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.
Kimberly Alford Rice, of KLA Marketing Associates, moderated the discussion. The transcript has been edited, and excerpts follow:
RICE: The stats [from a recent National Association of Women Lawyers report] are, once again, disappointing. This report was co-authored by one of our great women leaders here in our area, and also on the national level, Bobbi Liebenberg from Fine Kaplan. The stats are very disappointing in connection with the advancement that women lawyers are making within their firms, and compensation rates—thus the term “gender pay gap”—as well as the rainmaking origination credits that women are being awarded when they bring in business, and promotion track and partnership track.
I wanted to share with you a couple of stats that were included in this report and there’s a couple that are particularly concerning. There continues to be a disproportionately low number of women who advanced into the higher ranges of large law firms. Since the ’80s, we have known that 40 percent of law school graduates have been women but less than 20 percent of that make it into the equity partner range, so that is very troubling. There’s an ABA women rainmakers committee that did a report,
I think last year, that states that while law firms today are 57 percent women lawyers, only 4 to 5 percent are represented in leadership. I mean, not only the executive committee or the management team, but also those plum committee assignments of the compensation and the evaluation committee.
What is the general perception of the leadership of your law firm, and to what extent are women represented there?
BUTLER BUCHANAN: We are managed by a three-person executive committee who reports to a board of directors, including them. Of the nine members of the board of directors, there are three women. We have 18 offices. Of those 18 offices, five are [run by] women attorneys. Those are very critical. We do defense litigation, so there’s a number of different practice areas. Approximately 30 percent of those are led by women—one of the largest ones, our workers’ compensation practice group, is [run by] the assistant vice president of the practice, Niki Ingram, who’s here in Philadelphia.
As far as the others on that board, they have a voice in that regard. As far as how management is viewed—I’m part of management—maybe I don’t get the real skinny, but, overall, I think people feel that they’re being treated fairly. I say that because once people are at our firm for four to five years, they tend not to leave. I guess from my vantage point, what attracted me to this 15 years ago is that so many people who had been at the firm for years and years and years—and I knew a lot of them—were very good lawyers, so they stayed here year after year after year, which meant to me they’ve been treated fairly.
RICE: From the top perspective, do you see an inordinate [amount] of women attrition in your firm at any particular point? Because there’s studies that show us in year four to six, women are just leaving in droves, and that’s usually because of the family.
BUCHANAN: I would say never in droves, and I would also say significantly less recently. A couple things are different in how we do business, though. I understand that in some large firms, you’re not assigned to someone, so you kind of have to get work. Work has to be assigned to you. There’s a lot of things with that—and I’m not criticizing—but there are all kinds of biases, unconscious and overt, that can result in your getting shut out: males, females, whoever.
At Marshall Dennehey, when a new person is hired, it is suggested by the management that a person is responsible for that lawyer, whoever he or she is, and that person will be judged in part by how that lawyer does. The person has to get work to the new employee and that new employee will be part of cases running from start to finish. You must become reliant on that person, which, arguably, will make you more invested in that process. And, frankly, the senior lawyers are judged in part by how well the people work with them do, so if, during a period of time, two or three people—particularly, I’d say, a female of color—did not succeed, we’d be looking at that.
We’re looking really before that, and one of my roles at the firm is dealing with associate issues. It can affect your pocketbook, although I’m not suggesting you’ll make tons less money, but it is an issue. It’s important for senior management that people who work with you succeed, and that’s the goal for the lawyers. So that’s been good.
I think the other thing that’s been significant—we’re a defense firm. In a defense firm, you bill time and, obviously, we must be focused on that, and for many years, the expectations didn’t change. So if a woman had a child and she came back, it is expected for her to come back with both feet. That’s changed now. It’s been very noticed by women in our firm. It used to be you had to be an established lawyer to get part-time. That’s no longer the case.
A significant thing happened about three years ago. A young woman who was coming up through the firm and had done a nice job over the years, she was out for childbirth through the most critical time in the firm. When decisions were being made, she made partner. That was really noticed by women at the firm. She made it because she deserved to make it.
