The editorial staff of The Legal has always been aware that the hiring and retention of female attorneys is an ongoing issue in the legal community. In an effort to discuss some of the specific problems facing female attorneys and present potential solutions to those problems, we invited 11 practitioners to talk about how to bolster the role of women in the law. Previous roundtable discussions have dealt with the issues, but this year we asked our panelists to place a heavy emphasis on what can be done to turn the tide.
Roberta Liebenberg of Fine, Kaplan and Black served as moderator for the discussion. The transcript has been edited, and excerpts follow:
LIEBENBERG: To set the stage a little bit, women have been graduating from law school and entering the profession, at nearly the same rate as men, for the past two decades. However, women comprise just 15 percent of law firm equity partners, and that number has remained static for a number of years. In addition, in comparison to their male counterparts, women are grossly under-represented in positions of power and influence, they lag behind in compensation and they leave law firms in higher numbers. And despite decades’ worth of programs and years of effort, law firms are not making the type of progress that we would expect or we’d like to see. So, I would like to hear from you some specific solutions as to what lawyers and law firms, what steps can they take to make sure that women lawyers across all stages of their career, from associate to partner, advance and succeed.
TORIAN: We have three great programs and the numbers show they’re working … two of which focus on women exclusively, one of which is for all associates. The first program is called Careers. That is a competency-based program. I brought the little wheel here that actually is given to associates when they start their first year, and it takes them through each stage of their career and helps them focus on and learn the competencies that they need to make partner. And so we have business development, client relationships, leadership and so on. And so your first year, you’ll start out just sort of learning the subject matter. And then you go on, and … three years out you’ll go to another level. And this is staged in levels. So, it takes you through seven or eight years. And each stage gives you a little more depth of each competency.
The other program we have is called WINRS, which is women in Reed Smith. And that’s a program for associates and for partners that focuses on helping women who want to become partners in the firm and are teamed up with another woman. So, you have a female mentor. And it’s a voluntary program, because assigned mentors doesn’t always work. So, people have to say, ‘Yes, I want to mentor someone.’ And that program works, again, through all the stages of someone’s career.
The third program is a little more informal, but it’s very targeted, it’s called Pipeline. It is very specific, so that if you are a fifth-year or higher as an associate, and you express a desire to become a partner, which we know not everybody wants to do, but say that you want to, and you’d like help on particular areas, then one or two people in the firm will mentor you on specific areas that you need to focus on. It may be business development, it may be leadership, it may be client relations, but you will get … they call it doubling down, on mentoring. You get really focused attention. In addition, in WINRS and in Pipeline, there are seminars that are given for women associates, and the seminars focus on some of the competencies and the careers programs, but also on issues that are special for women. So, we have those three programs, and our numbers are good.
LIEBENBERG: Three great ideas.
BANKS: At Stradley, we’ve tried a goodly number of things. Right now what we’re doing is we have a luncheon series. And what we’re trying to figure out is really, what do our associates want? Quite often, it’s been driven by the partners, and we don’t find that that’s necessarily successful, because we do have that generational diversity that folks are talking about, and people want to do it differently than a lot of the partners did things. The simple fact of the matter, and sort of elephant in the room that people don’t talk about quite often, is the child-rearing issue. People don’t wait anymore until they’re a partner. In the old days, you might wait until you were a partner … that doesn’t happen. So, as I listen to you talk, I wondered when we talk about the competencies, and we talk about the stages when a woman is pulled off of the track, the stages, it just seems to present —
LIEBENBERG: Or what steps are you taking —
BANKS: To pull them back in. Right.
TORIAN: Well, there’s actually a woman who is doing some litigation for me now and is exactly in that situation. She’s had two children since she’s been at the firm, and each time that she comes back, she is partnered with another mentor to work with her and to help her … figure out how to do things. Now that she’s had the second child, she has more of a challenge. She and I have actually talked about it and how to work through it. I’m seeing to it that she … has enough hours, and I know that I’m there to give her the advice that she needs. And we have a couple of other women who have had two children who are senior-level associates. And each time they come back, we reintegrate them, focus on them in terms of their hours, and so on.
