Life on the Lattice: Women Helping Women

by admin 9. June 2014 10:22

Life on the Lattice: Women Helping Women

By Leslee M. Cohen


Women need to help other women.  I am guessing that anyone who is reading this blog right now is in agreement with that statement.  However, the question to ask yourself is do you just SAY those words or do you LIVE by them?  Last night I attended the once again phenomenal annual Managing Partner/General Counsel event of the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law.  I didn’t think there was too much more I could learn about the issues facing women in the law—this topic is my passion—but  I was mistaken.


The first thing I learned as a result of last night’s event was that the vast majority of men, and I’m specifically including all of those well-meaning men who truly want to help women succeed and do view us as equals, do not know the statistics.  It was shocking for the men who attended the program to learn that women represent only 17% of equity partners in U.S. law firms, that women are paid significantly less than men starting at the associate level and all the way up the seniority chain in law firms and that the drop off of women from law firms approximately three years after making partner is so incredibly steep.  Of course, I could go on and on.  I was surprised to find out how little these men really knew about the issues facing women in law firms, which is yet another reason that women need to help other women.  Without question, there are many wonderful men who truly want to help women, but in the end this is not THEIR issue—it is ours.  So, we need to help each other, as I’ve said, and to educate the men who want to change the facts with respect to specific actions they can take to help.


The other discoveries I made last night were some new ideas on what those actions might be.  The Coalition and other organizations have been around for several years now, working diligently to solve the issues facing women in law firms, but the numbers haven’t budged.  What else can we do?  Some suggestions generated by the general counsel who spoke at the Coalition program really resonated with me.  We all know that in order to gain ground in law firm leadership, men and women need to build books of business.  Anyone who tells you differently is simply lying.  One of the ideas was for law firms to bring female associates to almost every client meeting—even those with the actual G.C. of large corporate clients.  The G.C.s who were present said not only would they not mind having junior associates present at meetings, but they that they would actually view this as a positive in that succession planning for the long term was clearly underway at that firm.  Another suggestion was to invite women lawyers at the income partner and associate level to give CLE presentations to the entire in-house law departments of clients in order to showcase their different practice areas and skills while simultaneously building new relationships among the outside counsel and in-house lawyers.  Then there were the ideas that will depend on in-house counsel actions, such as in-house counsel calling a woman on the outside firm legal team who has done a good job on other matters for the company directly with new work, rather than running it through the relationship partner first. All of this is intended to foster billing credit and business generation by women.


The final thing I learned last night was that in-house legal departments are making substantially more progress in the quest to retain and promote women lawyers than law firms.  Further, the basis of this state of affairs seems not so much to be the fact that working hours may be more predictable, leading to better work-life balance, but rather the atmosphere of collaboration and collegiality that is prevalent in in-house legal departments, probably based on the fact that everyone is supporting one client and is truly a team.  This concept led me to think about one more idea for women to be able to help other women and that is to do our best to build an atmosphere of support, collaboration and collegiality within our law firms to the best extent we have the power to do so.  Again, though, acquiring that power is ultimately based on business generation.   All of the panelists last night agreed that in-house law departments and the businesses they serve are truly invested in diversity because it leads to better decision making and results, while law firms’ diversity efforts are largely a reaction to their clients’ requests.  Accordingly, women in law firms need to help other women!!


Life on the Lattice | Quick Look | Women at Work

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