This article originally ran in The Legal Intelligencer on November 22, 2016.
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. This year the panelists tackled issues such as work-life balance, equal pay and the lack of positive change and opportunities for women in the legal profession.
Jami Wintz McKeon, chair of Morgan Lewis & Bockius moderated the discussion. The transcript has been edited, and excerpts follow:
JAMI WINTZ MCKEON: So a lot of people talk about work-life balance when it comes to women. People often frame discussions about women in the law with work-life balance, but studies increasingly show that women aren’t leaving the legal profession because they don’t want to work hard or because they want more balance, but because they perceive their opportunities to be more limited. And maybe a different way to put that is that when you look at the cost of what we do, the hours, the stresses on your work-life balance, and then you look at the benefits; women are seeing those benefits look more limited. And you can argue that the issues about equal pay and the issues about the lack of progression in terms of women, the partnerships going into senior management really bear that out, that women are leaving because of a lack of opportunity. I’m interested in what people in this room think about those issues, why women are leaving the law, is it true that it’s because of work-life balance or for other reasons; and secondly, is that the reason why we’re struggling to see women raise to higher levels in this profession.
STEPHANIE RESNICK: I think that’s very interesting how you posed that question, Jami. Unfortunately there are issues still in the profession, which I had hoped after 30 years, you know, we would be much further ahead, but we’re not. Just looking at the latest statistics, for instance, only 15 to 17 percent of women in firms are equity partners, which frankly, you know, considering the fact that women are graduating from law schools at an even, if not greater percentage, it’s just not acceptable.
So what is happening within a firm that is not facilitating women to become equity partners? And I think that from my perspective, what I have seen is that women coming into the firm, those who recognize that the firm is really an economic unit and figure out how they can become most indispensable, whether they’re originating or whether they’re playing an important role within an important client; those are the types of things that I think are facilitating women moving forward in their careers in firms.
But there really is a large group of women, young women particularly, that feel disenfranchised and don’t seem to want to move forward and there’s never a click on the other end either. So it’s not as happy a picture, and I think we are much further along than we were, but we’re not as further along as we should be.
WINTZ MCKEON: And I would just add before we ask John his views, I mean, I just spoke at a conference in Dubai and speaking to the women lawyers over there, we realize how far we’ve come in one sense, but when you talk about those statistics about women graduates, it was true when we graduated from law school. So those statistics are 35 years old. It’s not that only now 50 percent of the graduating classes are women, that’s happened for a long time.
WINTZ MCKEON: Which is, I think, what causes people concern about whether there’s a systemic issue. John, I’m interested in your thoughts on this as well.
JOHN SOROKO: I think a lot of this depends on against what one would measure these issues of progress or statistics. And the legal profession is by nature fairly conservative. Someone once said that it’s the only profession in which if you want to announce something new, you have to first show that someone said it before. So we don’t move quickly in the legal profession or in the legal industry. And of course what’s happening now has to also be measured against the fact that we’re in the era of disruption, disruptive innovation, whatever you want to call it; and I think the lack of an embrace or wary attitude about progressing through a law firm is not gender specific. I think that also applies to younger male lawyers entering the legal profession. Harvard Law School has done about a decade’s worth of study and data on the attitudes of some of the best and the brightest and what they think about law firms and the legal profession as they start their careers. And it’s probably different. It’s not probably, it is very different from what it used to be 30 or 40 years ago or a 100 years ago. So we’re all in this together. Everything is evolving very rapidly. Economic models for law firms are changing. What it means to be a partner in a law firm is changing. What it means to be a lawyer in a law firm is changing. And how women will navigate their way into equity partner status, if that is a meaningful status, and who knows, maybe in 20 years we won’t even be talking about the issue of who is and who isn’t an equity partner because maybe we’ll just be dealing with totally different models and those terms will be charming antiquated ways of how the world once worked and what once seemed important.
WINTZ MCKEON: We still have a model though, right? Whatever it is, there will still be, you know, the question of who rises to the top, whether it’s income partner, equity partner, CEO, whatever you call it. And while I think it’s true that there’s an observation that the most recent generation of lawyers is looking at the law differently no matter what the gender is, the statistics are still that, you know, 80, 85 percent, whatever it is, even though we started 50/50, an overwhelming majority of the people who are succeeding and progressing, at least the way we’ve traditionally defined success in law firms, you know, is still male.
So it would be interesting to hear from some of the women who are not at that level yet, what you perceive in terms of this.
JENNIFER SEGAL COATSWORTH: I was actually going to raise exactly the point that you did just prior to John speaking, which is that it’s interesting because, you know, you hear sort of leaders in the industry talking about how when they entered, you know, 30 and 40 years ago, they had so much hope with the Equal Rights Amendment and things like that. And here we are 35, 40 years later and we’re still talking about the same exact issue. And I declare now, Jami, it’s not that it’s new, that 50 percent of the women graduating from law school or 50 percent of graduating classes are women. It’s not new. It’s been going on for as long as we’ve been talking about this, yet we still haven’t seemed to make any progress. And I think in the business world most of our clients, I think some additional progress has been made. So I think maybe if we try to follow. And I think a lot of firms are trying to follow, and I think some of the business practices and some of the Fortune 500 companies are sort of making more women’s initiatives and making an effort to put some pressure on the firms that they deal with to meet certain quotas, but I think it has to go a step further than that. And I think the business industry needs to sort of lead the way. And then as John pointed out, the law has never been an industry that’s particularly fast moving in terms of progress, and so whether it be from a psychology field or anything else. And so I think that if we look to the business industry to sort of lead us and then take our steps from them that we’ll see the progress.