WINKELMAN: To me, this issue of accommodating mothers in law firms is key to women’s success. And I don’t mean to exclude accommodating fathers, because I think that’s important. But I think mothering presents a special and unique set of issues. I started at Schnader … 23 years ago. I had my first daughter when I was in law school, and I started on a part-time basis, and I worked part-time for many years. I became a partner working part-time. Part-time has kind of morphed into flex-time. From my personal experience, giving women flexibility, some women, some moms want to come back and work full-time, and that works for them. And that’s terrific. And some want to come back and work reduced hours or some period of time, or … depending on the circumstance, for a longer period of time. To me, that is really key. That firms have really strong, committed, reduced-hours schedules where women can advance even on reduced hours.
LIEBENBERG: I think that’s key, because I want to push back a little bit, because 96 percent of all law firms have part-time. And only 6 percent of lawyers take advantage of those policies. And 75 percent of them are women. And just so that you know, for the first time last year, the percentage of all lawyers taking part-time decreased. So, I think one of the keys that I’d like to hear … how are we going to de-stigmatize part-time and flex-time? Because until it’s a policy that’s used by all lawyers, you’re going to still see this issue of people not wanting to take it.
MARKOVICH: I come from a smaller firm, a boutique firm. So, obviously, our structure is very different from the bigger firms, and we do not necessarily have the same structured programs that bigger firms offer to their associates and their female partners. At the same time, we do encourage women to advance, very much so. In fact, before I became a shareholder in my firm, I had a child as an associate, and I never stopped working full-time. But what I would like to comment on specifically in this day and age is the availability of technology, which allows us to be very flexible, obviously within reason.
I think our clients expect us to be in their office during what I would call regular business hours. However, I think we can structure our schedule so that if we work in the office during regular business hours and then we go home, we can still have dinner with our families. We can still see our children before they go to bed, and then continue working. And then the sky is the limit of course. But we have the iPads and we have remote access and BlackBerrys, and I really think that makes a huge difference in the way that lawyers practice now, just compared to the way it was practiced when I started my practice. The other thing I really want to comment on is that in addition to accommodating women, in particular younger female lawyers when they’re starting a family, I think law firms and female lawyers themselves have to focus on what’s the next step. And to me, the next step is obviously business development. And you can offer female lawyers part-time, flex-time options … they will never reach the position of leadership and power unless they are also focusing on developing their own practice and developing their own clients. And to me that is really key.
ADAMS: If I can jump in. I’d like to discuss a little bit about Ogletree Deakins’ reduced-hour program. We have nationally 613 lawyers. Out of those 613 lawyers, 55 of them are actually on a part-time basis. And 47 out of the 55 are actually women. And I think it’s really key that law firms support flexible hours, the ability for women to be able to practice, have a viable practice, as well as have a rewarding and succinct family life, that makes sense for the family. It starts at a partnership level. Whoever is giving the work, you need to assure that those women who are practicing part-time and having to juggle are still getting meaningful and thoughtful work, challenging work, work that is considered important to the firm, work that involves the biggest clients of the firm.
The second thing is in terms of technology, getting back on what Inez was talking about, is partners and persons who are controlled at work need to embrace technology. You have to embrace technology. You have to be able to say to yourself, someone is going to be out, she’s not going to be giving me the face-time that … I used to have 20 years ago, but I’m still going to have access to her through another remote channel. And I’m still going to be getting the same amount of quality work, it just might be through electronic means. And you have to be receptive to that at a higher level where the work is meaningful to them, and then they will get the visibility that they need.
AUSTIN: I think that definitely is a stigma. I don’t know if it’s so much something that we put on ourselves or something that’s out there, but I had a child a year ago and I ended up, when I was six months pregnant, coming into work and then unexpectedly leaving for the next three months. And I worked very hard from home. I took court conferences from home. I participated as much as I could. And even when I came back now, I do exactly what you say. I’m still full-time, but I come in a little earlier, and I’m able to catch a 5:00 train home, help my child, have dinner, and then I’m back on email from 8:00 to 11:00 or so. And I feel that I am doing all that I can. I hope that that’s appreciated by my employer, and I believe it is. But one thing that struck me a couple of weeks ago … I’m in the litigation department, and there was something that required me to stay at work late, which I’m always willing to do. And it struck me that the partner that I was working for thanked me repeatedly for staying. And I wonder sometimes if it is lost on people that we still recognize that we have a job, and we’re willing to do everything that we need to do to do that job successfully and you don’t have to thank us for that. But also recognize if we’re not in the office, it’s because we believe that we can do the work effectively from home.
