, and remember that relationships are important; they can be significant in ways you would not have envisioned at first.”

And this theme of relationships carried through the entire interview. Jatana, who received her undergrad degree from Rutgers and, after a time as a paralegal, her law degree from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California, found relationships to be important early on in her career. At her first job, working for Porter Scott, Jatana worked for the only woman partner in the firm and that was exciting for her to see. When she came to Jackson Lewis, she saw that there were many female partners, and she has been pleased to see that number increasing in the past 14 years.

But she did recount stories that illustrated how different the landscape was when she started practicing law 15 years ago. She recalled how, early on, she would walk into a deposition and, based on her gender, she would be asked, “Are you the court reporter or a witness?” But, she told me, she has not heard of that happening in quite a while, demonstrating how things have changed in the profession.

One of the clearest ways to measure the success of any law firm attorney is her book of business. Jatana said that female general counsel can definitely help empower female attorneys in private practice by sending business their way, but she also stated that matters of business development and dollars are not the only way that women can share the power. She talked about how women can help other women navigate paths on the corporate side, help them look out for opportunities, aid with networking and the sharing and development of ideas. Jatana recently attended Jackson Lewis’ annual women’s employment conference, and she said it was a great opportunity to network with other women and generate ideas.

While women have come a long way in the field, Jatana stated that the journey for female attorneys is not over. She hopes to see the number of female general counsel in Fortune 500 companies increase soon, but she says that she feels lucky to be practicing law now, rather than 25 years ago, when female attorneys faced more challenges.

“Sharing the power” will be one of many topics discussed at the upcoming Women, Influence & Power in Law Conference. Occurring Oct. 2-4 at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, DC, the event will represent a unique opportunity for female attorneys at law firms to network with general counsel and build their connections. At the event, Jatana will be speaking on opinions coming from the National Labor Relations Board, covering, among other topics, issues related to electronic and social media the employers must consider. And, at the same time, you can be that Jatana will be working to build more relationships, and letting women – and men – in the field know, that being yourself is perhaps the most important piece of advice she can give.