JACKLYN FETBROYT: I think the two prongs of your question, in itself, show a large part of what the difficulties here are. Substantially women were the champions of this idea of work-life balance, which I believe is a bit of a misnomer, but that’s probably a different question, the issue now maybe is because we were in large part the face of that, how do we get across what is the current fact, and you stated some statistics that I am unaware of, but the current fact is that, although we are the face of that, we are not saying that there’s an unwillingness to work just as hard as our male counterparts or to work hard whatever the circumstances are that are required. So in a way that may have cut against us because someone else needs to get past that stereotypical generalization, well, she’s a woman, her priority must be work-life balance, again whatever that means, understanding that it means whatever the person that is opposing you thinks it means. So you know, maybe the definition of work-life balance could be refined and defined a little bit better in a way to resolve this. And separately, maybe we need to let whoever the opposition is, and again determining who that opposition is, I think, another wholly separate question, letting them know that although we may agree work-life balance is something that’s important for us as women, that it does not mean that we’re not willing to do what it takes, again whatever that is for the circumstance.
JILL WALSH: Working in human resources, one of the biggest challenges I always had was the more senior management at the time was typically male Caucasian, their kids were already in college, or if they still had kids at home, they had a wife that stayed at home; and they were of the mindset that the people who got the job done were the people who were sitting in the chair in front of their computer. And time and time again I had to impress upon them, the people who are your top performers, they’re going to get the job done regardless of where they are. And if they’re keeping the seat warm, for all you know, they’re playing solitary on their computer. And I knew who my top performers were.
I knew that maybe they wanted to leave work at, oh, my gosh, 5:30 p.m., so they could get home and actually see their children; and then after they put their children to bed, they were pulling out their work at 10 or 11 at night to get that type of activity finished, because they were committed to their job. And I think in terms of work-life balance, if there’s any man who would suggest he doesn’t want to be home having dinner with his family, you know, people would say, well, but women, we’re expected to want to be home and have dinner with our family; and I’ll say, you know what, yes, I’d like to have dinner with my family. Who wouldn’t like to have dinner with their family? But it’s a matter of helping others appreciate the fact that we are way decades past that 9 to 5 work schedule. How many of us look at our phones and our emails at 10 at night or 5:30 in the morning when we probably should be sleeping, but I think with the younger generation, they all expect that they’re going to get their job done wherever they are.
WINTZ MCKEON: Well, technology has been both a negative for women, for everyone, but specifically for women and a positive, right? So the negative is we’re all on now 24/7, so your hours have extended. The positive is, I used to put my kids to bed and go back to work and stay all night because there was no way to work from home, there was no such thing. You know, there was no laptop. There was nothing. you had to be in the office. So we’re actually at Morgan Lewis doing a mobility data test now where we’re requiring all of our lawyers from one of our offices to spend a day a week working remotely just to see how that works. Partly to persuade people of the point you’re making, that we can use technology to open this up and give everybody more chances to work remotely.
And so in some ways that really should help people who are worried about work-life balance, but I’m not sure that it has done that much for anybody yet, but it should. It should be an improvement.
ALEMO: One concern that I’ve had is when I’m trying to figure out what my goals are over the next 10 years with when I have a family, how I would be able to sustain the work that I’m doing where I’m in court every single day just about. And one thing I’m learning, especially at my firm, is that just getting the work done is not the only criteria that is necessary from an associate. They look at are you bringing business into the firm, are you marketing. And those are things that I find to be very difficult, even with the movement of remote desktop and things like that.
Even though you’re getting your work done and you’re doing it very well, there’s the other things that you can’t really do from home. And that makes it very difficult for women, as I believe, Jill, you were saying that being home to have dinner with your family and then going on the computer at 10, unfortunately, a lot of men have more opportunity to be at those business meetings with other law firms and other big players in the field and bringing business in, things like that, that I think represent certainly an obstacle for women.
WINTZ MCKEON: So I think one of the challenges and opportunities for people in this much more technology-attached world is how to develop networks and relationships and develop your profile without necessarily having to be at the same places and in the same ways; but I do think you’re right, getting your work done is only part of the equation, at least in the part of the profession that we’re all in. You know, there are other options in health and things like that where there, that isn’t as significant, but for everybody it’s a balance, you know.
COATSWORTH: And another thing that I think is helpful for women to do is to find, try to cultivate business relationships with other women who are in the same position as you, but who are in position to give you business. So for instance I have two clients of mine who are also young mothers who have children, and where I cultivate their business is I have, and my firm is great in supporting any marketing efforts that you do, and so I take them to Sesame Place, I take them to Diggerland.
I take them to things where my family can participate as well, and so can theirs, and that way both of us are cultivating our business relationship; but at the same time we’re able to involve our families. And I think that’s something that we need to look to do even more, is to cultivate this business relationship to where we can include our families.
WINTZ MCKEON: Amy, you work for a large firm where, that has a lot of institutional clients. I’m interested in your views on how law firms are doing in terms of intentionally trying to make sure that the exposure to clients and the exposure to business opportunities is open to everyone. It used to be that 12 people inherited clients. And the theory was, I’m not saying it was true, but the general view was, you know, somebody handed clients to somebody who looked just like him or played golf just like him. So now the question is, if you view business as an indispensable part of success, are we doing better at making those opportunities available to women.
