Top attorneys at several major firms today said law firms must do more to help women succeed in the industry.
"I think one of the important roles of management is to be looking hard at promising young women and making sure that we can see the path for them," said Timothy Hester, chairman of Covington & Burling's management and executive committees.
Hester was one of four panelists who took part in the Women in Law Empowerment Forum, a group that seeks to promote women law firm leaders. The other panelists were Mike McNamara, U.S. managing partner of Dentons; Thomas Milch, chairman of Arnold & Porter and Claudette Christian, Hogan Lovells' Rio de Janeiro office managing partner. Major, Lindsey & Africa partner Jane Sullivan Roberts moderated the discussion.
The law firm leaders said it was important for firms to identify and promote women who show leadership potential. The first step, they said, is for firms is setting internal benchmarks.
"Firm management must set the expectations of what it expects of itself and its partners with respect to promoting partners at the firm," Christian said. "What we really try to get are male partners in leadership roles to understand that it is their personal responsibility to promote women in the office."
All attorneys, not only women, Milch said, should look to build internal relationships with colleagues. Connecting with colleagues, he said, helps further relationships with clients. It not only establishes someone as a leader within a firm, he said, but also helps further business development.
"Get actively involved in firm life," Milch said. "Keep the business side of the firm in your focus. There are increasing opportunities to do that and given the changes in the profession, it is essential that you not lose touch."
One way for women to advance within law firms, Christian said, is to try to attract business for the firm. "I always tell women that what they need to do is build a book of business as early in their careers as they can, because at the end of the day service partners are expendable," Christian said.
In addition to the social responsibilities of promoting women with the legal profession, it also makes sense from a business perspective, the law firm leaders said.
"We are a profession, but also a business," McNamara said. "Every single year, more of the buyers of our services are women. The percentage of women in corporate legal positions is increasing."
It's not enough for firms to bring women to meetings with potential clients, McNamara said. Law firms also need to let women attorneys work on those matters.
"At the end of the day, it is clients who drive what we do," McNamara said. "It's not only the right thing to do, but it's also very good for the business of law, both from the client perspective and the law firm perspective."
Photo by The National Law Journal's Diego M. Radzinschi.