Diversity in law firm management: Women in the c-suite

Ark Group

The following piece was taken from Ark Group’s Evolving Roles in the Law Firm C-Suite.

12 law firm leaders offer insights and personal experiences, highlighting the varying roles, responsibilities and experiences of women in the c-suite at their firms.


Women in the c-suite

We all know the sad story: the legal profession’s efforts to advance women have barely moved the needle. Despite the fact that women have been entering law schools and the profession at numbers roughly equal to those of men for the past 30 years, the growth rates of women equity partnerships remain stagnant at 18 percent in the largest US firms. The situation for lawyers of color is even more dismal, comprising only eight percent of equity partnerships in elite firms. Among this small percentage, even fewer are women. Women lawyers are retained at lower rates and earn lower incomes than their male peers. Law firms’ stated commitment to diversity has manifested itself in a variety of ways. Firms have diversity committees, women’s initiatives, and affiliate networks.

Roughly 80 percent of firms provide diversity training for their attorneys, and many offer a variety of skill development programs for women and diverse attorneys. The latter are grounded in the unstated assumption that if women can be “fixed”, i.e., if they can communicate and conduct business development more like men, they will be more likely to advance. Firms have also increasingly offered flexible schedules to accommodate the needs of mothers in an effort to boost gender diversity.

The failure of these efforts to produce significant change has led to the recent focus on stigma and implicit bias. Scholars and diversity leaders have noted the stigmatizing effect of taking advantage of reduced-hours options. Implicit or explicit assumptions about women’s diminished commitment to their careers results in fewer skill-building work opportunities. Male attorneys hesitate to invest in women as they build their families due to their automatic assumption that their investment will be squandered. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Women see their opportunities for advancement fade and look outside their firms for better career options. Increased awareness of the effects of stereotypes and implicit biases about women’s competence on a range of decisions including performance evaluations and compensation have also led to the recent emphasis on training lawyers about unconscious biases.

We know there are separate barriers for recruiting and for sustaining female talent. When firms excel at acquiring female talent but do not follow up with excellence in sustaining that talent, relationships break down and talent is lost. In fact, diversity costs dearly when it’s done wrong – when there’s little effort to retain or promote female talent, and women walk out the door. That’s because, in a profession where leadership is largely dominated by men, women leaders are rare. Once law firms appreciate fully (and numerically) the real measure of funds lost in the departure of (female) talent, two options become blatantly obvious: get out of the diversity game in order to avoid throwing away money, or invest those inevitable losses in fostering a sustainable, attractive, gender-balanced culture.

Needless to say, there is no real dichotomy or dilemma here; abandoning diversity is not an option. Gender diversity is not merely ornamental, a gesture of corporate benevolence. Creating and maintaining a gender-balanced workforce is essential to business strategy, viability, and competitiveness. In fact, most conversations around diversity and female leadership focus on the business benefits. Firm leaders are beginning to understand that, when done right, diversity pays. Law firms with significant numbers of women leaders have a far better chance of solving complex problems; it leads to increased innovation, and it drives financial growth.

For this piece we spoke with all our interviewees about their experiences of women in the c-suite.

Toby Brown, Perkins Coie

We do have women in our c-suite at Perkins, and there are three women in our broader senior leadership team. To tell you how strong a proponent I am of diversity, of my five reports, four are women. In my own area, I am mentoring women in the ranks. Law firms have historically struggled with this. My director of pricing has been with me at three firms, and I have been mentoring her and seen her move up through the ranks. She was my first analyst, then she became my manager of pricing, then when I moved up into the c-suite she became my director of pricing. And I am happy to say there are actually a number of women in pricing in the legal market and I was very proud to have Perkins sponsor the Women’s Initiative Network at the 2017 P3 Conference. I’m very committed to promoting diversity in our profession.

Lucy Dillon, Reed Smith

The firm is very focused on diversity; it is a fundamental part of the way that we do business. Our senior management team, which is the team I report into, comprises three exceptional women out of seven. Our chiefs’ group has two women out of a total of seven. In terms of my team, traditionally KM attracted women, however this is changing. In the 1990s, KM roles were almost exclusively taken by women, because KM offered a part-time option which was the perfect job for a working mother. That is not the case now, we have many more men in KM roles. All chiefs are encouraged to think about succession and as part of that, we consider diversity: who we bring in and who we see as future leaders. The knowledge function is attractive to women and women have been instrumental in bringing KM into the c-suite. The fact that KM is a recognized arm of the legal profession is a credit to the women who have forged and formed this area of the profession.

Stuart Dodds, Baker McKenzie

We are quite active from a diversity and inclusion perspective as a firm in a whole range of areas. We do have three or four women who are on the executive committee, some of whom are in the c-suite. For example, our chief strategy officer is a lady; our global director of operations is a lady. We have obviously got very senior individuals in the organization who are women – our heads of marketing and comms, North America and Asia Pacific, and two of our four regional operating officers are women as well, so we’ve got a good balance. Obviously, it’s something we’re very conscious of. My team is around 50/50 split. In my management team around 40% are women. To me, it’s not an issue because it shouldn’t be an issue (if that makes sense!).