AMY UFBERG: Well, it’s definitely something that Dechert’s very focused on, and we have a few initiatives in order to make that happen that we’re all responsible for. So I’ll just give you a couple of examples. One is we now have a shadowing program where all associates have 25 hours and, you know, partners are supposed to think about it where they get billable credit for those 25 hours, they sort of take that off the table; but they can go, you know, you’re supposed to shadow, go to a client meeting, go to something where you know, maybe you wouldn’t normally have been able to have a few people, more people at the table. Like give them an opportunity, you know, to meet the clients and be in those sort of situations that help the transition piece of it along. And I found I love those hours, because not only do the associates love it, but when you explain it to the client and what you’re doing and why they’re there, it’s a really nice connection. And at least for me, I try to make sure that those meetings are ones or those opportunities are ones where sort of peer contacts for those associates are going to be there also. For me, I’m a trust and estate, you know, estate planning lawyer, the next generation is going to be there so that they can connect with that age. So I think that, from a Dechert perspective, that those hours and just putting it in people’s minds and saying, you know, do these things to start introducing is a good thing. Also there’s a lot of accountability when we’re going through both of our—we have an upward evaluation program, too, where younger associates are evaluating, you know, partners. A big piece of that is, are you introducing, are you starting to move things along. And also when we review ourselves toward comp, a lot of is, you know, accounting to your partners. What pieces of the diversity initiative have you done? Have you thought about it in your process? Prove, actually prove it, write it down when you’re being analyzed by other partners. I think there was maybe 20 or 25 percent of our review of ourselves that had to do with how are you being inclusive of all the partners, of all of your associates and across the board. So it’s on our minds.
WINTZ MCKEON: It seems that the focus, I think that this is a good thing, the focus of women’s initiatives has changed from just networking to actually business. I mean, I know at Morgan Lewis it’s all about business development, not about just networking, although networking is important. But a question is whether or not these initiatives are really achieving their objectives. I don’t know, Patricia, Sherri, either of you have initiatives of that type that are focused on women or business development for sort of traditionally under-served groups?
PATRICIA HENNESSY: Conrad O’Brien has a women’s initiative, we just launched it last year. The focus of it, I think, in the beginning, was to be supportive of women within the firm. And because I think we looked at what is the typical law firm structure, which is a little bit of an erudite that, you know women are or even any associate is not expected to go to a client event or to a marketing event; and I think frankly our analysis was, the sooner that they get out there, the better off they are. You can’t expect somebody at 10 years to market if they’ve never actually learned how to market. And sitting in a conference room learning about marketing from someone who is a good marketer is not really the way to go.
So initially it really was a support group for all of the women. We have a very large percentage of women in our firm. We have three female equity partners, we have a large number of female nonequity partners, we have a large number of female associates. So in order to make sure that nobody was really slipping through the cracks, we thought this initiative was great. We then decided to focus it more on putting together marketing events where we could invite strong female professionals in other veins. Other female professionals in other law firms, for example, because we do a lot of referral-type based work. And women in other financial industries, medical device industries, those types of things, and putting together those things and then inviting strong women speakers to come in, to not only inspire our own core, but also to show to the rest of the world that we have a strong core.
WINTZ MCKEON: Cheri, have you been involved in any of those kinds of programs?
CHERI JOHNSON: Not to my knowledge. I don’t think we have a women’s initiative.
WINTZ MCKEON: Well, time to start one.
JOHNSON: Yeah. I’m writing down some things to go back to the firm. Just you know, like the shadow opportunity that I think is really great, having a women’s initiative. We do have a diversity initiative and things of that sort, but not specifically for women. I do believe our partners have a women’s initiative, I guess, for business development, but not among the associates.
We do have a mentoring program, but it’s not specifically for women, it’s specifically for incoming first- and second-year attorneys. I’m sure they’ll be open to hearing from what other firms are doing and things of that sort.
WINTZ MCKEON: Sometimes I think one of the problems that we run into is when, and it goes back to something that Patricia said, is a lot of times people, in an effort to be sensitive to work-life balance issues or to not overburden people, especially with young families, will say, oh, you don’t have to do that, you’re not expected to do that, or well, we’re not going to ask her to spend three months on trial because that would be unfair to her; and then what happens is the other people who are doing those things are building the relationships, building the reputation. And then you look up one day and that mom with two kids isn’t doing the same thing and feels shut out of opportunities, but it actually came from a well-intentioned place. And I think that’s a real challenge for firms. And, Min, I don’t know what your observations are in this area, but how do we have a more open dialogue so that people aren’t miscommunicating inadvertently about what their goals and expectations are.
MIN SUH: Something was said earlier about, not leading, but following industry trend in terms of what other professionals are doing. And it’s really remarkable that we’re lawyers, we’re problem solvers, clients come to us for answers; yet we can’t even handle this problem that we have that’s been ongoing as long as we’ve been, working. I think we do a lot of box ticking. Oh, we have work-life balance because we allow women to work part time. So we become somewhat complacent that our problems are managed, we’re looking at things, we’re putting resources into it, we spend money; so we must be doing something right. Our competitors are doing the same thing. Look around the room, if Morgan is doing it, Dechert’s going to do it, then Reed Smith will do it, then, you know, Fox will do it. And we all just become somewhat complacent that things must be heading in the right direction; but obviously we have a problem, and I think we have to acknowledge that.
My husband would not be happy talking about this, but, you know, when one of our kids is ill, it’s assumed that I’m going to stay home or I will manage, you know, manage my day. Don’t tell Jamie that.
RESNICK: I’m just going to tell him that, Min.
