After more than 30 years of legal experience in top-tier law firms in New York and Philadelphia, Fran Griesing decided she wanted to create a law practice with a strong mentoring structure for female and diverse attorneys and a flexible environment for them to thrive in.
In 2010, Griesing founded her namesake firm, Griesing Law LLC, which today employs a total of 20 attorneys and support staff, with offices in Philadelphia and New York City. The firm is a Certified by The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and a member of The National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF).
In an interview with Thomson Reuters’ Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law, Griesing said this lack of female leadership remains an issue for the legal industry today. “When I started practicing law, as a first-year associate, the most senior woman in the firm was a fourth-year associate,” she said, adding that without a female perspective in a firm’s management and promotion decisions, female attorneys are often penalized, particularly for having children. “Too often, if you take maternity leave, you take yourself out of circulation, and sometimes you aren’t taken as seriously afterward; people question your commitment.”
It’s issues like that these that compelled Griesing to seek a new path. “There are systemic issues women face in the industry, like not being at the table for pitches,” she observes. “But the biggest problem is that there aren’t women in positions of leadership to mentor them.”
The environment has changed for the better this century, as there are now more women partners and the majority of law students are female — yet, this change is slow-moving, she explains. And Griesing says she hopes to give it a boost with her firm’s innovative approaches to compensation and scheduling.
For one thing, Griesing doesn’t give its lawyers origination credit for clients. “Origination credit is a great divider among partners — it makes people compete with their colleagues,” she says. In some firms, only one partner gets origination credit for a client and then receives credit for any work that client subsequently generates. That can be toxic, she notes, as other lawyers lack incentive to work for these clients. A culture of origination credit “discourages people from collaborating to retain clients and undermines a firm’s ability to retain clients when a particular partner leaves.”
Instead, Griesing attorneys “collaborate on pitches, on serving the client,” she says. When assembling a team to handle a case, lawyers are chosen “based on who’s best for the job, not who touched it first.” At Griesing, compensation depends on a lawyer’s overall performance. “Do they win their cases? Do they close their deals effectively? Is the client satisfied with them? We do it in a more holistic way,” she says. “We give credit to non-billable efforts: being on boards, serving on committees, writing articles. Everyone has a vigorous non-billable plate, which they’re expected to keep full. Pro bono counts here. Civic engagement counts here, and definitely, collaboration counts. People are rewarded for being team players here.”
And a more collaborative structure allows lawyers to cover for each other, making Griesing ideal for working mothers. “Often when a woman took time off from work because her child was sick or she had to go to a teachers’ conference, it was assumed that she wasn’t committed to her job or, even worse, that she wasn’t a good lawyer,” Griesing says. By contrast, “almost everyone who works here is a woman, and most of them have children. That means a lot of snow days and dental appointments. But everyone here has a laptop. They can work anywhere.”
“Origination credit is a great divider among partners — it makes people compete with their colleagues, discourages people from collaborating to retain clients and undermines a firm’s ability to retain clients when a particular partner leaves.”
This cooperative culture has benefited lawyers at the firm, who know others will cover for them if needed. “We cover for each other in creative and generous ways. If even my most junior lawyer called me and said, ‘My child woke up today with a fever and I’m supposed to be defending a deposition,’ well, if I’m the one who has to do it, then I’ll do it.”
“And there won’t be negative consequences for them.”
For up-and-coming lawyers, however, even as welcoming a firm as Griesing shouldn’t replace personal incentive, she advises. “Figure out what you want your career to look like, what kind of work you want to do, and how you’re going to get there.”
“There’s nothing wrong with getting sponsors and mentors, or partners and colleagues to help you, but ultimately you must be in charge of your own career,” Griesing adds.