DeFOREST: I think another important thing to do is to remember to encourage and not punish part-time work, and that’s really been highlighted some in our discussion thus far. But to show, for the women who want to stay on the partnership track, that there is a way to do that through part-time work. And that is by both rewarding people by giving them partnership when it’s deserved, even if they are part-time or part-time has been a part of their work in the past. And I think it’s also honoring people in recognizing when they choose to go part-time and have a reduced-hour schedule, in giving them assignments that actually fit within those reduced hours and not giving them assignments that are for a full-time person and then really restricting them from allowing them to really do their job in a successful way. Because by giving them too many assignments, they’re just not able to do that in a part-time schedule. And I’ve heard from other women that sometimes that happens. They work part-time, but yet they receive full-time work. And it doesn’t work.
ELDERKIN: I’d like to go back to the business development aspect of it. I do have two grown children in their 20s, so I survived. I think, first of all, it is important to address this not as a woman’s problem. I work with a lot of young men who are raising families, and they want to get home and see their kids in the evening every bit as much as a female does. So, it’s not just that. And I remember being at that stage myself. I never did work part-time in a law firm when I was raising my children, but I still did have flexible hours, which was so important. I’d leave at 4:30 to go home and have dinner with my family, and then work into the wee hours of the night. But it was all I could do at the time to … do the best of my work and do the best parenting. And I wasn’t paying attention to business development. And I think it’s a hard time in your life when you’re raising your kids and also trying to work at a top level. And that was a mistake I made, and I think it’s a mistake a lot of young people make because you’re so stressed at that stage in your life. And I think what we can do is to mentor people about how important that is. And the only person who can really take responsibility for your own business development is yourself.
LIEBENBERG: So, what are some of your strategies in terms of how someone can build a book of business?
WINKELMAN: It’s so hard. Everybody’s practice is different. Our clients are nationwide. I wish they were here in Philly. I wish I could say I can go to a kid’s soccer game and maybe meet somebody on the sidelines. It doesn’t happen for me, and I suspect for a lot of you that’s the case as well. In my experience, it’s relationship building. And you can’t start that when your kids are finally in high school. You have to start that from day one. You have to find the time to do it. I work with young lawyers in my office and we have our own little marketing group just in our office. It’s not even firmwide. You know, we’re just a little small pond from a big firm. And we’re working together. We’re all identifying opportunities. And we have a plan amongst us. So, if young lawyers don’t have that access to more senior lawyers in their office who will help them in that regard, I think they should find it. Make it happen.
LIEBENBERG: I just want to, again, talk about some of the implicit and unconscious biases that we know do affect women in terms of having access to important colleagues with whom they can network. It sounds like some law firms are instituting some formal and other type of programs to really mentor and sponsor young lawyers. What do you think the role of the law firm is? To make sure that that happens and to combat some of these unconscious biases that we know exist.
MARKOVICH: I practice in a smaller environment, and our programs are somewhat different, like I said, less structure than the big firms’ programs, and yet we do place great emphasis on encouraging, and I would even say empowering, our associates, both male and female, to start networking very early on in their careers. It’s never too soon to start networking. And from my personal experience, I have to say that I was fortunate enough that I joined this firm when I was a relatively young attorney coming from a large law firm setting. And this firm is very entrepreneurial, and that really encouraged me to develop … the entrepreneurial side of my personality and really build on that and start networking early on.
We emphasize the importance of developing relationships … and relationships can come in any setting. You can develop a great relationship with someone in your kid’s preschool, or it can be somebody you went to law school or college with. We always emphasize with our associates that you can’t wait until the people you went to law school with become general counsel at some major Fortune 500 corporation. You really have to nourish those relationships right after you graduate and while you’re still friends, and while you’re still in touch with these people.