WINTZ MCKEON: Not only tell him that, tell him to fix it.
SUH: Yeah. So if you look at the top and the top structure of the law firms, the top performing are mostly white males and they have a stay-at-home wife. And I’m not damning them for it. it’s obviously a family dynamic. Somebody has to make a huge sacrifice to do that. But I that conversation is a personal one, but law firms are just catching up to these things.
WINTZ MCKEON: But it’s also a societal one I think. Because I think people in the room with children, right now we’re focusing on people with children because that tends to be where the rubber meets the road for a lot of women; on the other hand statistics aren’t much better for women without children. But when you look at women with children, the fact of the matter is we still live in a society where if you don’t show up to your kids’ concerts, people are going to notice it; but if your husband doesn’t show up, nobody even notices.
WINTZ MCKEON: They just assume he’s working. the internal pressures many times on women are great intestinal fortitude and great childcare, right? But you know, great intestinal fortitude is really important because people are going to look at you differently. When you’re not there, if you’re not staying home with that sick child. And so I’m not sure how far we can go in adjusting those expectations, but if you’re dealing with all that and you’re feeling successful internally and you see a road map and you see success, that’s one thing. If you’re dealing with all that and you don’t see that, that’s when it just becomes not worth it.
RESNICK: Well, you know, it’s interesting that you talk about this, because I do think it has been borne out by the ABA commission on women and their most recent study, they just did a study, which I found incredibly interesting, and it was to quantify how many women were first chairs in trials or were lead lawyers in trials. And they use as a random sampling, the Northern District of Illinois. And I think the percentage was something like 23 percent of the attorneys that were looked at, pulled from the docket entries or from PACER, it was determined that there was 23 percent. That for me, and I know that you’re a litigator, we were, 32 years ago, we were doing lady litigation lunches, which is something that really has stopped. I mean, it was such a fun thing to do. Jami actually started that program, and we all would have lunches once a month and we’d move offices and each office would host. Duane Morris was very active in that.
WINTZ MCKEON: There weren’t that many of us then, we could all fit in a conference room then.
RESNICK: I’m saying we need to go back to that, but you know, as chair of the Fox Rothschild’s litigation department for seven years, I saw that there was really a need to promote women within the department, as you did, and really make sure that women were getting the juicy assignments, were getting on the high-profile cases, cases that needed sometimes round-the-clock management, whether it’s just an injunction or whatever, making sure that women were getting the profile that was so necessary. Because I look around my firm, and we have just an extraordinary group of women trial lawyers in the litigation department. So I guess there really needs to be some sort of focus internally within the firm.
I know Duane Morris has been terrific doing that, and others, Stradley also. So I feel that from within there needs to be mechanisms. And part of that is advancing women within the firm. Because when you advance women within the firm, then there really is, and this is not a male thing, a women-male thing, because I think that in order to succeed within a firm, you must have a male mentor and a female mentor. Men are hugely important to your success in a law firm, and 99.99 percent of the men who are at the firms truly want to address this issue and promote women within the firm. So it’s really a matter of figuring out how is that going to happen within a platform so that women can move forward in a profession doing things like that? And that’s one of them, I mean, looking inside and saying, OK, well, yeah, I was chair of litigation, maybe I was just a little bit more sensitive to that. I don’t think any male litigation department chair would have been adverse to any of the things that I thought were really important, but I do think that it was maybe more of a heightened sensitivity on my part to make sure that our talented women lawyers were getting into court, were handling the kind of cases that men were, and especially at the senior associate level, young partner level. And again, I, you know, I don’t have any children, so I always look to Jami to see how she could manage all of these things. It was really quite a remarkable effort; but, you know, that is really tough.
HENNESSY: I wonder though for women that aren’t litigators, I mean I think, just again back to the typical law firm structure, I think people tend to always look at litigation and, you know, how many people are participating in litigation. I don’t honestly know what those numbers look like for other areas of the law that don’t necessarily lend itself to litigation, what does it look like on the transactional level? Most of the transactional lawyers that I know aren’t female. What does it look like in trust and estates? What does it look like in those other areas that, you know, tend to be easier to practice, frankly, if you’re not having to first chair a trial?
WINTZ MCKEON: Now I haven’t looked at the statistics recently, but I think that generally overall women pivoted more into litigation and labor and employment, which is kind of funny because litigation is not a very hospitable life sometimes for that; but transactional, finance, investment management, a lot of those areas that control a lot of business tended to be more male. Now whether they are today, I haven’t looked at; but, you know, it all comes back to in any law firm organization, you need your partners driving revenue for others. And you know, it’s not enough to just be good. You have to be somebody who is contributing to the business. And so going back to that building business, and there are only really two ways to do that, one is to contribute to expanding business for existing clients and the other is to get new clients. Now Morgan Lewis we always tell people the former is as or more important than the latter. We’d rather have people spending their time devoting themselves to expanding the business for clients we already have. New clients are great, but that’s not what we’re looking for people to do. But whichever way you do it, the people who become partner and who succeed at partner are people who are responsible for driving a lot of client relationships. And so you have to somehow have that exposure and get into that pipeline.
GINA PASSARELLA (Reporter, The Legal): Jami, I don’t want to interrupt you guys, I’m sorry, but you made me think of a question.
Stephanie, the survey that you pointed out, I think that one of the suggestions was, if you want to become first chair, if you want to succeed in litigation specifically, go into government work or go into X practice area, because that just happens to be where the highest percentage of women are. And I wonder what your thought is, should women think of, OK, let me go into a practice area that is hospitable for me or let me go into the practice area that I want and it should be hospitable to me. If that kind of recommendation, is that a recommendation that you all would give other women?
