While women still struggle to gain equality in the legal profession, some Philadelphia-area firms are taking action to ensure their success.
“I think that there has to be recognition that women face additional barriers in the legal profession,” said Virginia G. Essandoh, chief diversity officer at Ballard Spahr.
Ballard Spahr, Reed Smith, Duane Morris and K&L Gates are four Pennsylvania firms that have recently been recognized for their efforts to attract, encourage and retain women.
As a result of these firms’ focus on women’s advancement, Reed Smith and Duane Morris have been named to the 2013 list of Best Law Firms for Women given out by Working Mother magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers. And Ballard Spahr, Reed Smith and K&L Gates have been named “gold standard certified” by the Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF), which is awarded to firms that have a “meaningful percentage” of women in leadership positions, according to WILEF’s list of criteria.
Working Mother said of Reed Smith that “women can go far at this firm,” which is a sentiment that Melissa Rubenstein, Philadelphia office co-chair of Reed Smith’s Women’s Initiative Network, echoed.
“The firm considers it a business priority and a focus to recruit, train and retain talented women,” Rubenstein said.
The Women’s Initiative Network at Reed Smith works to attract and advance female lawyers through training, mentoring and helping women achieve work-life balance, according to Reed Smith’s website. Rubenstein said Reed Smith provides women with opportunities for advancement at various stages of their career.
She said one such opportunity for advancement is Reed Smith’s “Pipeliners” program, which puts fourth-year senior associates on the “pipeline” to partnership. In addition, the firm offers remote work and a flextime work schedule to accommodate individuals with families. As a result, Reed Smith has also been named one of the “Top Ten Family Friendly Firms” by Yale Law Women.
In addition, encouraging women’s advancement provides rising females with the skills to hold a leadership position, Rubenstein said.
“We understand the benefits of a diverse workforce,” she said.
Ballard Spahr has also reaped the benefits of implementing diversity initiatives and is a three-peat WILEF gold standard recertified firm along with Reed Smith. Essandoh said she attributes that to the firm’s successful encouragement of women at all levels of seniority.
Starting when law students come to Ballard Spahr as summer associates, the firm reaches out to female students and provides the women with different success stories about women rising through the ranks, Essandoh said. Aspiring young female lawyers should hear as early as possible that there are different routes to partnership, she said.
For junior female associates at Ballard Spahr, the firm’s focus is on professional development to enable them to overcome barriers to success, Essandoh said. Junior associates are encouraged to attend events that reinforce their networking abilities as well as relationships with clients, she said. Senior women at Ballard Spahr are able to join the “Ballard Women” group, which Essandoh said focuses on “turning business into more business” through client development.
“I think our key has been starting as early as summer associates and remaining focused,” Essandoh said.
Similarly, Duane Morris’ “Springboard to Success” program is dedicated to helping women advance their careers, said Sharon L. Caffrey, a partner at Duane Morris. “Springboard to Success” is an advanced business development program that helps junior-level women gain the skills they will need throughout their careers, she said.
Duane Morris also offers a series of panels throughout the year about work-life balance and networking. Caffrey specifically discussed the firm’s Women’s Initiative’s “Women in Professional Services — Surviving and Thriving in Shark-Infested Waters” panel that brought in a variety of female professionals who offered personal stories about the challenges they have faced and different ways in which women have managed to become successful.
Working Mother praised the firm for providing its employees flexibility in their careers.
“Unorthodox schedules are increasingly popular at this firm’s 20 U.S. offices: In 2012, 80 percent of its lawyers flexed their hours or telecommuted, while 14 percent worked part-time,” Working Mother wrote. “Impressively, 95 percent of them also received management or leadership education.”
Female attorneys at Duane Morris have a long history of going on to attain prominent positions while still having a family life, Caffrey said.
“Women have left for some really great fantastic jobs in the judiciary and other leadership positions,” Caffrey said. “Those women were real trailblazers.”
Beyond the panels, Caffrey said Duane Morris strives to guide women within the firm and provides two meetings a year specifically geared at women’s career planning.
While Ballard Spahr offers programs for women, Essandoh said encouraging women within the firm, rather than just providing events, is what really makes all the difference. She said the firm’s chair is focused on encouraging women, which ensures there is a constant conversation about how to improve.
Many firms do not have a budget for women’s initiatives, Essandoh said, but Ballard Spahr does, which is what allows the firm to train and develop women. Firms need to have leadership for women that is supportive “not just in words but in actions,” Essandoh said.
Working Mother and Flex-Time Lawyers weighed actions heavily in determining their Best Law Firms for Women. The firms that applied to be included on the list were surveyed about “workforce representation; time off and leaves; child care; flexibility; leadership, compensation and advancement of women; and development and retention of women” and were then narrowed down to 50 based on an algorithm developed by the Working Mother Research Institute, according to the magazine’s website.
In order to become gold certified by WILEF, firms must meet at least four of six criteria. According to its website, the criteria include: women representing at least 20 percent of the equity partners, 10 percent of firm chairs and office managing partners, 20 percent of the firm’s primary governance committee, 20 percent of the firm’s compensation committee, 25 percent of practice group leaders or department heads and 10 percent of the top half of the most highly compensated partners. Ballard Spahr and K&L Gates have each been “gold standard certified” three times and Reed Smith has been certified three times for meeting all six of the WILEF standards. •