I think traditionally, women have — whether they’re right or wrong — shied away from the rainmaking functions in their firms. And I think that may be more true for larger firms where they felt like they could really succeed and advance in what’s known as a service partner role, and also focusing on other administrative aspects of … running a large law firm, like firing and retention, training, other aspects, which are all very important. But what happened, I think, over the years was … women have contributed very much to the firm’s success, but they did not develop their own network.
LIEBENBERG: We have two lawyers from plaintiffs firms and I think it would be interesting to get that perspective in terms of developing business when you’re on the plaintiff side. Is there a difference?
HOMOLASH: Yes and no. Prior to practicing at personal injury plaintiffs firm, I worked for a commercial litigation firm, and I was lucky that the managing partner, he was a great mentor, actually, and taught us from day one how to develop a book of business, how to do pitches, how to get out there, develop relationships. I was able to secure business at a very young age while I was there. Switching over to a personal injury firm was a little different. You just get your book of business differently. But it’s all self-promotion. A lot of women shy away from that. Men are always promoting themselves when they’re out there. They are the best of the best. When they talk to you, they will make your case the best case in the world. Women are afraid to do that … and we don’t have to be. When I went to Villanova, there were over 50 percent of women in my graduating class. And I look at the number of women, and my friends, my close personal friends, who are no longer practicing, and I ask myself, why did these intelligent women leave the profession? They had so much to offer the profession. What happened? And what can we do to keep them there? Because they’re really an asset to the firm.
LIEBENBERG: And what is your answer?
HOMOLASH: For me, personally, because I do struggle a bit, especially at this particular time in my career … I do have business, but I want more. And I think mentoring would actually be key for me. My firm is very small and maybe that mentor is not in my firm. It’s somewhere outside of the firm. And the mentor does not have to be a female. For me, I would like to have a male mentor. Someone that could work with me and help me focus on my goals and take me to the next level, or assist me. It’s always our responsibility to seize the opportunity. If we’re presented with an opportunity … we need to be presented with those opportunities, but we also have to be responsible for ceasing them.
BANKS: I want to dovetail onto your comment. I think it is really critical that you do reach out to men as well as women. I have lots of women partners who are my role models and to whom I reach out. My business mentor is Bill Sasso, because he has business connections. And it means being in an uncomfortable position lots of times. As you said, quite often, we’re not used to getting out there and being able to sell ourselves, and be in that world, and I think it’s critical to be uncomfortable. I go places now where I don’t know people to build those relationships. And if I did not have that male mentor, those relationships might not be available to me, at least readily. And we’re talking about building human capital.
LIEBENBERG: So taking risks?
BANKS: Taking a risk. You have to.
ADAMS: I have to agree wholeheartedly that the mentoring piece is very important. The things that Dianne talked about as well at the beginning of this part of the conversation … I think that women need to not discount what they have in common. And this is probably more on the defense side versus the plaintiff side in the scenario you were describing, but don’t discount the connectivity you can have with potential clients. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to clients that have families and that have children and multitask all day, every day. And I know the names of their children. And they know the name of my daughter. And that gives a relationship-building opportunity … a lot of guys can’t seem to talk the way a woman can talk to another woman about the same challenges that they have professionally and at home. And that builds relationships, leading to potential opportunities for more work for you.
LIEBENBERG: Well, I think a real glimmer of hope is the fact that if you see corporate legal departments, over 50 percent of them now are comprised of women. And that is going to make a sea change in terms of how business is provided to other people.
WINKELMAN: I do think that women who are in the position of giving out business, not universally, but I think that there will be and is an attempt to give it to women. I had the funniest experience as a young associate, where I was in a meeting as the third associate in this big case. The general counsel of the big company was a woman, everyone else in the room were men except for she and me. That very night, I was the head of the PTA of my daughter’s school, and I’m there in front of the whole auditorium full of parents, and who is right in my eye view? And she started making sure that I was recognized way before when I otherwise might have been. So, I’m heartened by the statistic that you cite.
AUSTIN: There are two things that are important for not only individuals, but for the firm as well. One is a succession plan to make sure that the firm continues to grow. In terms of internal marketing, one of the things our firm does is to make sure that we associates are exposed to clients so that we can continue to work with those clients, develop relationships with those clients, so that in the event that a partner, an originating partner, one day decides to retire, or God forbid is struck and unable to work unexpectedly, there is a relationship there that you can continue to build on and make sure that the firm does not lose that client.