RESNICK: I don’t think women should limit themselves in any way. So women who want to be trial lawyers should be trial lawyers. And there are phenomenal women trial lawyers, as there are phenomenal men—male trial lawyers. But I don’t feel that there should be any limitation whatsoever on a woman’s desire to become whatever kind of lawyer that they would like to be.
WINTZ MCKEON: But I hear the question Gina’s asking a little bit different, which is that women have not succeeded as much in traditional areas by being trial lawyers, so law firms are not making tons of women partners as trial lawyers, right? Can you get that first-year experience better by going into the government or going somewhere where it seems to have been more receptive. And you know, I don’t know what the statistics are on that, but ultimately unless you want to spend your career in the government, if you want to go back to private practice, you’re going to have to build a practice. Now maybe that pedigree you come back with, if you’ve been the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, you probably have a pretty good calling card to go back into private practice; but if you’ve been one of many people working in the local DA’s office, whether that’s going to really get me what you need, I’m not really sure.
FETBROYT: I think one of the thoughts that I’ve had on just about every question that we’ve talked about is just sort of floating out here is the idea of personal accountability. Meaning every single point that’s been made so far has been really important and valid. But what we don’t want to lose is that, we are the architects of our lives. Meaning if it’s an appropriate decision for you to have household wherein one partner stays home, that’s a completely appropriate decision to make, you have to determine that for yourself. If your programs at your more institutional law firm, and my views on this are a little bit different, I’ve only been in small or mid-sized law firms, but that shadowing program sounds amazing, diversity and women’s initiatives are amazing; but if they don’t exist or if they’re not getting you what you need from it, then you’ve got to find a way to do it yourself. Maybe that means taking potential clients to Sesame Place. Whatever it is, you have to make the decision that’s appropriate for you in that circumstance. So if after some long hard thought you’ve determined that in that instance, your private practice litigation isn’t getting you the experience or the exposure that you need, then that’s a decision that you need to make personally. Make sure that you understand what the consequences are. It puts you out of private practice. You’re not going to be attending the networking events, whether they’re at 5 p.m. or otherwise, depending on what your schedule.
So all of these things have to exist. All of these things have to happen for us to have a voice and to continue to plow forward and move forward. Meaning all of these institutional designs. And we have to know what the statistics are, because, you know, absent knowing what the past and the present look like, we’re never going to make a change for our future. That said, yes, am I one of the statistics, absolutely; but does that prevent me from making my own decisions that might take me away from it, whether it’s going into a different practice area, transactional or otherwise, it shouldn’t. So you know, I think that that’s something that, as women, we need to be more cognizant of in many circumstances.
WINTZ MCKEON: Let’s frame it a little bit differently, okay? Because this is—this is interesting. Years ago, one of our close friends, who Steph and I were talking about earlier, was talking to a group of women where the issue of sort of women succeeding was first coming to the floor and somebody said, what is the firm’s responsibility to me to help me balance all these things. And she unequivocally said, none. The firm has no responsibility to help you. And I probably agreed with her back then, but now you look later, and if you agree that diversity is an imperative, that we have clients who are demanding a more diverse workforce, that it’s better for the world, and if you look at the statistics and you see 50 percent going down, you know, to let’s say 15 percent; then the question is, do we, as a profession or a society, have an obligation, yes, it’s your choice, but are we making it harder for people to succeed in the profession, so that there’s a—there’s a balance between personal accountability and corporate or professional accountability. And I think that’s sort of the question where we are now. And, John, I don’t know what your view is on that, but I’m interested in how your thoughts have evolved on that over time.
SOROKO: Well, you know, I start with the proposition that as the leader at our law firm, my number one obligation is to make sure that at all times our firm is best positioned to meet the needs of clients and meet the needs of the lawyers who work at the firm. And I can tell you that more often than not that leads me in the direction of thinking how we can promote in this context, our women colleagues. I don’t think there’s any discussion of staffing on major matters for major clients that doesn’t involve a recognition of the advantages of having teams that are diverse, because clients are diverse. Women, in particular, are filling up the ranks very rapidly of the general counsels’ offices of clients. Clients are building up their own in-house capability. That often means lots of women working in-house for clients. And you need very good, very sharp women lawyers at all levels of your firm to interact with those people to ensure that you stay relevant to those clients. So I think there’s a very good muscle reflex at most larger law firms in that in that direction; but it’s also the case, that I think that, and I think I was trying to allude to this earlier in my first response, you know, these things are always trailing the play a little bit. So women, it’s tough for women to enter the legal profession now and view success in the way it might have been defined 20 or 30 years ago, which of course is dependency. It’s sort of like, OK, we’re going to be getting to be more equal, which means I’m going to have a chance at success the way success was defined in what, 1982? It doesn’t really work that way. There are so many simultaneous variables in the equation for success in law firms now and how law firms have to be evolving and successful. And I think women have to figure out, as does every lawyer in the firm, his or her own value proposition for the firm. Maybe it’s working in a niche area. Maybe it is going into government and then coming back out of government because you offer something special and something distinctive to a firm. And I think it’s a joint responsibility of the lawyers in the firm and the firm institutionally to figure out that together. So any law firm is going to be a better law firm if its women lawyers feel more involved, more integrated, and are doing better at the firm.
