08 Mar 2018

Helping women lawyers become top leaders

Women lawyers need strong back-up from their law firms to help them reach their potential. Kerri Reisdorff and Michelle Wimes discuss a range of measures Ogletree Deakins has put in place.

Rancz Andrei

The theme for the International Women’s Day campaign this year is #PressforProgress. Importantly, the campaign highlights the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report whose findings tell us that gender parity is over 200 years away. Similarly, McKinsey & Company’s 2017 Women in the Workplace Report tells us that “[w]omen remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America despite earning more college degrees than men for thirty years and counting.” This statistic seems to play out in the legal profession as well, where American Bar Association (ABA) research reveals that despite the fact that women have made up more than 40 per cent of law school students for more than three decades, they make up just 23 per cent of partners and 19 per cent of equity partners in the country’s largest law firms. 

Clear and focused strategies

So, it is very clear that companies and law firms need clear, focused strategies to drive gender parity. While there are numerous articles that tell us what organizations are doing wrong to address this issue, we would like to focus on what our firm is doing right; those initiatives that have actually moved the needle to embrace gender parity. Ogletree Deakins’ metrics continue to exceed national benchmarks for women: 41 per cent of our non-equity and 21 per cent of our equity shareholders are women. And earlier this year, 70 per cent of the attorneys promoted to non-equity shareholder, 50 per cent of the attorneys promoted to equity shareholder, and 57 per cent of the lawyers promoted to office managing shareholder are women. In addition, 3 of 9 Board seats and 2 of 4 compensation committee seats are currently filled by women shareholders.

Focused action

'These positive numbers do not happen overnight,' C. Matthew Keen, Ogletree Deakins’ managing shareholder said. 'While our firm has taken focused and deliberate action in terms of providing meaningful development opportunities for women—our women shareholders have excelled at making the most out of any opportunities we offered.'

Developing a book of business

The firm recognises that one way to advance women lawyers is to help them increase their books of business. For the past three years, for example, Ogletree Deakins has partnered with the Women’s In-House Counsel Leadership Program to invest in leadership development for our women in-house counsel clients throughout the country. These events give our women shareholders the unique opportunity to deepen their relationships with in-house clients while providing those clients with invaluable tools to nurture their own success. In 2018, OD-WIN is also launching a pilot sponsorship programme for non-equity women shareholders. The firm’s equity shareholders (both male and female) will serve as sponsors/advocates and help these lawyers catapult their practices to make the leap to equity shareholder by providing concrete business development tools and access to key internal and external relationships.

Family matters

Ogletree Deakins launched OD Family, a business resource group, in 2017 shortly after the firm extended our paid parental leave allowance from 12 weeks to 16 weeks. This group is now championing three new initiatives for 2018: (1) a policy that provides an automatic 20 percent reduced billable hour requirement with 100 percent pay when an lawyer is returning to work after paid leave, (2) a back-up child care programme for emergencies and special situations, and (3) caregiver coaching and mentors. OD Family also offers a “Milk Stork” programme that helps facilitate the shipping of breast milk for lawyers and staff who travel on business. Also, in 2017, the Board created a diversity and inclusion ombudsperson, a female lawyer and former board member, who is available to consult with our lawyers on any issue including those involving gender parity and equity.   

Highest leadership levels

The above-described initiatives are just a few of the innovative ideas Ogletree Deakins has employed to press for the progress of our women lawyers. We continue to proactively and relentlessly seek new avenues to support our women lawyers’ professional and business development efforts while assisting them in attaining the highest leadership levels in the firm. What we know for sure is that it is critically important that both law firms and businesses continue to not only ascertain the challenges women face, but develop concrete, substantive initiatives that clear the path for dynamic women leaders to rise to the top. 

Kerri Reisdorff is Shareholder and Chair of the Ogletree Deakins Women’s Initiative (OD-WIN) and Michelle Wimes is Ogletree Deakins’ Chief Diversity and Professional Development Officer.