Employment Firms Remain Tops For Female Attorneys via Law360

Posted on 05-06-2016 by
Tags: woman lawyers , LIT , Latest Headlines & Stories

The article below has been republished in full courtesy of Law360, written by Vin Gurrieri.

Law360, New York (April 19, 2016, 10:16 PM ET) -- Employment firms over the past year continued to outpace their general practice rivals in blazing a trail of gender diversity, boasting a greater percentage of female attorneys and partners than their peers, according to data compiled by Law360.

Overall, women made up 34 percent of attorneys at all law firms surveyed by Law360 as part of its 2016 Glass Ceiling Report. But when Law360 looked just at the employment boutiques surveyed, the numbers were dramatically different, with women constituting 43 percent of all attorneys at those law firms.


Women also made up 31 percent of all partners at those nine employment-focused firms, a far greater percentage than Law360 found when looking broadly at all firms surveyed, with women adding up to just 22 percent of partners overall.

Of the employment firms, California-based Liebert Cassidy Whitmore had the highest percentage of female attorneys at 52 percent. More than 48 percent of Liebert Cassidy’s partners were also women, and these statistics landed the firm the fourth spot on Law360’s list of the top 100 firms for female attorneys.

Liebert Cassidy’s Shelline Bennett, who is managing partner of the firm’s Fresno office, says she pulled out a folder that contained a faded article from May 1992 shortly before speaking with Law360 last week. The article stated that the Fresno County Women Lawyers Association had to act to help women lawyers break through the glass ceiling.

Out of curiosity, Bennett took a look what the breakdown was in 1992 for partners with 20 years’ experience, which she currently has under her belt. The result: About 93 percent of partners fitting that profile were white men and only about 4 percent were women.

“I’m sure those numbers are different now,” Bennett said. “It gave me a good sense of how far we’ve come, but also that we have a long way to go.”

Not far behind Liebert Cassidy were employment law stalwarts Jackson Lewis PC at No. 18,Ford & Harrison LLP at No. 22, and Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart PC at No. 24.

Of those firms, Jackson Lewis is the largest, with 803 attorneys, and 43 percent of its attorneys are women. Ogletree, a similarly large boutique, also says 43 percent of its attorneys are women.

FordHarrison is 47 percent female, about 7 percentage points higher than the firm reported a year ago. Another notable entry was Constangy Brooks Smith & Prophete LLP, which reported that 45 percent of all attorneys and 34 percent of partners are female.

Danielle Moore, a partner at Fisher & Phillips LLP, which is 34 percent female, said part of employment firms’ success in promoting gender diversity lies in the nature of the practice itself.

“We spend a lot of time coaching and training clients daily in these very issues,” said Moore, who co-chairs the firm’s Women’s Initiative and Leadership Council with partner Christine Howard. “I don’t think you can counsel clients and not have it affect your [own] organization.”

But even though employment firms have found success in clearing a path for women to thrive, those who work at those firms have a wide range of thoughts as to the reasons for that success, attributing it more to an overall adherence to a core set of values that promote gender diversity rather than any single catchall policy.

Creating Opportunities

Morin Jacob, managing partner of Liebert Cassidy’s San Francisco office, says that early in her career, when she was an associate at another firm, a male partner told her that she’d never be first chair in a trial.

“I didn’t know what to attribute that to,” Jacob said. “I didn’t appreciate how limiting it was to be told that. It wasn’t until I got to Liebert Cassidy that I saw how different and wonderful an environment could be.”

It was in her first year at Liebert Cassidy nearly a decade ago that Jacob recounts a senior male partner telling her that she should serve as first chair in a particular case he was overseeing — a stark contrast to her previous experience.

“Opportunities are yours for the taking if you demonstrate you want to take on certain types of cases,” Jacob said.

Bennett says that it’s important to provide female lawyers with the chance to have important face time with clients in order to build a rapport.

“Here, we try to push attorneys, even junior associates, to get them out there in front of clients,” Bennett said, noting that “didn’t happen so much” when she started out in the early 1990s.

Ogletree Deakins has implemented a three-pronged women’s initiative that focuses on placing women in leadership positions throughout the firm and in the community, shareholder Danielle Ochs said, providing access to networking and cross-selling opportunities and guiding women in the steps necessary to be an equity shareholder.