WINTZ MCKEON: Well, and I think that puts a premium on collaboration and being in a law firm environment where people really believe that what’s good for the firm is good for individuals, because it requires firms to get away from what some firms have been burdened by, which is that individual, I succeed based on my book of business or based on, you know, viewing your competition as internal. And I always tell people at our firm, your competition is outside the four walls of the firm. If we all succeed, we all succeed. But I think that you’re really talking about people looking at sort of what is going to be best for the firm and for the greater good and having that faith that, you know, you can succeed in a collaborative environment instead of sort of the individual rainmaker profile that a lot of firms have been wedded to for a long time.
ALEMO: So I completely agree. And one of the first things that John had said is what I had been thinking as well, is that at our firm a lot of the top players are women. I always strongly believe that the firm is realizing this, that they want to incentivize the women to stay and continue practicing at the firm because it’s in the interest of the clients, it’s in the interest of the success of the firm financially and reputationwise as well. And after hearing everything, for example what Stephanie said and what Patricia said about initiatives in the firm, I think that males in the firm are not trying to stunt female growth. I think it sounds like it’s a lack of resources, and resources include what Stephanie said, which is role models, I think it includes what Patricia said, which is a support system, to help women navigate that balance that we begin with.
UFBERG: So at Dechert we’ve had a women’s initiative for several years now, and I think we’ve sort of started to gather steam, too, because there’s lots of support from the top. And our women’s initiatives, now we have several a year where associates are included. And one we go a day early at our partners’ retreat and have a women’s session there also. We have more women on our executive committee now because we sort of talk about it more directly about how to make sure all of that happens across the firm. And now we have men that come to our women’s initiatives, too. And part of it is a diversity initiative, too, not just women, but other diversity initiatives. And just going around the table and everyone saying how they develop business, what works for them, and how we can help each other. Because I don’t think we talk about that enough, but that was a really good connector. But it’s figuring out, mentoring is great, you know, having someone who is willing to talk to you and help you along the way; but at least the mentors that have worked for me, and I think are more productive, are the ones where you’re helping each other.
COATSWORTH: Madeleine Albright had a fantastic quote this weekend, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
WINTZ MCKEON: It’s a quote many of us have used.
UFBERG: But you know what, and it’s definitely women helping women, but the person that helped me the most through my career was a man. And it just happened that way, but he couldn’t advance unless I worked the way I did with him and, you know, vice versa. And so not just finding someone and saying, can you help me; you have to find someone that you can help you, too. And I think talking to other women at the firm, not to just say, how can you help me, but saying how can you help me figure out how to make it work. Because, you know, that they know people and it’s really important. So I think the women’s initiatives are hugely important. Dechert is hugely supportive of it. And you’ve got to find out how to figure out how to use it.
SUH: I think that, perhaps most of you will agree that, the problem is there, and I think even white males, our counterparts, would agree that there is a problem and they’re willing to put their resources there; but the solution, I think, is there’s no prescription for all of us. Like we’re all different. Even all of us in here, we’re in different practice groups, different lifestyles, whatever it may be. And you know, you have to create your own compass and your road map. And if the help is not there, you have to ask for help. Whether it’s resources within the firm or outside. You demand it. Because, guys are afraid to ask for the help. And so I think the women’s initiatives, if it’s not there, ask for one. If you don’t have a sponsor, whatever, mentor; ask somebody who’s successful that you look up to. And don’t always assume, obviously you already probably know this, but the person who has your best interest may not be someone who looks like you. Maybe someone who doesn’t look like you at all.
WALSH: I was driving down the road and saw a billboard for a law firm to remain unnamed, and as I’m driving, this is what went through my mind, well, there’s five white men. And they’re all smiling on the billboard. And I wonder if they realize that many women, perhaps many folks of protected classes look at that billboard and say, well, there’s five white men. And I think that there was a reference made earlier to how some of the Fortune 500 firms have been successful, you find these larger firms and all of a sudden they’re federal contractors, they’ve got to do things like affirmative action plans. It’s not negotiable. And through that, although initially they might have bristled at needing to do that type of thing, they’ve realized, wait a minute, when I start to hire people who don’t look exactly like me, we’re actually benefitting from that. I acknowledge the faults in my way of thinking. I understand that I think a certain way. And when I’m sitting at the table with somebody else and we’re collaborating on a project and they come up with an idea that never would have entered my brain as a way to do something, collectively that makes us a stronger team. So for some of the firms that maybe aren’t getting that mandated push to recognize that you should be taking these efforts to recruit and retain a diverse workforce, it’s going to maybe come from somebody saying you have to, but then the other firms where you’re really lucky, you have folks, you know, John is sitting here participating in this group, it shows that there are people out there who recognize the importance of bringing a team together who are all different. So together you can be a genius at the table.
COATSWORTH: In respect, or just in respect is that yes, there has to be an internal mechanism within the firm to promote women and has to come from the top and it’s critical that it comes from the top, it goes through the department heads, and it filters down throughout the entire firm; but the women within the firm or the diverse attorneys within the firm also has to take the initiative, as Jackie was saying, to take some responsibility and some initiative on their own. And I think it’s a dual responsibility. The firm has a responsibility to make it within, it’s just the firm practice, it’s just what we do; but on the other hand, it’s your responsibility to go seek out that work, go seek out that assignment. Even if you’re a young mom, even if you know it’s going to be a challenge; go seek out that work, go seek out that assignment that’s going to spotlight you, that’s going to make you the star, and that’s going to make you the person that people look to come to for future assignments as well. So I think, you know, it’s a dual responsibility. You can’t just place it on the firm, although it has to start with the firm to make it comfortable for that person who’s looking for that assignment.