I also think that it’s important to help younger attorneys, particularly female attorneys, to market themselves to people who are not clients. In talking about putting yourself in an uncomfortable position, I feel that I am constantly in uncomfortable positions, because I don’t know a thing about sports. And we are constantly doing sporting events as marketing opportunities. So, one of the things that we’ve done in our firm, and it’s a Pittsburgh-based firm, so we’re trying to do it across the state, is we have a women’s group now that meets informally, and the women in Pittsburgh have decided that they’ll do their events, and we do our events that are geared toward women. And not all of them are geared toward women. We may have an event that focuses on both male and female clients. But I think that when we have an event and we go at it, and we all feel like we are struggling with the same issues, that it turns out to be a beneficial program.
ADAMS: Can I just throw one thing out? Heels & Helmets. A woman actually came up with an idea because she kept hearing the same story — that men can talk, have football, basketball, baseball analogies, and they know exactly what the buzz words are, and they know exactly what the meaning is. She came up with this idea of actually educating and giving workshops to women about athletic sports terminology and how they apply to business every day. It would be very helpful for that.
ELDERKIN: Well, what we’ve done, because I recognize a lot of the men who are clients who have young kids, don’t want to go to a Phillies game on a Friday night, we go on Saturday afternoon and invite their families. They are thrilled to go and we have a great bonding experience. So, it can work.
WINKELMAN: We started a women’s initiative over the last couple of years where we’ve had events both internally and formal mentoring types of events for the women in the firm, but also events where we invite clients. So, there was an event in our New York office that involved clothing and fashion, and there was an event in the Philadelphia office that involved jewelry as a benefit for HIV. So, there are alternatives to sports. I will never learn the terminology of sports.
LIEBENBERG: Allison, do you want to comment in terms of what do you see as some of the biggest challenges that young women lawyers are facing?
WHEELER: I personally have kind of a different challenge. Although my firm has a new name, it’s kind of been established for a long time in Philly. I am the first woman who is going to have a case load in the history of this firm. So, as I sit here and listen to all of you, I have to come up with … somebody is going to be after me, right? I hope somebody is going to be after me. I have to come up with the plan. How am I going to deal with it? I don’t have any plans in the near future, long-term future, to have a family, but it is a crazy balance. My life is insane right now. I can’t imagine how it would get any crazier. I have the benefit of riding the coattails of my bosses, and I do it every day. I have the benefit of a great marketing team that takes us to a million different things. But you’re right, it’s all men who are out there who are selling themselves every day, and there’s not a lot of us in plaintiffs work who are doing the same thing. I don’t know what the solution is, but I’m going to have to sort of create it.
LIEBENBERG: So, you’re thinking about establishing your own firm in essence?
WHEELER: Yes, absolutely. I’m going to have to be the person who does it. One thing that has worked for me, personally, is a lot of my clients are men. They come in with their wives. Well, I’m somebody’s daughter and I’m somebody’s wife, and they send me their whole family. I just got one guy, now I have the brother-in-law, I have the kid.
LIEBENBERG: I think it goes to connectivity. I think that’s the real asset that women lawyers do have.
WHEELER: Right. And there’s something about that. The women are kind of controlling what’s going on with my clients’ cases. They’re the ones who are calling me, saying, “What’s going on?” And I call them. I mean, I personally call them and say, “Here’s what’s going on.” And the next thing you know, I have the whole family in my house, and that’s fine by me. That works for me. And that is certainly something I use for business development. Why not? Come on in.
DeFOREST: I went to a women’s event a couple of weeks ago and a speaker was saying that women need to become comfortable asking, and asking on a couple of different levels. One, for example, is mentorship. They need to become comfortable going out and asking someone to be their mentor and being comfortable in making that first step. On the flip side, I think they also need to be comfortable asking from a business development perspective in acting with clients. Probably the word “ask” is something that women aren’t always comfortable doing. We like to survive on our own oftentimes, and sometimes not rely on other people. And I think that we need to learn, if you haven’t already, that it’s important to establish relationships, and that asking is a good thing.
