Insight

Equity Matters

How my firm defies the statistics on women in legal leadership—and how yours can too.

Importance of Women in Legal Leadership
ES

Emer Simic

June 10, 2020 08:00 AM

Managing intellectual property's 2019 survey on diversity in IP, as well as the American Bar Association’s recent report, Walking Out the Door: The Facts, Figures, and Future of Experienced Women Lawyers in Private Practice, confronted the legal industry with some deeply disappointing statistics. Despite the ever-increasing resources law firms are investing in gender-diversity initiatives, the IP survey revealed that experienced female lawyers continue to leave the profession at a much higher rate than men. According to the 2018 Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey cited in the ABA report, less than 25 percent of law-firm management-committee members, practice group leaders, and office heads are women. This disheartening gender imbalance is not only discouraging to attorneys entering the profession, but it also robs firms and clients of access to a pool of talented lawyers. In an era when clients demand diverse legal teams, it puts revenue at risk.

"Law firms need not cling to outdated work structures."

The leadership at my firm, however, defies these statistics. I’m an equity partner in a leading majority-woman-owned IP boutique firm. Although it wasn’t specifically addressed in the ABA survey, the gender imbalance in IP law leadership is even more severe—only 19 percent of partners at IP boutiques nationwide are women. And while we take pride in our status as a rare example of gender equality, this is one distinction we would much rather share with a growing number of firms.

How have we prevented attrition among our most experienced female lawyers?

The playbook we use is not complex, but it requires a commitment to address cultural and structural problems that limit women’s access to opportunity at law firms. Here are some of the ways we have intentionally fostered equal opportunities for all our lawyers:

We committed to the core value of hiring the best attorneys.

It benefits everyone—associates, partners, and clients—when firms ensure that they’re choosing the smartest, most gifted attorneys for leadership roles. Unless you subscribe to outdated notions of what men and women are capable of, 50 percent of promotions, first-chair opportunities, and managing-partner roles should be going to women.

We embrace work-life flexibility.

The central feature of the ABA’s report is a survey of managing partners and attorneys who have practiced law for at least 15 years. One prominent question asked why experienced women leave their firms. The highest-ranking reason, cited by 58 percent of respondents, was “caretaking commitments,” followed by “number of billable hours” at 50 percent. Traditional law firm culture, with its rigid schedule and single-minded focus on billable-hour quotas, forces women to make impossible choices between work and family obligations. That means every year, firms lose their investment in talented and experienced attorneys.

Law firms need not cling to outdated work structures, though. Ours encourages lawyers to determine their own schedule, and we’ve rejected a rigid billable-hour requirement. This approach has enabled our attorneys to focus on delivering quality work and outstanding service to clients without having to sacrifice their own needs or those of their families.

We adopted an inclusive sponsorship and mentoring model.

Another enlightening Managing IP survey question asked men and women whether, on account of their gender, they have “experienced a lack of access to sponsors.” Just 3 percent of men felt this was true, but 46 percent of women said it reflected their experience. As we know from countless studies and articles, sponsorship and mentoring are crucial elements of career advancement, and all too often the majority-male leadership sponsors and mentors the attorneys who remind them of themselves. At the same time, the few women in leadership are overburdened with the responsibility of supporting more junior women, guaranteeing those attorneys will have far fewer opportunities for dedicated sponsors than their male peers.

All partners in our firm are expected to mentor and sponsor associates (regardless of gender) for leadership, including fostering client relationships and offering first-chair opportunities at oral arguments, trials, and appeals. The success of this approach is reflected in our majority-female partnership.

We prioritize attorney performance over traditional compensation metrics.

The ABA survey asked specifically about satisfaction with “the methods by which compensation is determined (including salary, benefits, and bonus).” While 17 percent of men said they were dissatisfied with these methods, more than twice as many women—38 percent—said they were dissatisfied.

At our firm, we have abandoned traditional methods such as strict billable-hour quotas to evaluate an attorney’s performance, and instead use more holistic metrics: the quality of attorney work, client satisfaction, and case outcomes. We have also found that a client-centric model encourages collaboration over competition, which leads to creative problem solving and better outcomes.

We recognize and celebrate achievements.