WINTZ MCKEON: I mean, I think the thing that’s interesting, the reason why I said before when Min and I were speaking about the importance of communication is I think that there are problems where people make assumptions about what people’s goals are. So to the point that you made, Jacklyn, sometimes somebody is going to say, look, I need this period of time to look like this, and then my ultimate goal is this. Other times, you know, I had a woman from one of our offices call me the other day and say, I’m pregnant, I’m really excited, I’m going out on leave; but here’s the thing, I want to come back in three months and I want to, you know, be leading these teams and I’m worried that people will think that I want to work part time or that I don’t want to come back. Because now there’s so many other options. You know, Morgan Lewis was the first firm that had a three-month maternity leave, and that was when I and several other people at the firm were pregnant way back in the early ’80s, but part time wasn’t an option. Nobody assumed you were going to work part time. You were going to take three months, you were going to come back. So we didn’t have to deal with all of those different options. Are you going to take longer, are you going to come back in a year, are you going to work part time. So now I think sometimes people make assumptions and others are burdened by them. And I think maybe we need much better communication and people not to be afraid to raise the topic. Whether you’re the woman raising the topic or whether you’re the firm raising the topic. Saying, Amy, what do you want to do here, like what’s your plan, how can we help, tell us what you’re looking at. And that’s going to change over time, too, but you’re much better off if you actually have a discussion about what the plan is, because then the firm can figure out how to support what you’re doing and you can make your choices.
RESNICK: But I think that was well said, your point, and that is, it really is a dual responsibility. And I give credit to your colleague to calling you and saying, hey, how is this not going to affect me so that I can come back in the same way I am. I don’t want there to allow the implicit biasthat goes with this to affect me. So I give her a lot of credit.
WINTZ MCKEON: Well, give credit to the right colleague. So it was a male partner of mine who she works with who called me and said, I know this is a concern of hers, I thought it might be good for you to talk to her. I said, absolutely. I’ll call her or she can call me. And then I hooked her up with some other people, too. So to the point that’s been made around here, he was very focused on her success. And said, listen, we’ve got a firm chair who’s had four kids, she might be a good person to go talk to. And I was thrilled to talk to her about it, but I think, you need people to say, this is an OK topic of conversation. And I think sometimes people really struggle with whether to be open about either their goals or the fact that they’re not sure.
We all like to look like we know what we’re doing and we’re sure of everything all the time. So I think sometimes that’s a tough issue. We’re located in a beautiful place where there are so many successful women, women lawyers especially. We have wonderful firms here and wonderful women lawyers, but just women professionals generally. So to Min’s point about your mentor not necessarily needing to look like you, I think as far as communication goes, Jami, I could see if I were an employee within your firm, maybe being a little intimidated that you were my first call, only because you want to make sure that you are proceeding in the appropriate way.
FETBROYT: That you’re not taking advantage or anything along those lines. So when you have those questions, I think it’s OK to look for a mentor, whoever that may be, outside of your normal chain of command, outside of your firm. For me that was something that I actually had to do. Again, and I think that’s a function of size for me. The larger firms offer a much wider array of wonderful men and women attorneys that you can utilize as a mentor. But in that instance, if that young mother had not had the male partner who she worked with maybe make that step for her, but she was not comfortable dialing you right away, at least not as her first call, to find someone to say, what do you think about this, how should I do that? And we have wonderful, wonderful resources just here geographically of other women professionals who are always willing to say, well, this is my thought. Not saying it’s right or wrong, but you can sort of digest all of the input that you can get.
WINTZ MCKEON: One interesting topic I think that flows from all of this is, if you look at the U.K. firms and some firms outside the United States, they’re very focused on statistics, reporting statistics, making statements like 30 percent of our partners, that we ensure that each time we make partners, 30 percent are women. Almost a quota-type system, which has not been an approach in the U.S., and which I personally think is hard in a professional services industry because of the relationship aspect. But what do people think about that? You know, talking about being a little bit behind the curve. Sometimes what happens across the pond ends up filtering over here. What do people think about the idea of law firms announcing or insisting on quotas? Cheri?
JOHNSON: I think it could be a little hard. I think sometimes that when there’s quota systems, they’re like, you only got in because you’re a woman or you only got in because of this, that, and the other, you only got in because of affirmative action or whatever; and unfortunately you probably got a job because you were smart enough, you were talented enough, you worked just as hard as anybody else; but your partner looking next to you might be like, well, she only got in because of that and may not respect you for it. So I do see the benefit of it, but I can also see how something like that could backfire. I don’t know what’s right or wrong.
RESNICK: That’s a very interesting point, because that issue has been really looked at in the context of women on boards. And outside of the United States, there are certain countries that do have mandatory quotas for women on public boards. But from my mind, and again echoing your sentiments, imposing a quota is saying that, I think you’re less than.
SUH: Well, let’s not put a quota first. And what I’d like to see is not promote women to be partners, because in order to be a partner, there’s certain criteria, whether it looks different from one law firm to another, we all have one, right? Whatever that means. I would love to see law firms actually ask women to step up into leadership roles. If there’s a litigation chair, make her the co-chair. Just a year, whatever it may be, I think we can multitask like crazy. And given the responsibility, I think we would rise to it. And if they want to call it a quota, that’s fine; but I think putting women in leadership roles is so important, that’s so much more important than saying you have this percentage of women to be partners.