ANNE MYERS: I’m a partner with Kaufman, Dolowich & Voluck, and we are much younger and a much smaller firm then Marshall Dennehey. However, our numbers are comparable to yours. We have five offices throughout the country, two of which are headed by women. At our Philadelphia office, we have 11 lawyers, six of which are women. The way in which our firm leadership is viewed is colored by a paradigm shift that we have seen within our firm.
Typically, especially when I first became a practicing lawyer, the ideal employee was a person without childcare responsibilities. That is no longer true, and it’s no longer true because of women like those around this table who are in the workplace, but also because young men have married women like those around the table in the workplace. I have one senior associate, in particular, whose wife is an emergency room physician. She’s not bringing him coffee as he steps out of the shower. She has four little children. That ideal worker without child-care responsibilities actually no longer exists, and because of that paradigm shift, we’ve started accommodating our lawyers—men and women—to recognize the realities that they’re facing.
I had a young associate show up for work on her very first day of work, turn to us and say, “I’m pregnant.” That happens. She didn’t plan it that way. She’s a young woman. Young women get pregnant. She worked very hard for me and is an excellent lawyer. She went out and had her baby and called me and said, “I can’t come back full-time. I cannot leave this child.” Well, I’ve had two children. I know what it means to look at your newborn and say, “I’m not going to be able to leave you,” and so I said, “Well, let’s figure this out.” She was allowed to work three-fifths for the first year of her child’s life and four-fifths for the second year of her child’s life. She has recently announced she will be coming back full-time now that her daughter is 2 years old.
That is the kind of accommodation we have to make. Our young man whose wife is an emergency room physician not infrequently calls and says, “I’m working from home today because our nanny pooped out on us and my wife has to be in the emergency room.” I think those are the kind of changes though, in the groundswell of law firms, that are going to cause these kinds of statistics to change. This is where we are now, but I’m telling you that, on the ground, I can see where we’re going, and this isn’t going to be the case forever.
Remember, when Sandra O’Connor went to get her first job, she couldn’t get a job except for a secretary at one of the firms in Arizona because she was such a high member of her graduating class, so she opened up a storefront. There’s none of us at this table that had to make that kind of a choice. I’m telling you that the young women and the young men that work for us today are never going to live under these kinds of statistics when they get to be at our level.
PATRICIA ROGOWSKI: But do you think we need to wait for a generational shift? In intellectual property, there’s a lot of old guys that hang on forever and die at their desk. I’m sorry, but it’s true. In fact, my mentor at my first firm actually did get really sick and die at the office. So part of it is waiting for folks to hand over the mantle and trust that women can handle the job. I agree with you that I had more opportunity than the folks before me, and I’m trying to make room for the women that come after to make sure that we’re allowing women opportunity in the intellectual property field. One of the barriers in our field is that you need an engineering or science degree first, but we’re also seeing that there’s a big focus on STEM education in universities and there are a lot more women graduating in engineering. I think it was a one-to-eight ratio, women to men, for me. It’s closer to 40 percent now.
RICE: One of the things we’re curious to find out is, these boots-on-the-ground groundswells, as Anne mentioned, what do we see in firms of varying sizes?
AYA SALEM: Actually, for me, this issue was not something that I thought about. After graduating from law school, I ended up getting a job at a boutique litigation firm in the city, and I chose that firm for the work, not thinking about what the work-life balance would be and what it would be like to have a child there. Thankfully, three years into the practice, I actually am a new mom. I have a 5-month-old baby girl and my firm has been phenomenal with the flexibility. I work from home two days a week. I’m still full-time. I’m able to bill at night and on the weekends to get whatever work I need to get done.
RICE: What’s the firm size?
SALEM: Forty or so attorneys. We have three offices—Philadelphia, Harrisburg and West Chester. It was a concern when I found out I was pregnant, what it would be like. I didn’t think, like you said, when you have a child, what the effect would be once my maternity leave is over and I have to go back to work and I’m going to be gone for five days a week without seeing her. I had a conversation with them and they were very, very flexible. I got a really large bonus last year while I was nine months out of the year pregnant and, obviously, not putting in the work. These are the types of things that I hope other firms are the same way—they realize that you can do your work without having to be sitting at your desk, and that technology makes it easier for us to be able to do both things that are very important in our lives.
MYERS: And that’s a hard thing for the guys that do die at their desks.
ROGOWSKI: That generation thinks we’re secretaries still.