When it comes to satisfaction over “recognition received for their work,” 71 percent of men the ABA surveyed said they are “satisfied.” Among women, 32 percent said they are “dissatisfied” and 14 percent “extremely dissatisfied” with the recognition they receive. Recognition can encompass several things: financial compensation, public credit, industry accolades.

Of all the factors that influence women’s experiences at law firms, recognition should be the easiest to remedy. How does our firm define and celebrate wins? We give credit where credit is due, toast every significant achievement, and compensate our attorneys commensurate with their work. We also prioritize award nominations for lawyers at every level and encourage partners with voting privileges in organizations to support women from our firm with their votes. When one of our lawyers wins, we all celebrate, because these victories bring everyone up and continue to build our firm’s profile as a leader in the IP field.

"Of all the factors that influence women's experiences at law firms, recognition should be the easiest to remedy."

Our approach works. From the outset, our founding partners committed to these progressive and inclusive principles, which have produced our diverse, talented leadership; however, gender parity for its own sake has never been the primary motivation. Rather, our leadership adopted this approach because it results in a positive, collegial culture, highly satisfied clients, and a track record of courtroom success, including back-to-back trial wins against much larger firms. We look forward to other firms joining our approach, and we will continue to work toward eliminating gender disparity in IP law and in our profession at large.

Emer Simic is a partner with Green, Griffith & Borg-Breen LLP, a majority women-owned intellectual property law firm. Emer is an experienced litigator and focuses her practice on patent litigation, due diligence, and client counseling in the pharmaceutical, biotech, and chemical industries. Emer also works to advance women in law through her service on the Board of the Coalition of the Women's Initiatives in Law

Headline Image: ISTOCK / DEAGREEZ

Related Articles

The State of Women Inventors


by Amanda Hermans and Kate Rockwood

What’s being done to improve the gender patent gap—and how attorneys can help.

How to Improve the Gender Patent Gap

Equal to the Task


by Joyce D. Edelman

Fighting for gender equity in the law firm can seem like the very definition of a thankless task. But you just might find yourself able to make great strides.

Gender Equity in the Workplace

High Court Merit


by Tracy Collins Ortlieb

In progressive legal circles, the name Robbie Kaplan has emerged as an omnipresent force for equal and human rights.

Q&A With Roberta Kaplan

Crucial Alliances


by Jane E. Young

Workplaces everywhere have changed since the start of the pandemic in ways that can be highly beneficial to women. Here’s a road map for consolidating recent gains—and making the most of them going forward.

Woman at desk working with roadmap behind her

A Beautiful Mind: Motown Beginnings, Top Dealmaker


by Sara Collin

Motown scion Farah Fakir Cook has achieved her own stardom away from the klieg lights, helping clients navigate ever-changing currents in intellectual property and technology. One crucial topic looms especially large for her in the years ahead: How current law will contend with the rise of artificial intelligence.

Woman wearing pink suit standing against desk

Progress and Potential


by Michele M. Jochner

Women have undeniably made great strides in our profession in recent decades, but much remains to be done. What’s the current state of the industry, what lies ahead—and what do lawyers (male and female alike) say are the most important issues going forward

Watercolor image of person on a mountain looking at night sky

The Breadwinner


by Courtney E. Ervin

Two lawyers, one big life decision: How my husband and I are working to eradicate the stigma of putting my career first.

Silhouette of women in suit stands in the middle of equal scale

Top of the Mountain


by LaVon M. Johns and Patricia Brown Holmes

Making partner, ginning up huge business, earning peer respect and industry influence are laudable goals—but it’s important to pursue them methodically and mindfully. One dynamic duo who have reached the mountaintop show how it’s done.

Red flag sitting on the top of a mountain summit

Canadian Women in the Legal Profession: From Non-‘Persons’ to Chief Justices


by Sara Collin

We take an in-depth look at the challenges and optimistic future of women in the Canadian legal sector.

Canadian Women in the Legal Profession

The Future of Litigation Is Changing for Female Solicitors in the U.K.


by Catherine Baksi

The support of entire law firms, organizations and senior counsel members will be the key to encouraging female solicitors and positive change in the industry.

Changing Litigation for UK Female Solicitors

New Sheriff in Town on ESG


by Patricia Brown Holmes

Various regulatory agencies within the Biden Administration are stepping up enforcement of corporate malfeasance in the ever-trendy ESG space.