Mark Ford, Baker McKenzie

There is a very significant focus on gender diversity at Baker McKenzie. We have four women in the global leadership team – the chief strategy officer, the global director of operations, the Latin America regional operating officer, and our EMEA regional operating officer. We have a global gender policy and are signed up to the UN’s Women’s Empowerment Principles – an initiative of the UN Women and the UN Global Compact – which is about promoting gender equality within businesses. We also have various other gender diversity initiatives going on within the firm, such as the ‘Be Role Models’ program which is about identifying and promoting positive role models, and ‘Lift’, which is a sponsorship program to build stronger relationships with our female talent. We have instituted an award for champions of gender diversity called the Christine Lagarde award after a former chairman of the firm who is now the managing director of the IMF. In its inaugural year, she came and presented the award personally, which made it a very special and significant event. So, the firm is taking the subject very seriously. I think there is more work to be done, but it is something that the firm is very committed to and has made good progress on.

Joe Kelley, Jackson Lewis

 The firm takes diversity very seriously and has it as an important ongoing strategic initiative. Our Chairman, Vincent Cino, has made improving diversity one of his most important personal goals for the firm. The McKinsey ‘Women in the workplace’ 2016 study reveals that 19% of equity partners are women. That was true for Jackson Lewis a decade ago. The firm has a standing D&I Committee divided into subcommittees, including the women’s interest network. This group has conducted an increasingly popular Women in Employment Law Conference for the past 20 years, which is designed to showcase the work of the firm’s women attorneys to in-house counsel. As of October 2017, women represent 26% of total equity principals (partners), up from 19% in 2007. 42% of all principals are women, up from 24% in 2009. And women represent 30% of our Board of Directors. I personally like that our firm is leading by example and think it bodes well for our future. Jackson Lewis has been recognized for this initiative in 2017, certified as a 2017 “Gold Standard Firm” by the Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF) six years in a row, and named a “Ceiling Smasher” for the third time by Law 360 in its 2017 Glass Ceiling report. In addition, we were listed second in Law 360’s list of the “Best Law Firms for Female Attorneys”, and ranked third in MultiCultural Law magazine’s “Top 100 Law Firms for Women”. We place 36th on the “Top 100 Law Firms for Diversity” lists, and are included as one of the top 20 firms in the “Women in the Equity Partnership” report, published by the National Law Journal.

Ken Koehn, Gould & Ratner At Gould & Ratner

Our c-suite is currently comprised of two men and one woman. However, both roles currently held by men have previously been held by women. In addition, we have a female managing partner, and one of our four practice area chairs is a woman. Thirty percent of the attorneys in our firm are women. GROW (Gould & Ratner Opportunities for Women) is an initiative that supports the efforts of our women attorneys in all aspects of their practices. When thinking of the current state of the legal industry, and the c-level in particular, my perception is that senior management roles seem spread across both genders. I attend numerous professional educational and networking events, and participate in legal industry professional associations. My sense is that gender does not play a role in who is getting hired and/or promoted. In fact, compared to the trading industry, where I worked for many years, the presence of diversity is actually quite noticeable. I see the diversity programs established by many firms, as well as the numerous educational options for guidance in fostering diversity, as indications that our industry is recognizing both the strategic value and philosophical importance of inclusion for all.

Josh Kubicki, Seyfarth Shaw LLP

Seyfarth is a very progressive firm. We have many women in leadership. Our CFO is a woman. On the legal side, many of our practice group and department chairs are women. On the executive committee, there are seven people and two of them are women. My leadership team consists of five roles; four of them are held by women. So, there’s lots of momentum, we’ve got a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion across the board. Would I say there’s a concerted effort? I would say yes, because it’s all part of our culture. Seyfarth is also a huge LGTBQ friendly firm. It’s hardwired into our culture. Seyfarth is more progressive than most law firms in my experience. I worked with lots of law firms when I was a consultant and I think a lot of firms don’t necessarily just give it lip service, but they don’t do what it takes for diversity and inclusion to become not just a program but actually part of your culture. At Seyfarth, it’s not a program. We do have a D&I program for our clients, but for us we live and breathe it every day. It’s totally hard-wired into our culture and, unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of the big law firms can claim that.