STACEY SINCLAIR: You talk about the management. You know, we have a three-person management committee that reports to a 10-person board, and the management committee is composed of the president and chairman of the board, which are on the board, and chief operating officer.
JILL BRONSON: Are any of those women?
SINCLAIR: I’m chief operating officer. I was a partner at the firm and I was promoted to that position and, also, for the past five years, the chair of our finance committee is also a woman, so we’ve done those things. I think what we face is getting women to come up through the associate to the nonequity partner range and then to make it up to equity partner so you can participate at that level. We have always, for as long as I remember, had part-time women attorneys and have been very open about that, not just within the first few years of their children’s lives. We’ve had women who’ve had children that are much older and are still part-time, whether it’s four days a week or five days with one day at home or reducing their hours, realizing that their schedule throughout the week has to change. We have kept it flexible, whether they have one set day or whether or not they have an alternating day because that is the day they need child care or have doctor appointments. I think it’s an excellent point about the technology aspect, because I think, in the beginning, it was, “They’re not really going to work from home, because if they do that then how can you be as productive?”
I had twins 11 years ago and had to go out early and work from home. I had a separate phone line installed. Everyone knew how to reach me. You could finally start getting remote access to the computer and, frankly, you could get more work done at home. It was quiet. There weren’t constant interruptions. The phone only rang when someone needed you. I think the more women that did that, the more it created the idea and impression that it really can work. It can work very successfully.
I just spoke with one of our associates last week who called and said, “OK, I’m getting ready to come back and I cannot come back full-time. My husband’s an attorney, we’re taking care of parents, and there’s no way for us to do this.” And she was nervous. She’s like, “So what do I do?” And I said, “Well, then you just write up and tell us what it is you want to do and we’ll look at it.” And she was like, “Can I come back four days?” I said, “Of course you can come back four days.” And that’s even in a litigation practice, and she was leading my heavy trial team. I think people are getting more and more accustomed to that. I think technology is huge in letting us be able to do this.
MYERS: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. It benefits men as well.
BRONSON: Absolutely, and I think that men have actually come to recognize that. I came up through the ranks. I started with what was the biggest firm in New York. There was not a single female partner in my group. Now I’m at Drinker. We have 650 lawyers. We have 12 managing partners. Four are women. This is a huge change. I’m very optimistic about where we’re going to go from here in terms of the mindset and the desire of the institution to move in this direction.
What continues to be challenging is lifestyle, and it’s the people around this table that need to make sure that the younger women in our firms see the path forward, believe in it, and actually want to take that path forward, because it is hard. Technology helps a lot, but it’s a double-edged sword, and client demands are ever greater. The technology’s wonderful, but the economics are not so wonderful. There’s a lot of things that we’re all struggling with and facing and that’s going to be some of the challenges, more so than the mindset, which I think has really evolved to a great place where, as I said, we have a quarter of our managing partners or a third of our managing partners are women now. That’s a great step forward from even five years ago, but we’re still struggling with bringing women up through the ranks, getting them into the equity partner [tier] and having them believe that this is where they can be successful and want to be successful.
RICE: Let’s hear from some of our lawyers who are in smaller practices. What do you see with respect to technology and how it’s applied across your firm for addressing a less-than-full-time schedule or face time in the office?
NANCY WINKLER: I think my practice might be unique to this group. I’m not sure. I represent plaintiffs only in catastrophic injury cases and I became a partner when I was working part-time, years ago. It was a slightly different permutation of myself at the same firm. We didn’t have the technology that we have today. I think that there has been a culture shift, and I think that it takes time for the older lawyers in the firms to see that women can be even more productive when they’re happy and when they’re satisfied, and that they understand that they can raise their kids and come back to work on a less-than-full-time schedule and not get out of the workforce and then come back as a full-time associate and then a partner.
As I say, I have worked hard. I had been with my firm for five years and it was time for me to have kids. I have a 22-year-old son and a 19-year-old son, and during both junctures, I worked part-time. I worked three days a week and then four days a week. And for a plaintiffs firm it is different, because I was doing litigation and we didn’t have anything like job sharing. I was the only woman in my firm. I had said that I was going to come back full-time, but I said to my partners, “I can’t do this. We have a choice. I promise you that I’ll come back full-time and I will do it, because that’s what I said, but I know that I will burn out and I won’t be able to stay with this. But if we cut my caseload so that it’s something I can manage, and I’ll do anything that I need to do on that caseload and I will work and give you everything, and then hopefully come back and join you full-time at a later point in time”—that’s what we did. It was great.