Dawn Siler-Nixon of FordHarrison, which reports that nearly 36 percent of its partners are women, says that creating opportunities for women in top leadership positions is another key in promoting gender diversity.

One-third of the firm’s 18 offices are headed by women, and the firm’s executive committee includes numerous women that help set firmwide compensation policy, according to Siler-Nixon, who added that younger attorneys can see those appointments as potential opportunities.

“They can look at the women [in leadership positions] as role models,” Siler-Nixon said.

Flexibility Programs

Ogletree Deakins shareholder Melissa Bailey, who is a member of the firm’s board of directors, says the firm’s flexibility policy played a significant role in her own career, allowing her to work a part-time schedule when she first joined the firm as of counsel nearly a decade ago and had just had a baby.

After a period of time, Bailey transitioned back into a full-time role and worked her way up to a leadership position within the firm.

“Very smart firms are realizing that there are talented attorneys that may need that need flexibility at some point in their lives,” Bailey said, noting that she may not have been as successful without the part-time program.

Flexible work-time policies have long been a staple of Liebert Cassidy, according to managing partner Scott Tiedemann, who says the firm adopted policies for part-time work even before they became commonplace.

Those policies have multiple benefits, Tiedemann says, noting that they help the firm hold on to talented lawyers and inspire loyalty among attorneys toward the firm.

“Those policies mean women don’t have to choose between having a successful career and staying home for a period of time,” Tiedemann said. “I think that if a person were forced to choose working full-time and sacrificing their caretaking responsibilities, we might lose talented people.”

Fisher & Phillips' Moore and Howard said their internal research has found that the most critical period with creating advancement opportunities is tied to the period when women go on leave.

Moore noted that that the firm has focused on that time frame to make sure women "don't lose time and traction in their careers," going so far as to appoint a leave ambassador to help attorneys navigate the leave process.

Taking Mentorship Seriously

Siler-Nixon says FordHarrison has a structured mentoring program that pairs together female lawyers from different offices, using an example that an associate in Texas could be paired with a partner from Florida.

Ochs, who is based in Ogletree Deakins' San Francisco office, said it’s important for young lawyers to “look for allies” along the way, whom she describes as people who are willing to advocate on their behalf as well as peers who share the same experiences.

“I had people who cleared a path for me and advocated for me,” Ochs said. “It’s essential to identify people who can fill that role. It happens organically to some extent, but [young attorneys should] be aware of looking for opportunities to connect with people.”

Jacob, for one, says her role as managing partner of Liebert Cassidy’s San Francisco office includes helping younger associates set career goals and putting them on a path to achieve them.

Jacob noted that her office, by happenstance, currently has a 15-person associate cohort, all but one of whom is a woman.

While Jacob acknowledges that such a ratio shouldn't be considered the norm, she says gender balance is what firms should be striving to achieve.

“The more women you are able to recruit, the higher number of female partners you get,” Jacob said. “The challenge isn’t hiring women; law schools are full of them. The challenge is retaining women.”

“I work with all associates to help them develop professionally and help them develop clients,” Jacob said.

Being Ready for Questions

Before a law firm can promote and retain women and minority attorneys, it must first hire them. But in recent years, young attorneys fresh out of law school have been more willing to ask questions during interviews about a firm’s programs to promote diversity and work-life balance.

FordHarrison’s Siler-Nixon said that while she wouldn’t have asked such questions when she first interviewed at law firms in the early 1990s, questions about diversity programs have become commonplace in recent years in part because firms and the profession as a whole are more focused on such issues. But merely having a policy in place, she says, isn’t enough for a firm.

Siler-Nixon recounted a story about a Hispanic associate who interviewed both at FordHarrison as well as at another firm. At both interviews, the associate asked about the firm diversity program. But while Siler-Nixon says the FordHarrison interviewer answered the question with extensive detail about the firm’s policy, the interviewer at the other firm was at a loss to provide specifics.

“The [interviewer at the] other firm didn’t know anything about its diversity programs,” Siler-Nixon said. “That’s not going to fly with lawyers coming out of law school today. People are going to learn the hard way that simply giving lip service to diversity won’t help in the long run.”

The above article has been republished in full and is courtesy of Law360For the latest breaking news and analysis on energy industry legal issues, visit Law360 today.

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