ESG Enforcement in the Corporate Environment

Follow the Money


by Rachel F. Sifuentes

Women are the future of fintech—but in the here and now, they’re still being underserved in an industry otherwise marked by explosive growth. Here’s why that must change.

Women and the Future of Fintech

Privacy Practice


by Casey Waughn

Data protection is all the rage among tech companies and state, national (and even transnational) governments alike. Is it a passing fad or here to stay? And how should businesses and groups of all sizes handle compliance with a blizzard of new laws?

Data Protection Prompt New Privacy Laws

The Upcycle Conundrum


by Karen Kreider Gaunt

Laudable or litigious? What you need to know about potential copyright and trademark infringement when repurposing products.

Repurposed Products and Copyright Infringemen

IN PARTNERSHIP

The Compensation Situation


by Liz S. Washko

Pay discrimination has been outlawed for decades. Yet the issue has taken on new salience in recent years. Here’s what to know about compensation equity—and where the legal risk lies for companies.

Pay Discrimination and Equity in Legal Indust

Remote Controls


by Cynthia Morgan Ohlenforst

How law firms, lawyers and taxing authorities must adapt to remote work

Law Firms Adapt to Remote Work

Trending Articles

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers® in the United States


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 28th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and in the 2nd Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2022.

2022 Best Lawyers Listings for United States

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees


by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

2021 Best Lawyers: The Global Issue


by Best Lawyers

The 2021 Global Issue features top legal talent from the most recent editions of Best Lawyers and Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch worldwide.

2021 Best Lawyers: The Global Issue

The U.S. Best Lawyers Voting Season Is Open


by Best Lawyers

The voting season for the 31st edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and the 5th edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch® in America is officially underway, and we are offering some helpful advice to this year’s voters.

Golden figures of people standing on blue surface connected by white lines

How To Find A Pro Bono Lawyer


by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers dives into the vital role pro bono lawyers play in ensuring access to justice for all and the transformative impact they have on communities.

Hands joined around a table with phone, paper, pen and glasses

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2024 Launch


by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce The Best Lawyers in Australia™ for 2023, including the top lawyers and law firms from Australia.

Australian Parliament beside water at sunset

How Palworld Is Testing the Limits of Nintendo’s Legal Power


by Gregory Sirico

Many are calling the new game Palworld “Pokémon GO with guns,” noting the games striking similarities. Experts speculate how Nintendo could take legal action.

Animated figures with guns stand on top of creatures

Inflation Escalation


by Ashley S. Wagner

Inflation and rising costs are at the forefront of everyone’s mind as we enter 2023. The current volatile market makes it more important than ever to understand the rent escalation clauses in current and future commercial lease agreements.

Suited figure in front of rising market and inflated balloon

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom


by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?

The Upcycle Conundrum


by Karen Kreider Gaunt

Laudable or litigious? What you need to know about potential copyright and trademark infringement when repurposing products.

Repurposed Products and Copyright Infringemen

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023


by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

A Celebration of Excellence: The Best Lawyers in Canada 2024 Awards


by Best Lawyers

As we embark on the 18th edition of The Best Lawyers in Canada™, we are excited to highlight excellence and top legal talent across the country.

Abstract image of red and white Canada flag in triangles

Wage and Overtime Laws for Truck Drivers


by Greg Mansell

For truck drivers nationwide, underpayment and overtime violations are just the beginning of a long list of problems. Below we explore the wages you are entitled to but may not be receiving.

Truck Driver Wage and Overtime Laws in the US

Choosing a Title Company: What a Seller Should Expect


by Roy D. Oppenheim

When it comes to choosing a title company, how much power exactly does a seller have?

Choosing the Title Company As Seller

IN PARTNERSHIP

Bentley & More LLP: Beacon of Hope


by Bentley & More

With a unique blend of expertise in trial advocacy and workers’ compensation, Bentley & More LLP has established itself as a beacon of hope for injured workers.

Bentley & More LLP: Beacon of Hope for Injured Employees

8 Different Types of Criminal Defenses in Law


by Best Lawyers

Learn about the different types of criminal defenses available in law, including innocence, self-defense, insanity and more. Protect your rights today.

Silver handcuffs laying on finger printed papers