Right now, we are a boutique practice. There are 10 attorneys in my firm: five partners and five associates. I’m the only woman in my firm. We have had women associates before. I’d love to have more women join us. We strive to do that. In plaintiffs firms, thankfully, we have people that have been with us for a long time. We don’t hire so often. We try and be lean and mean, but we have three young male associates that have had babies recently—I say they have had babies because we accommodate them.
The other day, my associate had to leave on Monday because the day care center was closed. His wife is a lawyer, he’s a lawyer. He had to go home because they had a babysitter that was relieving them for a short period of time. That’s what happens.
So, technology, I think, no matter what your type of practice is, helps us so much, because he could do things at home that he couldn’t do before. Obviously, if you have to be in court, that’s something else. Frankly, I do a lot of my work outside of my office because my office is sometimes a revolving door, so I think there has been a shift and I think that it’s going to take some time, but things are moving forward.
One of the things that concerns me though—I’m president of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association, and when we try and recruit other women to our board and leadership roles, I see there are not that many female trial attorneys doing plaintiffs work in Philadelphia. I see a lot of women in the defense firms and I think that is partially because of the demands of the practice and that in defense firms, sometimes you can do job sharing, where in a plaintiffs practice you can’t. We’re actively trying to work with some other bar associations to try and bring up law students so that they can understand that they can be a trial attorney and get into trial work and have a family and really have it all. You need a lot of energy, as all the women around this table know.
BRONSON: You need to get the stories out. I, too, came up part-time and became a partner as a part-time lawyer and have been told by numerous associates that no one ever became a partner as a part-time lawyer. That’s actually not true. People have. I think it’s important that people like you get your story out so that there’s an image of this woman who is successful at what she does and who is able to raise children and be where she is today.
RICE: Let’s talk a little about recruitment. I know several of the folks here around the table are in management. What do you see on the recruiting stage?
BUCHANAN: I am the hiring partner for the firm. It really doesn’t vary by sex in this instance. We’re looking for people that are bright, presumably someone that’s hardworking and, like Nancy’s practice, we’re doing litigation. We want people with common sense who can relate to others. We’re looking at that as well as good schooling, good grades and that sort of thing. We also try to look for a variety or types of diversity—socioeconomic, for instance.
ELIZABETH FENTON: I started off as the 30th lawyer at Hangley Aronchick and then I was at Reed Smith, which, when I left, had 1,700 lawyers, and now I’m at a law firm with about 130 lawyers and only 10 in Philadelphia, so I haven’t done a lot of recruiting in my current firm. We are a very small office right now. We’re trying to grow, but in terms of associate recruiting, I haven’t done that, but I did a lot of it at Hangley. I did a lot of it at Reed Smith.
The difference I see is that when I graduated from law school in 1998, from Penn, it was okay to just be really smart. When I left
Reed Smith in 2013, the kind of people we were looking for, they needed to be smart, but that was just the baseline, and what I saw when I interviewed people at Penn was people get joint degrees. People already know in law school what they want to do, much more than I did when I graduated. I knew I wanted to be a litigator, but I didn’t have an idea of whether I wanted to do health care, products liability, plaintiffs work; I just knew I wanted to be a litigator. I didn’t have lawyers in my family to say, “Well, this is a growing practice area. This is really what you want to do,” so I just did it by touch and feel essentially, and instinct, but that’s a big difference.
I want to jump back really quickly to the generational thing—the technology thing. I started practicing before people had Blackberrys, and it’s liberating in a lot of ways. I have two little kids. I love having that ability, because I can be at a play or waiting for camp to let out and I can be responding to clients.
The generation that is coming out of law school now, they don’t even think about technology. They don’t know the world without it. That’s not the world that they inhabit, so I think in terms of retention and promotion of women lawyers and management of women lawyers and Gen-X lawyers and millennials, there is going to be a generational shift.