LIEBENBERG: I think that when we talk about mentoring, though, you have to be clear what it is that you want from a mentor. If you call up any of the “senior” women around this table, and say, “I want to be your mentee,” my first question back to you would be, what is it that you want out of this relationship?
BANKS: I make a point, as a woman partner, of reaching out to women associates. I do, to talk about these issues, to give them work. I have two associates that work with me who are both on their second children. I make a point when they come back to give them work, to reintegrate them into the practice, because it’s hard to get your plate full again. We really do have to reach out to our associates and ask them, “What do you need? What can I do to try to make this easier?” Because it is hard. It’s hard to make partner. It’s not an easy thing to work in these firms — there are so few of us. One of my partners says the difficulty, the pressure, turns you into a diamond. It’s our job, even though we have a lot of pressure, to reach for those associates and help them make their way up.
LIEBENBERG: The statistics with respect to women attorneys of color are really sobering, because they have the highest rates of attrition — 86 percent of women attorneys of color leaving before their seventh year — and they comprise just 2 percent of women equity partners. What is it that we’re going to do to retain and promote women attorneys of color, and really reverse these dismal statistics?
TORIAN: We have an obligation to tell them the things that you’re saying, like finding a mentor, reaching out. One thing that I think women have done … is to wait to be asked … sort of like at a dance. You’re waiting for someone to say, “Will you dance with me?” And you can’t do that, because law firms are running the numbers. If you’re going to be there and you’re going to stay there, you have to have the numbers. We’re not just talking billable hours, we’re talking originations. I’ve been trying to encourage them to go out and go to people’s offices and ask for work. Because the young white males come in my office and say, “I need work. Do you have work for me?” They don’t hesitate a minute.
LIEBENBERG: Mary Cranston, who is now the chair of the [American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession] always tells the story of when she became chair of Pillsbury. She said that men were lining up outside her door to come in and speak to her, and that not one woman came to see her.
BANKS: It’s difficult — to state the obvious. One, you have to have folks to mentor. So, what we’re really doing at Stradley, we participate doubly in the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group, so that we’re bringing in as many diverse folks as we can. They have to be there in order to do something with them. It has to be targeted … that you really are reaching out to the person of color, the woman of color. For instance, giving primers on things that you may not know … no lawyers in the family maybe. Maybe this is the first time that woman has been in this kind of an environment. Maybe she doesn’t know how to read a budget, doesn’t know where she fits in the budget, doesn’t know some partners are more important than other partners … basic things that a lot of men come to the table knowing, a majority of women come to the table knowing, that minority folks don’t know. So, I really try to take time to educate and to integrate folks into the firm practice.
ADAMS: You have to have transparency all around. You can bring in a number of women, minority women, but the firms need to be more open about what their numbers actually look like. And if they’re not open about what their numbers actually look like, then there’s no way to really measure. They may be measuring internally, but you can’t compare nationally to see how other firms are doing across the board. We would look at it quarterly [at Microsoft]. Where are we now? Have we lost women? Have we hired women? Where are we? And by the end of the year, we made sure we exceeded at least 1 percent every year going forward.
LIEBENBERG: Corporations have done this. They have really developed their human talent and law firms have not. So, we talk about transparency, what about accountability? What are the structural changes that we need to see so that there is some accountability for failure to meet these kind of diversity goals? A lot of general counsel are talking about the fact that they are going to start taking business away from law firms that don’t meet these diversity goals.
AUSTIN: I think that one thing, not so much about structure, but in terms of helping minority women to rise through the ranks … a lot of the larger law firms that service Fortune 100/500 companies will cut their billing rates if that company says we’re leaving. If you bill at $350, we want you to bill at $250, and you make those concessions. If you have a younger minority female attorney coming up through the ranks and she wants to represent a small salon, or one of the businesses that she frequents, and she brings the business to the firm … that firm may have repeat business, may grow into a chain, and I think that it’s important to help encourage people to develop business, even if you have to make the same type of billing arrangements that you would do for a larger existing company to keep that business.