Jennifer Manton, Kramer Levin Naftalis and Frankel LLP

I have never found it an issue, and I’m really pleased to say that. Here, women are in the majority of the c-suite. They were the majority of the c-suite at my prior firm as well. It’s interesting to me because it is an issue within partnership ranks. I have a theory on why that is and is not in the c-suite. Historically, women were the primary caregiver. As a result, over the years, many women had to leave the practice of law because firms didn’t enable them to practice part-time and attain partnership status. In today’s hypercompetitive world, where compensation and equity partnership most often depends on your ability to originate business, women have been handicapped in a way that men have not. Men had mentors or role models within the partnership ranks to tuck them under their wing, introduce them to their clients, and help them develop business. Over the years, the men were coached and mentored to develop business by other men, or it was handed down to them from a senior male partner. Their entrance into partnership was easier for them because they had already developed some business. For women, it’s been very difficult, and they’re having to play catch up. There are fewer women in the senior ranks who are able to serve as role models or hand down business. As long as firms value and put a high price on the individual’s ability to originate business as a means to partnership and as a means to holding a leadership position in the firm, women are going to have to keep playing catch up. That’s not an issue in the c-suite – we don’t have to develop business, that’s not part of our entry into the firm. One of the initiatives that we have underway at Kramer Levin is called the “the five-year moment,” and it’s for women who are on the cusp of consideration for partnership, and those that have just made partner. It’s a program designed to give them that skillset they didn’t develop organically, because the numbers of women in the partnership ranks weren’t there to support their growth and development. Mentorship is a big part of how your network develops in any career, so the more initiatives that come out to create an equal playing field, and help women catch up, the faster we’ll close the gap.

Paul McVoy, Meta-e Discovery

At Milberg, the chief operating officer was a very strong woman, and she was very valued by the partners and by the executive committee. That was excellent. Our CFO was male, and when he left the firm downsized a little bit and he was not replaced, but his role was replaced by a woman. They had a focus on supporting minorities and women. There was a woman on the diversity committee for the firm, and she did a very good job of promoting non-lawyers into the business aspects, and women and minorities into those roles, so there was an effort for sure. I see this increasing a lot – there are people now in the business roles that are much more varied than they were even 10 years ago. There is an assertion that some roles are more typically filled by women. In the large firms that I deal with, women are in the softer roles and the more technical roles are filled by men, even though those two people are equal in their power. I don’t know of an effort to make that change. From a hiring standpoint, if I put out a position for a technical person, 90 percent of the applications are from gentlemen and 10 percent are from women. Project management is probably about 70:30. I just filled a marketing position and that’s about 50:50, perhaps even 60 percent women, 40 percent men. But I do see it growing. When I was at Jones Day, we probably had about 25 percent women on our project management staff, and from what I understand now that’s a larger percentage. Here in my group all of the people in technical positions are men; that hasn’t always been the case, but it is the case right now. But only one of them is a white male, so there is diversity there. But it’s still very male-dominated.

Andrea Miskolczi, Wolf Theiss

Wolf Theiss is a strong supporter of female leadership and gender diversity, and has won the Euromoney LMG European Women in Business Law Award several times. While we have not yet achieved our goal in terms of the proportion of female partners, we have a balanced c-suite: two males and two females lead our business services. IT and finance are male, and HR and marketing are female. However, I would not say that it’s easy. Gender diversity, female leadership, equal pay are not yet widely practiced ideas in Austria and Central and Eastern Europe, and sometimes I wonder whether being a woman in this role is not a disadvantage. I asked once one of the managing partners, “If I were a man and 50+ would they listen to me better?” “It’s interesting,” he said. “Believe me, they listen more to a woman in this position.” On the other hand, I’m not sure whether gender as such is actually so important, but rather whether you have the right communication skills.

Edward O’Rourke, Ashtons Legal

Like all recruitment, you need to identify the best man or woman presented to you for the role. Whilst the profession does have an image issue with the more senior levels within many law firms being more male-orientated, the adoption of a more professional management team allows, as one of many measures needed, for a redress to be made in this regard. I would not advocate recruiting either gender just to redress an imbalance, but often when looking at the best fit for the role available over time the balance is more 50:50 than exists in many practices at present. What more and more businesses need to do is to ensure their working environments offer the flexibility and career break opportunities that would assist both sexes to achieve greater work–life balances.

Blane Prescott, Foley Lardner

One of the challenges for a lot of law firms is that they are superficially reactive in promoting a more diverse leadership contingent, but without trying to help them get the right experience, or good management skills, or they haven’t tried to develop their leadership skills. Admittedly, law firms aren’t great about teaching anyone these same skills, but that is a whole other topic. Law firms can technically say that they have women in these roles, but I question how serious they are. To me, it’s less about saying, look we’ve got five people that we’ve appointed, and more about doing what is necessary to genuinely help people get the experience, and develop those skills, so that they are the natural choices to be leaders. I think there are definitely significant issues that law firms need to be more sensitive about, making sure that they are not arbitrarily making those decisions based on historic norms.

Evolving Roles in the Law Firm C-Suite is available at www.ark-group.com

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The processes for controlling and deleting cookies vary depending on which browser you use. To find out how to do so with a particular browser, you can use your browser's "Help" function or alternatively, you can visit http://www.aboutcookies.org which explains, step-by-step, how to control and delete cookies in most browsers.

Updates to This Policy

We may update this cookie policy and our Privacy Policy from time-to-time, particularly as technology changes. You can always check this page for the latest version. We may also notify you of changes to our privacy policy by email.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about how we use cookies and other tracking technologies, please contact us at: privacy@jdsupra.com.

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