RICE: Wendy, who’s one of our newer attorneys here at the table, welcome. Can you just share with us a little bit from where you’re sitting, whether you’re a Gen-Xer or millennial?
WENDY SMITH: I guess I’d say I probably come in as a Gen-Xer. I am a recent partner. I actually just had my year anniversary in January and the year that I made partner, it was me and another woman, and we actually graduated law school at the same time. Weber Gallagher was our first job out of law school, and she’s African American, so that was really exciting to see that there are two young partners. We’ve only been doing this for seven years at the time, and we are partner-level now.
My firm, I have to say, has made a lot of great strides with recruitment of women attorneys and minority attorneys. We started this whole diversity initiative—a women’s initiative. I’m actually a co-chair of the women’s initiative. I’ve worked for the past seven years with law students that come up that want to do our summer program. I’ve been a mentor to a lot of the summers coming in and they all want to know, “How do you do it? How do you become successful? How do I set myself apart from everybody else in this world?”
And it’s a lot of hard work and it’s a lot of energy, but one of the things that I make a point to do is get out there in the community. I make sure that people know who I am. I actually just started a whole thing about three years ago with the bar association and the young lawyers division called the Board Observation Program. It’s about getting young attorneys involved in the community.
I think that it’s really important—for women attorneys especially—to know that in your first year of law school, you’re out … you’ve got to bill a certain amount of hours, and they get so pigeonholed in their office and they think that that’s all they do. They just work. They don’t have time to have a life outside, and this is to say no. Your practice of law becomes so much richer that you become a better person and more productive person by getting involved in the community and getting out there and seeing things.
These young attorneys that come through our ranks, they’re starting to see that. They’re starting to see that it’s just not bill, bill, bill, hour, hour, hour. You can actually do this, and my firm is very supportive. I don’t have children, but they’ve been very supportive to my partners that have had children. They’ve worked part-time. They’ve done the four days in the office, one day off. If they need to breastfeed in the office, we have a separate room for that. They’re very conscientious.
MARY PLATT: I work in a women-owned firm, Griesing Law, and I’ve been there for about three years, and I was with Montgomery McCracken for about 30 years before I joined Griesing Law. I have the small-firm experience and the large-firm experience, but my knowledge of what’s going on in the firms now comes from talking to many young women who are looking for jobs. They’re either in firms or they maybe just got out of law school and they’re trying to find jobs, and my sense is that … a lot of mega firms, law students are attracted to work for because you can make good money and it seems like really interesting work.
ROGOWSKI: And I think the law schools push them toward that.
PLATT: Right, but I think what’s lost in these giant firms now is this collegiality that we—I—experienced and I think kept me in the practice. When I first started, there were four women at Montgomery McCracken and then in my class there were four more, and it was like we doubled in size, but we were only eight of something like 75 or 80 lawyers, and we always had a very cohesive group of women who supported each other. We would sit around the table and talk about policies and things like that. We’d single out people who were coming up for partnership and say, “This is what you need to do. This is who you need to work for.”
Women would come up to me and say, “Should I get pregnant?” I would say, “Of course you should.”
So, I mean, that’s the kind of relationships, and I’m not sure that lawyers have those relationships as much in firms now. People are competing with each other within firms for work, for clients and, as Wendy said, I think you really need women especially who love to have this connection, this engagement, for feeling like something’s meaningful. You may work in a big firm and maybe the atmosphere might not be what you really like, but you’re making the money and you need that as a priority in your life, or you like the work but maybe you don’t like the people, or you like the people but maybe you don’t like the work. You need something else in your life. What I found more by happenstance than anything else was that reaching out and becoming involved in the bar associations, local legal organizations, nonprofits and things like that made my life so much more satisfying and made my practice so much more interesting.
My advice to young women now is to do just exactly that, because I didn’t realize it at the time but now, with hindsight, I realize I have a lot of relationships that I’ve built up because we’ve worked on a committee and we put a report together, or I was a member of a board. I encourage people to really get involved in local organizations that they have a passion about, that they really feel strongly about, and that they want to contribute to the community, because I think that’ll make everything else right.