BANKS: In accountability, I think again education is key. I’ve had situations where you talk to general counsel who don’t even understand how credit is apportioned within the firm. They may think, you know, Danielle is working on my case, and therefore Danielle must be getting credit. That’s not necessarily how the system works. And general counsel drive our firms. Credit is critical to both women moving forward and minority folks moving forward, because of how large law firms work. Credit is what makes you powerful in a firm.
LIEBENBERG: The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession along with the Minority Corporate Counsel Association and the Project for Attorney Retention did a study of women partners’ compensation, and Danielle’s points are well taken and substantiated by the findings. Over 55 percent of the 700 women respondents reported that they had been denied their fair share of origination credit. Over 30 percent said that they had been subjected to threats, intimidation and bullying, and, of course, women attorneys of color were the most disadvantaged in terms of being brought on client pitches, but not getting credit for the work.
BANKS: At Stradley, that’s something we talk about openly and folks are encouraged to share where it is appropriate. Like when someone is working on a case, you don’t just keep it to yourself, and that’s something that you’re measured on at the end of the year. What is it that you are doing to help other people?
ADAMS: One thing that we do at Ogletree Deakins is we share credit. Forty-five percent of our work in Philadelphia comes from some other part of the country and we actually reward the activities of collaboration and partnering and sharing credit in a multitude of ways.
HOMOLASH: Is there a formal process? I don’t know how this works anymore, but I remember back in the day that if you’re at a bigger firm, and you have a senior partner, and he’s the source or the originator, and then you’re the senior associate and you’re working the case, how does that work?
WINKELMAN: We reward the partner to share the credit. And I think that’s what Danielle was saying.
BANKS: That’s exactly what I was saying.
WINKELMAN: The partner could get rewarded by having all the credit to himself, but he’s going to get even more rewarded by sharing origination and credit where it’s appropriate. And it helps a lot, and I think that’s a culture change.
TORIAN: We distinguish between origination, which can be shared, responsibility, which can be shared, the partner responsible for the client overall, which may or may not be shared, and cross-referrals within the firm. So, we’re measuring everything and everything can be shared. And it’s rare when you originate something and you won’t share it with someone else. You might actually be questioned about that, if you bring in something and you take 100 percent.
LIEBENBERG: We’re really not seeing a critical mass of women on management committees and compensation committees. Over half of the 200 largest law firms have no women in their top 10 rainmakers. What is it? And we know, from a lot of research, that having a critical mass of women really ensures that you’re going to have increased representation at a lower level. So, what is it that we can do to make sure that we can get this critical mass, and that we keep you in the profession so that you’re there to come up through the pipeline?
DeFOREST: Well, I will say that I actually studied some of these issues in law school, and something that I looked at and something that we talked about was the fact that it’s important to just look generally at the size of your firm, and to remember people who are lower than you, and to, again, reward and to remember the importance of having numbers. For a long time women didn’t want their gender to be recognized. They wanted to be almost rewarded based on being equal. And I think it’s important to also remember that you want to embrace being a woman, and it’s not wrong to reward someone because she’s female, and that being female and also having good skills can also go hand-in-hand.
LIEBENBERG: Allison, what’s going to make you stay? We need you to stay. That’s my message to all young women lawyers.
WHEELER: For me to stay it’s the opportunity, my business … in talking about the sharing, obviously that’s a little different in a plaintiffs firm. My partners are much older than me. They know every plaintiffs attorney in town who could possibly send in a case, and guess who gets credit for those type of things? They do. The way my firm is set up does allow me an opportunity. All I try and do is go out and meet young lawyers, and we send each other cases, and we have to be good to each other, because a lot of us will have a lot of cases at some point in time. The opportunity has to be there. I can’t just be working for somebody else. I have to be working for myself to stay. Because, otherwise, I might as well do something less hours and less stress, and my life would be easier.
BANKS: I have partners, and that’s our livelihood. That’s what we do, and that’s what we’re going to retire on, and, you know, we have to. And at Stradley, we’re seeing a critical mass of women, majority women. I think two or three of our top 10 rainmakers are women. And that is unusual. And our women do reach out and try and help women below and build on succession. Younger women have to be thinking about, as you said, building your business. Whose business are you going to inherit? Something I really did focus on is who am I working for? Is there going to be business for me when they leave? And making sure that I’m in line for that business, that there’s no question, but that it’s going to be mine.
