By Sherry Cushman, Leader, Legal Sector Advisory Group
With the practice of law changing as a whole, so are the roles of women within the legal sector. And while it’s no secret that the legal industry is traditionally known for its resistance to change, one thing is clear: women are excelling at adapting to these shifts. By taking on far greater leadership roles and driving change within law firms and corporate legal departments, women are shaking up the status quo in the legal sector’s competitive marketplace. The path to leadership may be long and bumpy, but today’s female legal professionals are up to the challenge.
While women have come a long way within the legal sector, there is still disproportionate numbers of male partners, equity partners, and managing partners. The 2018 NAWL Survey of AM Law 100 and 200 firms on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms found that for over a decade, approximately 50% of law students nationwide have been women, law firms have recruited women as entry-level associates roughly in proportion to their representation among law school graduates, and yet the statistics repeatedly show that these percentages are not reflected in the numbers of women as non-equity or equity partners in those same law firms. So what happens to all the female law students and associates? Why are they leaving some of the top-ranked firms in the nation? There is no simple answer to these questions as each woman’s career trajectory, or any person for that matter, can be influenced by a number of different factors. However, one thing that is integral to the longevity and success of females in the legal sector is supporting and championing our women in all roles, from entry-level associate to chairwoman of the board, and providing them with the support, mentorship, and platform they need to take their careers to the next level.
With this in mind, Cushman & Wakefield’s WIN (Women’s Integrated Network) and Legal Sector Advisory Group (LSAG) developed a signature Women in Law Leadership Event series. Since 2016, Cushman & Wakefield has hosted five events in New York City, Washington, DC, and Chicago that have all drawn in over 400 attendees total. At each event, law firm leaders engaged in dynamic discussions on their careers, the key opportunities and mentors that helped propel them into leadership positions, and advice for the next wave of women leaders. The event is concluded by a lively Q&A session and networking hour with panelists and attendees.
At our most recent event in New York City, diversity was a key topic of discussion and panelists were asked to provide actionable advice on how to improve diversity within the legal sector. Panelists Pamela Kain, North America General Counsel, Cushman & Wakefield and Amy Leder, New York Executive Partner and Co-Leader of Corporate, M&A, and Securities Practice Group, Northeast Region, Holland & Knight LLP, both stress the importance of having a diverse team. Kain saying, “To assist diversity efforts, what I do with outside counsel – and encourage my teams to do – is to have an upfront conversation at the engagement stage about diversity and what I expect on teams that will be working for me. I want a diverse team, and if that isn’t a possibility then I take my business elsewhere.” Leder notes that the key to recruiting diverse talent might sound obvious. “It is most important to support and retain the diverse people that you already have, and they will then attract more diverse people. We see this time and time again, as it results in a more comfortable environment.” Additionally, Elizabeth Leckie, Partner, Finance and Restructuring, New York, Allen & Overy LLP, believes in the importance of training and awareness, noting, “I think everyone should receive training in unconscious bias because everyone comes out of those trainings with a new perspective. I think it all has to be about accountability, whether it is with outside counsel or internally, we need to ask – what are we doing about diversity?”
While we have a long way to go to reach full equality for women, Cushman & Wakefield is striving to open the conversation on how positive change can be achieved and promote diversity within the industry by elevating female leaders as they share their journeys and keys to success. There is no doubt that women will play an important role in shaping the future of the legal sector and one thing is clear across the industry: women are speaking up and using their voices to demand real change. Ask yourself this: Are you listening?
Due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback from panelists and attendees, Cushman & Wakefield plans to expand our Women in Law event series to the west coast with our next event at the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco in June 2019. For more information on the event, please reach out to Hannah Diehl (firstname.lastname@example.org; 202-471-3596).