WINTZ MCKEON: There’s a lot of chicken and the egg there though, right? Because at least at our firm, leadership isn’t something that you just pick people to do, it’s something that they evolve into as a result of their work, their responsibilities. Now there are some firms where leadership is kind of a title that you’re given, but a lot of firms like ours, there’s a real meritocracy aspect to it, so the person who’s picked to be the head of a practice group is usually somebody who already has earned a lot of respect at the table. On the other hand, and this goes back to I think what the U.K. firms are thinking, it may be that if you promote people to partnership or put people in leadership roles with an announced goal of increasing women, you run the risk those women will be regarded as not having gotten there on their own merit; but the other school of thought is, once they’re there, if they’re successful and they demonstrate that, you’ve broken that barrier. So it’s really just a, how do you get there? I don’t know myself what I think the right thing is. I certainly don’t find the quota idea appealing, and part of it is for the reason that you say; but I also think that what we’re all talking about here is, we’ve seen the status quo that if it’s moving, it’s moving very, very, very slowly.
In fact, that’s why I think there are firms where they put people in roles like that because they have a book of business and they don’t have the other things, but that’s why I said respected.
So maybe everybody can give a parting thought?
JOHNSON: I thought this was very useful, especially being a young associate in the room here. There’s a lot of great ideas that I want to go back to my firm with and hopefully implement something. I know that I’m young, but I think they’ll be very receptive and open to any ideas that you can bring to the table. And hopefully maybe start one of these initiatives at our firm for the associates. I think it’s important.
SOROKO: I think the last point that was touched upon very briefly, which is the inner relationship between business and business development skills on the one hand and leadership and leadership skills on the other hand is something that is almost inevitably confused in the minds of the people, both male lawyers and female lawyers. It is confusing. It’s not all one thing, it’s not the other. Having a big book of business and being an excellent lawyer doesn’t make you a law firm leader. But the opposite isn’t true either. And sometimes you do need some levels of professional reputation and achievement to have the credibility component that’s an essential part of being a law firm leader.
UFBERG: I would just say work hard as you can, but keep your head up and get out from behind your desk and do all the other things that the strong successful people around you tell you to do.
SUH: I would encourage all the law firms and all the lawyers to be ahead of the trend. I’d love to see us be an industry leader in the profession, that we thought of something that is trendsetting, instead of us always following and comparing statistics. Statistics are helpful obviously to look at and examine a problem, but I think we should be looking at statistics that we got here, so we’re doing something right.
RESNICK: I just want to recognize that we have made progress and we just need increased sensitivity and to move forward. Many, many of the large firms and the medium-sized firms and the smaller firms have caught onto this issue and are really making an effort to promote women in the profession.
ALEMO: My biggest takeaway here has been just that if there is an opportunity, women should be seizing that opportunity. And I do believe that one thing that we didn’t discuss that I think is important is innovation and just being being creative in your role. I lead a team after shadowing one of the partners. And at our firm you have to earn it, but the opportunity was there, and I dedicated myself to try to have a three-person team. But one thing I work on all the time is figuring out how to lead my team differently and not just men at the firm, but women at the firm. And I think that it’s just very important if you want to stand out, as a male or a woman, is to be creative.
HENNESSY: I’m very hopeful that as law firms transition from functioning as law firms to functioning as businesses, that women, in particular who are used to being extremely innovative and flexible, can bring that to the table. The best piece of advice I think I’ve ever gotten as far as a career track is to understand that it is not a ladder, it’s a jungle gym. And I think most women have entered into the profession at least in whatever strata my age group is, have always looked at this field of progression is if I’m not going up, then I’m not succeeding. And I do think it’s important that women understand, and as in other businesses, that those things can mean a great deal of other things that we can also look at as far as terms of moving up. It may be that we’re moving over or moving sideways and then, you know, going up the ladder from there.
WALSH: Two thoughts. One, a reminder to keep the doors open for law students who are looking for summer internships. They always say when medical students graduate from medical school, they know how to do stitches, they know how to draw blood; but when new law students graduate, they come in and they don’t know how to do too many things. Really it was touched on earlier, find yourself an association of folks where you have that type of environment where you can ask any question and not feel stupid for doing so. And I remember maybe in my second year of practice, I belong to a group of female attorneys in the Lehigh Valley area and we talk about everything, and I said, when am I going to stop feeling like an idiot at work? And one of the other attorneys responded, I’ve been practicing 30 years, I still feel like an idiot at least once a week. So the point is, have a support environment somewhere, a safe environment somewhere you can turn to and reach out to others in your field and ask questions and refer business to each other when you’re practicing different areas.
FETBROYT: I’d like to say thank you to everybody. This has been invigorating and energizing and encouraging being in this room with all of you. I feel very, very lucky to be a part of this group and just to be surrounded by you all. Secondly I think that my takeaway here is that I think the future looks wonderful. If this group is representative of the ideas that are going to come out of our profession, especially here in Philadelphia, I really do feel encouraged that if we continue to do and practice what we’re preaching here, or as my dad used to like to say, you know, make sure our mouths are writing checks that our butts can cash, if that is, in fact, what we’re doing here, I feel really, really encouraged about what the future of this profession looks like. And just as a final thought is, I love the law. And I think that probably everybody sitting in this room does, too. And we should not ever permit whatever we see as limitations for us in our practice as women pull us away from that. The profession is a wonderful, wonderful beautiful thing. The law is pretty awesome. So thank you for all of your thoughts and for letting me be a part of this.
Reprinted with permission from the November 22, 2016 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. © 2016 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.