At a recent DRI seminar, one of the speakers described his family’s long history in the law, including his grandmother who was admitted to the bar in 1938. I smiled… because my family’s got him beat! My grandmother, Marie E. Jessen, was one of the very first women to gain admission to the bar of the State of Ohio in July of 1926. The DRI seminar speaker was intensely proud of the accomplishments of women in his family. Having a smart, strong, capable woman role model in the law was also important to me growing up. The reality of gender inequality in the top ranks of our profession was difficult to comprehend in my early years of practice, and I have been disheartened to see many well-educated and talented women leave the profession.
A long-held view was that the lack of women in partnership positions was a function of demographics: Women had not been going to law school in large enough numbers for a long enough time to reach positions of equity partner or leadership in firms and corporate governance. Considering that the law firm equity partner percentage has been stagnant at 15% for a decade or more, those early predictions that only time was necessary are no longer persuasive.
Within DRI’s Women in the Law Committee I have found a wealth of talented, driven, and uber-smart women who enjoy bonding and learning from each other, inspiring one another, and helping each other succeed. Through their work and commitment to the Committee, they prove that all of us succeed when we follow our own instincts, speak with our own voices, and infuse our individuality into our work.
What are the special activities of this group? There is a long list but I must start with the recent Women in the Law Committee publication – Women Rainmakers: A Roadmap to Success. I had the privilege of interviewing a few of the rainmakers for the publication and drafting one of the chapters. This book is a tremendous resource for all practicing lawyers – male or female. While directed specifically for women, it is full of advice for all attorneys in private practice who se ek to develop and maintain a book of business. Simply, it is a valuable and helpful guide to implementing practical, positive steps for one of the most challenging aspects of being a lawyer, i.e., getting business.
The Women in the Law Committee has an annual seminar that is absolutely one of the best investments my firm makes each year. If you can’t make the trip to that seminar in early February, look for Committee events in your area. Local networking events have been organized in a couple dozen cities across the country. And, when you attend your next DRI seminar be sure to participate in the seminar networking events. The dedicated women of the Women in the Law Committee help develop networking events at each DRI seminar – almost 20 events every year.
The most recent offering from the Committee is Opportunity Calling, a quarterly conference call to bring discussions on networking and business development to DRI members. The call is free but the advice is invaluable. In January, Lauren Stiller Rikleen, President of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership LLC, gave a presentation entitled A Conversation about Millennials and Pay Equity – What We Can All Learn about Each Other to Successfully Navigate the Workplace. Ms. Rikleen, a former law firm equity partner and author of the recently published You Raised Us – Now Work with Us: Millennials, Career Success, and Building Strong Workplace Teams, highlighted her findings about the pay equity gap, the impact on Millennials, and how women of all ages can chart a course to address the issues. In April, Patricia Gillette, a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP’s San Francisco office guided a panel discussion about her study of the profiles and traits of successful rainmakers. Joining her in the presentation were in-house attorneys at Electric Insurance Company, including Patricia Ratner, managing attorney, and Kristen D’Angelo, counsel. They examined tried and true methods for developing business in the legal profession, and provided successful rainmaking tips on how to get business and keep business for the long term. It was no surprise that a few hundred members of the Women in the Law Committee joined in for a lively and informative call.
The Women in the Law Committee is a vibrant group that is dedicated to improving the work climate for women in the legal profession and encouraging women to excel. It is a group that I have embraced and women that I have come to admire over the years. If you are not already a member of the committee, I hope that you will join (here’s the link – Join WITL Committee!). We look forward to hearing your voice.
Marie E. Chafe – Cornell & Gollub, Boston, MA