MIAMI, Fla. — The financial impact of diverse legal teams was the topic of discussion at a recent luncheon, hosted by Thomson Reuters Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL) initiative, last week.
TWLL is fostering an ongoing dialog among female executives in both corporate legal departments and law firms to discuss their perspectives on women advancing in the legal industry and the challenges they have faced and continue to face moving forward.
In Miami, eight senior women from large law firms and three senior women from corporate legal departments attended the luncheon, discussing such key themes as fostering diversity and inclusion, the financial benefits of a diverse legal team, the Mansfield Rule program, and encouraging mentorship opportunities.
To encourage less-than-diverse law firms to embrace diversity and inclusion, the women recommended that firm leaders be shown that statistically, diversity enhances the bottom line.
A topic of concern that was raised included the shocking statistics regarding the percentage of female equity partners today compared to 20 years ago. One General Counsel noted that when she first made partner in private practice 20 years ago, she looked at the statistics and saw that no more than 17% of women were equity partners. Today, only 19% of women are equity partners despite being hired in nearly equal numbers as men at the associate level, according to the National Association of Women Lawyers Survey on Promotion and Retention of Women in Law Firms Annual Survey Report. Another General Counsel mentioned that while her immediate legal team is small, it is comprised of all women except for one man. She noted, however, that when it comes to the next level up, it’s all men.
With these statistics in mind, the women discussed how to recognize opportunities to self-promote and to promote other women to help advance women in the legal profession. One partner mentioned that she had successfully argued several appeals, but never promoted her success. Whereas another male attorney took credit for the work she did in helping him successfully argue the case. He had no hesitation in letting the firm leadership know he won the case. At that moment, she realized that she should be advertising her success to firm leadership as well.
The group discussed how women unknowingly minimizing their work and accomplishments. As a result, the women agreed that they need to focus on promoting themselves, as well as younger female attorneys, to ensure that we continue — albeit slow — upward movement of women in positions of leadership.
Diverse Legal Teams Deliver Value
The group also discussed the financial benefits of a diverse legal team. To encourage less-than-diverse law firms to embrace diversity and inclusion, the women recommended that firm leaders be shown that statistically, diversity enhances the bottom line. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it will make you more money. Since money is a motivating factor, clients can help demand this change as well.
One partner shared a story where a client commented on the all-male team who was making a pitch for business, adding that change at her firm came from a client making a comment. Those little nudges can be very powerful, she said, adding that once her firm understood that it lost a client that it was well-qualified to get because of lack of diversity, it sparked change. Further, judges are starting to deny recommendations from firms for court-appointed receiverships due to lack of diversity as well. One judge had to appoint a receiver in a major litigation, and the first recommendations he received from both sides, he rejected. He brought them all in and he told them precisely why — because there was no diversity on their teams.
To help build diversity within in her firm, one AmLaw100 partner mentioned her firm is participating in the Mansfield Rule pilot program. The program is a diversity initiative where firms agree to actively consider diverse candidates for at least 30% of open leadership roles.
The women also discussed how mentorships can help advance women in the law. One partner mentioned how senior partners have a responsibility to mentor younger women. She spoke about a young unnoticed female associate who she took under her wing. She gave the associate a chance, and she was phenomenal. She spoke up for her to other partners, took the associate to court, and helped her rise the ranks of the firm.
While it’s important to mentor younger female associates, it’s equally important to continue to seek out mentorships for themselves, others in the group agreed. A General Counsel described her mentorship when she was a young associate in private practice. She said she was thankful for her mentors who helped her navigate the political and legal aspects of a law practice; and she shared the advice she received during her first year of practice — try to work directly with partners, not second-year associates. That’s how you get noticed and how you get more interesting work. She also credits advice she received from a female judge in her early years of practicing. After a hearing, the judge sat her down and gave her honest feedback about her court performance. The judge could tell her preparations were last minute. The judge told her that as women, we need to be prepared and go the extra mile.
The luncheon group agreed to take time out of their own career development to mentor others so they can follow in their footsteps. To that end, the women leaders were asked to develop a recommendation to the executive leadership teams in their organizations to address these structural barriers, and planned to meet again to discuss progress on implementing their recommendations.