MARKOVICH: I think it’s absolutely critical to grow the critical mass, no pun intended, within the firm. But I also think we cannot forget about the larger world outside of the firm. And we’re still trying to penetrate the old-boys’ network, and sometimes it will work, sometimes it doesn’t. We’ll have to focus more on making sure that there are women outside of our firms in positions who can give business to women lawyers. When I network, I don’t always network for the purpose of asking for business, but I network to grow relationships with people in other industries. For example, when I hear that a position opens up at a certain corporation or a national institution, and I think I know of somebody who is qualified, I will reach out and say, “There is this position, are you interested? I think you may be a good fit.” And I’ll reach out to the corporation, and I’ll also say, “I think I know of somebody that can be a great fit. Would you be interested in meeting with this woman? I think she would be a terrific addition to your organization.” And I think we really have to keep that in mind because that’s what really empowers women.
LIEBENBERG: Well, we’ve talked a little bit about work-life balance, and that’s something that I think women lawyers do find it difficult to do. So, maybe you can give me a few tips of how you maintained your work-life balance, if that’s even possible.
MARKOVICH: I don’t think maintaining a perfect work-lifestyle balance is possible. And I think that if you’re going to strive to achieve that, you’re going to set yourself up for failure. So, I think instead we have to recognize that sometimes we have to promote and push the professional aspect of our lives, and then in other circumstances focus more on the family life. I still have a very young child. She’s 8. That definitely requires a lot of attention. What I try to focus more on is quality versus quantity time.
For example, if I know that I work long hours during the week, I try to focus on something on weekends, for example, this Saturday I’m taking my daughter to see the Van Gogh exhibit [at the Philadelphia Museum of Art] as opposed to just sort of hanging out around the house watching TV together. I really try to focus more on what can I bring to help her grow and become an individual. That’s something that women have to definitely focus on. And I also feel that sometimes women just set up standards that are very difficult to achieve.
We want to be very successful lawyers, we want to be rainmakers, but at the same time, we still want to be everything for our children and our spouses, and I think we have to accept the fact that it’s OK to delegate. We’re only as strong as the support system that we have created and built for ourselves. And I’m fortunate enough to have a great husband who shares responsibility with me, but every once in a while, I have to just sort of sit back and say, you know what, it’s OK if I ask him to do this. I don’t have to do it myself, because I’m really running out of time.
BANKS: As a black woman, I’ve always thought I had to be better, stronger, faster. I was raised that way, and I think that rule applies to me. I raised two children, my kids are both in college. I’m a very hands-on mom. I didn’t miss events. I didn’t tell people at the firm I’m going to a baseball game or a soccer game. I calendared it. God bless the electronic calendar. I learned to schedule everything, but really I began with the work harder, stronger, faster. To me, being a great mom, being a great associate that made partner … same principle: you’re better than the other guy. You do more than the other guy. That’s just how I look at it. And there’s not a lot of time to sleep. Maybe I held myself to ridiculous standards, but it worked for me. I’m better than the other associate. I make you want me desperately, that you think that you cannot survive without me as your associate. That’s how I made partner.
LIEBENBERG: I think that that’s important … to self-promote. That they take the risk, that they’re out there. Other people are out there promoting themselves and we need to promote ourselves as well. If you were the emperor, what would you change about the law in the next five years to make some of the changes that we’ve talked about? What’s the one thing you would like to see happen in the next five years that would really push these numbers, and really see that we could increase diversity?
WINKELMAN: The first thing that came into my head was less emphasis on billable hours for associates.
TORIAN: I’d want more flexibility in how the work gets done. We have an international firm … most of my clients I will never meet. So, should it really matter whether I’m at Liberty Place or in my house? I just think more flexibility is so easy now, and I think that would go a long way toward helping women.
LIEBENBERG: I think another positive that we can close on is the fact that clients are certainly rewarding efficiency and quality, and are moving away from the billable hour. The billable hour is soon to be dead. And that should [work with] women’s ability to multitask and to be efficient. So, I think there’s a lot of hope. •