SMITH: I also think about that even internally. In the insurance defense business, we deal with a lot of insurance adjusters, and I said to a partner years ago, “You know what, I know you guys all love to go out on a Friday afternoon and put on your golf shirts and go out there and have some beers and golf—and some women love that—but the majority of the women that I deal with are women adjusters. They have busy lives. They have kids to get home to. Sometimes they can’t leave just to have lunch or dinner.” So why don’t we start marketing and getting women in our firm to start marketing toward things that women like to do, because that’s the whole thing. It’s about getting together. They like doing cooking class or going to the theater or having a spa day, and my clients love that. It’s encouraging to other women attorneys because they’re like, “Yeah. I don’t golf. I don’t want to do those kinds of things,” but those opportunities are there for them.
RICE: That’s a very good point, and I want to shift the conversation now to business development—what that looks like in your firm, the marketing culture that you have in each of your firms—because I would probably guess that it’s a little different in every firm. To what extent does management or any group of leadership within your firm offer that, encourage that, require that?
BUCHANAN: I think Wendy had a great idea. There are some attorneys in our firm who do market that way. There are some women attorneys who like to go to a hockey game or a football game. So I know what one person does with her female clients—a pedicure and lunch—and she has done theater, and it’s been interesting. In each of the offices, we have a women’s dinner at least once every year. There are women attorneys in their particular practice group inviting female clients and general counsel or insurance adjusters and it was great.
Another thing that was alluded to is you target the person in their individual situation, so a lot of younger women who are raising families, it’s more convenient for them to go to lunch than dinner. A lot of people actually would like a weekend, and if you’re running a busy household, your spouse can maybe watch the kids, and a lot of our clients would rather go to lunch on the weekends as opposed to a weekday. From the standpoint of our firm, it’s strongly encouraged.
The other thing I wish a lot of lawyers could do—if you walk through the claims department of any insurance company or virtually any large general counsel’s office, you’ll see a lot of women and see a lot of people of color, particularly in the insurance industry. So I’m not saying that they’re going to only send business to firms that somewhat reflect that, but, man, our eyes are open. I know when I walk through, there’s a lot of black folks that look up and take notice of that. I think women would probably do the same. It’s just a matter of being smart and practical.
I guess another thing that’s somewhat different about our firm that goes back to how work is assigned—we do not have an origination type of relationship. I’ve sat in my office here in Philadelphia and a lawyer in Pittsburgh has called me and sent me a case, and I’ve done the same thing. A dollar in is a dollar in, no matter who bills it. Because of that, we’re all trying to build up other offices in the firm and other people at the firm. So we’re marketing for one another as well.
RICE: Some firms, particularly defense firms, have extremely strict billable-hour requirements. How does the firm view it if someone falls short of the billable-hour requirements, in light of also encouraging them to develop business and develop clients?
BUCHANAN: It depends. For instance, we set goals for lawyers, but we take into consideration that every lawyer gets goals based upon their particular situation. If you had a baby that year, your goal would be less. If you were, all of a sudden over a period of a few years’ time, doing a lot more marketing outside of the office, we can’t expect you to bill the same amount of time as someone who’s at their office every day, all day. From someone who’s not there as often, as long as they’re taking care of their files and being responsive—as long as they’re around enough in accordance with what they and their direct superior feels appropriate—we can live with that, assuming they’re doing a good job and meeting their requirements.
GINA PASSARELLA: Pat, I think you made a good point earlier about the business development. Are there practice areas that are more suitable for women in terms of their ability to develop business like you said? You’re in a practice with a lot of men, and I would assume that your client base, at least for a time, looked like that, too, and did that impact it at all?
ROGOWSKI: Some of the client base was folks who had worked with some of my senior partners and then we integrated in, but there’s a change in control also, at the client level, and you see more women, but I’ve never looked at, “Oh, I can only work with women.” I’ve never thought that way. I thought, “Hey, this is a really interesting opportunity and I can add value.”
A lot of what we do in intellectual property is try to mine what the client is doing that they can protect better so they make it harder on their competition. So I think clients come to an intellectual property firm already saying, “OK, it’s a lawyer, but they’re trying to help us,” as opposed to, “I’ve been sued. I don’t want to be sued. I don’t want to be in court. Get me out as soon as possible.” There’s a more collaborative relationship. I think that’s what attracted me to intellectual property.
