Carrying the Torch While Raising the Bar

Catherine Pyune McEldowney makes waves as one of the few Asian-American women at the pinnacle of a U.S. law firm.

Asian-American Representation in Law

Sharen L. Nocella

June 6, 2022 09:37 AM

EARLIER THIS YEAR, the nationally recognized toxic tort law firm Maron Marvel Bradley Anderson & Tardy announced a changing of the guard. Law firms transition to new leadership all the time, but this was unique: An Asian-American woman would take the helm for the first time in the firm’s history.

Catherine Pyune McEldowney, a first-generation Korean-American, assumed the roles of president, managing shareholder and chair of Maron Marvel’s executive committee at the start of 2022. This was a momentous move for the firm but also a significant accomplishment for the legal community. According to the National Association for Law Placement’s (NALP) 2021 Diversity Report, fewer than 5% of attorneys practicing law in the United States are Asian Pacific American women, with an even smaller percentage in leadership roles.

Given her background, McEldowney knows firsthand that traversing the road to success can be a hard journey for minorities and women; she has endured many inequities in her personal life and professional career. Today, she’s one of just a few Asian-American women holding a leadership position in a national law firm.

Thirty years ago, when she began practicing law, minority attorneys, particularly women, did not see people who looked like them in powerful positions. Like many other minority women, she just worked harder to be the best lawyer and a toxic tort subject-matter expert she could be.

McEldowney credits Maron Marvel’s founder, Jim Maron, for giving her the opportunity to lead the firm one day. She also continues to be mentored by Maron Marvel’s Bob Anderson, who keeps her thinking strategically at 30,000 feet. From the outset she was trained by one of the best and toughest environmental trial lawyers in the country: Joe McGovern at Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel.

The middle child of three girls, McEldowney says the most significant impact on her life, both personally and professionally, was being raised by a single mother. Her mom emigrated from South Korea in the early 1960s, unable to speak English, and took a job in a sewing factory. She worked tirelessly to provide for Cathie and her sisters and to put them through college. Her mother would eventually own her own business, a wig shop, in Philadelphia for 30 years and is now retired.

“It was hard, but we just did it,” McEldowney says. “My mother taught us not to pray for an easy life but the strength to endure a difficult one. My strong work ethic comes from my mom.”

Today, she’s passionate about creating a law firm that doesn’t simply emulate the traditional model. Her plans for Maron Marvel include

  • Elevating diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.
  • Empowering attorneys and staff to be their authentic selves.
  • Enhancing the use of technology, artificial intelligence and portfolio risk management in mass tort litigation.
  • Continuing to be obsessed with client service.
  • Leading by example.

McEldowney joined Maron Marvel in 2003, brought on to help Jim Maron execute his vision of national risk management. Since she came aboard, the firm has grown from three lawyers in Wilmington, Delaware, to 100 attorneys in 12 offices across 10 states. The firm’s breadth of practice, dedicated teams and geographic reach enabled it to represent clients in some of the most dangerous jurisdictions in the country. Over the years, it has also been able to maintain a client roster of Fortune 50 companies while bringing in new clients as well. McEldowney attributes the firm’s success to its stellar client service and responsiveness, and she wants its lawyers to remain focused on winning by being fearless, loyal, efficient and steadfast.

There are so many law firms competing in Maron Marvel’s space, and more than ever, McEldowney senses increasing pressure throughout the legal market to deliver and win. “Today, midsize law firms are probably facing their toughest time because they compete with mega-conglomerate firms,” she says. “The similar-sized firms have a niche. You have to separate yourself and be best-in-show in your core practice areas. Client expectations, especially with technology, are at an all-time high.”

Her vision for Maron Marvel is to take Jim Maron’s legacy to the next level of technology and litigation risk management to deliver predictable, favorable outcomes for clients while lowering their defense and indemnity dollars year after year. Her most important priority, she says, is to boost the number of women and attorneys of color in the profession—starting, naturally, with the firm she now leads. An ardent advocate for DEI initiatives, she and the firm’s DEI member, Antoinette Hubbard, will ensure that Maron Marvel makes it easy for attorneys and staff to do diversity work in their everyday lives.

In 2020, BP presented Maron Marvel with its diversity and inclusion award—annual recognition by the international energy giant of one of its external law firms that has shown exceptional focus on promoting DEI in the legal profession and society more generally. Going forward, Maron Marvel will also pursue partnership opportunities with local educational institutions to sponsor legal scholarships, mentoring and internships to spark and support the interest of underrepresented groups in the profession.

McEldowney is keen to see more women and people of color in all industries take on more leadership roles. “The only thing that separates women, people of color and other underrepresented groups in our profession is opportunity,” she says. “Jim Maron gave me that opportunity 19 years ago. I will proudly carry the torch he lit with our second-generation leadership team.”

Sharen Nocella is the marketing director for Maron Marvel Bradley Anderson & Tardy LLC. She has over 20 years of experience in law firm marketing and communications and is a graduate of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

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