Also, we’re building something instead of tearing something down or attacking. Now, there’s the part of the practice where we do go to court, so I can’t say that I haven’t done that, but what I enjoy more is the building side, and it’s quite a mix of clients.
My most interesting [client] started out as a division of Du Pont, and they were selling sports bras, but they were sports bras that had electrodes embedded in them in a way that they did the technology in the weave of the garment, so it was still a comfortable garment. It was a heart-rate monitor for high-end athletes. Then they got bought by Adidas, so I represent Adidas, and we’ve taken the technology now into uniforms for men’s professional soccer. They’ve added more to that technology. So my little job with the folks working on the bra, which probably the guys wouldn’t have liked working on, turned into now working with a much more major player. But I didn’t get into it because it was the bra. I got into it because the technology was cool.
SMITH: When I meet all these young attorneys, you want to tell a young lawyer, whether it be a guy or a girl, “You want to do what makes you comfortable, what makes you happy.” You may think, “Oh, this is an easier practice,” or, “I do litigation because I love it.” You want them to be open to that, and just because a particular practice might seem easier and better suited for your lifestyle, it might not be the kind of practice that you want to do.
MYERS: I want to address your question about what best suits women, because when I was coming out of law school, my professor pulled me aside and said, “Go to a boutique. Don’t be anywhere where you’re fungible.” That second part of that advice is what I would give to a woman. Don’t be fungible. Create for yourself a niche. I would be embarrassed to tell you what my billable hours were last year, but I will tell you that I’m the only go-to person in Philadelphia within my firm for any kind of complex litigation. I have a very successful marketing practice and I keep three-fifths of the lawyers at my office busy at the rate of 2,000 hours per year. Nobody’s happy with my billable hours for last year, but everybody overlooked it when it came time for a bonus and compensation, because I am not fungible.
FENTON: I just want to circle back to the topic of work-life balance. The best way to have work-life balance is to have your own practice and be able to say, “This is how I’m going to do it, because I have the clients or I have the relationships or I have the expertise or whatever it is.” I stressed a lot on how am I going to have babies? How am I going to do this?
At my first firm, there weren’t any women litigation partners at the time. There are now. When I went to Reed Smith, I came back for three or four interviews to meet all the women litigators, because I just didn’t see it. What I tell people—going off of what Jill said—is I hear a lot of women lawyers saying, “I’m going to leave practice because I don’t see anybody who is the person I want to be.” That’s not the way to think, and I’ll admit that I did think about it that way as a young lawyer, but you don’t want to be any of these people.
You know, Jill has her life and she loves it, and I have my life and I love it, and Wendy has her life and she loves it; you want your life. You want your life and you want to love it. If that means you spend 2,000 hours a year doing bar association things plus your billable hours—whatever it is that makes you happy that’s going to make you stay in the game. The most important thing is not to burn out. That’s so hard for us to do, because we do always put everyone else’s needs first to set the boundaries and say, “You know what, I’m going to put the pencil down on the brief.”
PLATT: I would add to that that, in addition, you need to work in a place where people value you. You have your niche, but, at the same time, the people who work with you value your contributions to the place, whether you’re in a large firm or small firm.
SALEM: My impression has been that it’s harder for women to develop business than men—mainly, I think, because a lot of business that attorneys get is through referral sources. I kind of get the sense—and hopefully I’m wrong—that men kind of give business where business is being referred through one male partner at another firm to someone else. For attorneys that have been practicing for a number years, have you gotten that same thing, or what has been your experience with developing business?
RICE: That may also lead into the mentoring idea, because we see that men lawyers tend to hand and refer more business internally to their male counterparts or their associates than they do hand them to women associates, even in succession-planning scenarios or conflict situations. So it would be interesting to hear from the table here, what do you see internally of the monitoring culture, if one exists? How is work handed out? Do you see some type of discriminatory pattern?
WINKLER: I’d like to address the business development and the mentoring. With my firm as a plaintiffs firm, it’s about bringing in business, but almost all of our cases are attorney-referred cases. Our young associates are encouraged to go out and join different bar associations; to join trial lawyer associations; to do things in the community so they can develop business, and all of the partners always are willing to go to any dinner with them, any lunch, whatever it may be, and be open to ideas. So they have an understanding of that. It’s hard.
It’s a balance, because, especially in a plaintiffs practice, you’re proactive with everything. If you’re not moving the case forward, unless you know this case management order that’s moving it for you, it’s not moving and our business is not turning over, so that’s very important, moving the cases to trial, having depositions taken, and doing all of it at once.
I think that it is more difficult for women to generate business. I think it is, along with everything else, getting somewhat easier, but I guess I’ve learned a few things along the way, and what I would say is that guys golf. They go to sporting events. I’ve gone to sporting events with referral attorneys. Sometimes it’s more comfortable for me—I’m going to be frank with you—not to just take another male attorney to a sporting event or to a dinner. I might go to a lunch very easily, but I might be uncomfortable at a dinner, so I would have one of my other partners go along with me. That is just a comfort level, and I guess it just depends who it is.
Our business is about building relationships. There are a lot of good plaintiffs firms out there, and we compete with each other, but why we’re getting business or why business is coming to me isn’t because I’m the best lawyer in the city—because I’m not the best lawyer in the city—but it’s about the relationship I’ve built with someone and how I can cater to a referral source. They know I can jump on a plane. I’ll go anywhere to sign up a case and I give the clients the attention they need.
What I have learned is that you need to ask for business. Business doesn’t come to you. Men are really great at doing that and, Buck, I don’t know if you’d agree with me, but we’ve talked about this. I’ve talked about this with my male partners. They never had a problem asking for business. I think I had to get to a certain point in my life that I was comfortable with it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman—the people that I deal with, because of the practice, it’s more males than females, but I ask for business. I tell them about myself. I tell them what I can do. I tell them about what I can do to distinguish myself from the other firms and what my firm can bring to their business and I ask for it. I think that’s what you have to do.
BRONSON: Don’t overlook some of the men in your life as great mentors and great referral sources and great advocates. For some of us, that was all we had, and if we didn’t use that resource, we wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere in the firm. There are wonderful men around, so don’t overlook that as a resource.
The other thing is just trying to find work that you love. Try and find marketing that fits into your life. When I had little children, I took a woman who also had little children to an ice show with our children because I didn’t want to have another night without my kids and she didn’t want to have another night without her kids. It was a perfect marketing event for us. Do things that you like to do, whether going to a yoga class or whatever works in your life. Don’t overlook that as a great marketing opportunity, whether male or female.
RICE: I would like to go around the table and ask each one, what would you love to whisper into your managing partner’s ear if you could? We didn’t have time to address the gender pay gap issues that pervade, but there’s many, many issues: the training; the mentoring; the discriminatory treatment. But looking at your situation and those of your colleagues, what would you want to say to your managing partner or someone in a position of leadership that could make a change that could help push your firm and, thus, the profession forward
ROGOWSKI: Confident and driven doesn’t mean “bitch,” is what I’d like to say.
SINCLAIR: Law firms are seeing that it’s harder to get business, and I think for the younger associates and maybe your younger partners, they’re pushed back by that a little bit. They don’t know what their next step is. I think the firm has to reach out to them more and try to talk to them about how they can market successfully, because it’s hard right now. I think they need to understand that it’s OK. You have to try, and the more they try … they might not have everything turn out—they just need one. They just need to get one relationship, two relationships, and it may take a year, two years, longer, but it’s OK. It’s not a hurry-up game. It’s a long-term investment. I think that needs to be put out there more as a message and have them really understand that.
PLATT: I’m in a sort of unique situation because I work in a very small firm with mostly all women, but looking at bigger firms, I would say to the person that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. There needs to be more effort within law firms to get people out of their silos and to work together to bring in business for the firm. I give Marshall Dennehey a lot of credit for not having origination, because I think that is a very divisive element in a law firm. It creates competition between partners and associates and associates and partners, and I think that it has a very negative impact on the atmosphere in a firm. They can get themselves out of these silos and work together a little better to bring in business and create compensation systems that encourage that type of attitude. I think law firms should be much more collegial places to work and places where women and men want to work. They would make it much more attractive places.
WINKLER: There are three things: Recognize talent, be flexible and then listen. Listen to what women are saying in your firm.
RICE: Well, thank you all very much for being here today. The stats stink, but if you have the will to move forward, you will. •