This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on September 13, 2006. WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2006 Counsel critical in retaining lawyers Partners labor to prevent attorneys in four key areas: Mentors can give young associates communication, networking, self- tremendous insight. But don’t female attorney brain drain promotion and creating positive underestimate the value of visibility. relationships with people who are By Tara Swords Partners are eager to see their going through the same difficulties at Special to the Tribune experiences benefit the next the same time, partners say. generation, they say. For some, a Liisa Thomas, partner at Winston & It’s a legal mystery: No one knows sense of history obliges them. Strawn LLP, Chicago, says peers are a why women, who enter law firms in “Hopefully now a lot of women source of emotional support in equal numbers as men, disappear coming out of law schools assume situations that might otherwise feel from firms’ ranks or fail to be they can do anything they want isolating. promoted to the level of partner. In because the trailblazers have already fact, women made up fewer than 18 blazed the trail for them,” says Dawn Advice kept her going percent of partners in major U.S. law Gonzalez, partner at Litchfield Cavo “I had people who could help me firms in 2005, according to NALP, LLP, Chicago, and past president strategize about my career,” Thomas The Association for Legal Career of the Women’s Bar Association of says. “If it hadn’t been for people Professionals. Illinois. “But we can’t let that trail giving me that advice, it would have Most women in the field are aware become buried again.” been difficult to stick with it.” of the problem, although many In law school, professors were paid Peer mentoring is one function of disagree on the causes. But female to teach. But in the working world, professional organizations, such as partners who already have beaten the new associates have to seek their own the National Association of Women odds agree on this: They’d rather talk teachers — who could be men or Lawyers. about a solution. women, as long as they’re supportive. “Peer mentoring is what keeps you It seems firms are beginning to do “I think it’s critical for anybody, but sane,” says Lisa Scruggs, partner at their part. In response to a call to particularly a woman, to develop a Jenner & Block. “If you’re less action issued by the Chicago Bar mentor relationship both with a inclined to go to a professional Association’s Alliance for Women, in woman who has a life similar to what organization, look internally to see if January 2005, nearly 50 Chicago law you want, but also someone in your your firm has a group. If they don’t, firms and corporations have pledged practice area who can help lead you start one. Say, ‘We’re going to meet to increase the percentage of women forward,” says Felicia Gerber on the fifth floor on Tuesdays; bring partners by 3 percent before Dec. 31, Perlman, partner at Skadden, Arps, your lunch.’” 2007. Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, Chicago. Jenner & Block has such a group, “People have said, How about 10 called the Women’s Forum, and percent? How about 20?” says E. Lynn Mentor search can be tricky Grayson is co-chairwoman. Grayson, a partner at Jenner & Block Finding mentors might be a task Peers can offer understanding that and co-chair of the Alliance for easier said than done, however. A female associates won’t often find in Women when it issued the call to study released this month by the their clients. “The challenge is being action. “Three percent will be more American Bar Association a young 23- or 24-year-old woman in a than we had when we started. We see Commission on Women in the largely male corporate culture,” Park the call to action as very much the Profession found that 67 percent of says. “When you deal with clients, start of a process.” female attorneys of color and 55 sometimes you’re going to be the percent of white female attorneys lone young female voice and face.” Help for younger generation wanted more and better mentoring Park says she has noticed that the Now, some seasoned female by partners and senior attorneys. transition from school to work is attorneys are moving to the next step: Don’t be afraid to approach senior rough for some attorneys. The preparing young associates to accept attorneys to get it, says Jane Park, associates who have caught her the new opportunities that might partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, attention are the ones who know the come their way. The Chicago Bar Chicago. game has changed. Association Alliance for Women plans “As I become more senior, I don’t “I can see younger attorneys who to kick off its Women’s Leadership find it an imposition that younger are more reactive. They wait to be Institute seminar series Sept. 20; the associates might look at me this way,” told what to do, they sit back and wait seminars will educate young female Park says. until the phone call comes,” Park This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on September 13, 2006. WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2006 says. “What really makes a younger better parent to her two children. attorney stand out in my mind is “When I’m not at work, people Where to find help when he or she calls or sends me an e- don’t wonder whether I’m getting my Female attorneys can find support mail and says, ‘This is what we need to work done. They know that I am,” and information at the following do next,’ or ‘Here are my thoughts,’ Perlman says. Perlman can log onto organizations: not being embarrassed that maybe her office’s network from home, and they’re not right, but actively, when she leaves home, “I have a cell National Association of Women confidently putting it all out there.” phone and a BlackBerry with me, and Lawyers: 321 N. Clark St., Chicago, Perlman says attorneys who venture it’s easy to be found. IL 60610, 312-988-6186, outside their own worlds will get “I try to balance my day where I get www.nawl.org. A volunteer noticed. up with my kids, go in to work and organization dedicated to advancing “Get involved in other areas, leave in time to come home and hang the interests of women lawyers in the whether it’s recruiting or pro bono,” out with them before they go to bed.” U.S. Perlman says. “It will allow them to It’s critical that attorneys pick a show commitment to the firm in topical area they find exciting and Chicago Bar Association Alliance other ways, and that will serve them interesting, says Thomas, an for Women: 321 S. Plymouth Ct., very well in the long run in helping advertising lawyer. Chicago, IL 60604, 312-554-2000, them to progress.” “If you pick something you really www.chicagobar.org/calltoaction or Showing initiative may help feel passionate about, you’re much www.chicagobar.org. A volunteer attorneys build credibility that they more likely to stay in the profession,” service committee of the Chicago can cash in later. Scruggs hit the Thomas says. Bar Association that promotes the ground running in her early years; by advancement of women in the legal the time she had children, her Choose wisely profession. reputation as a hard worker enabled Choosing the right firm is equally her to occasionally work from home important. A good firm recognizes American Bar Association or leave the office early. that women are underrepresented at Commission on Women in the “I would say early in your career, it’s the partner level — and will work Profession: 321 N. Clark St., 18th really critical in the legal profession with its female attorneys to solve the Floor, Chicago, IL 60610, 312-988- to commit to the legal profession — problem, Park says. 5715, www.abanet.org/women. working hard, establishing a “I would actively encourage female A 12-member commission that works reputation for yourself, and buying recruits to demand more,” Park says. to secure equal participation of yourself some room for later in life.” “Keep the pressure from the bottom women in the bar association and up. But I would also say let’s not put legal profession. Take advantage of technology too much on the shoulders of these Ten years ago, it was much harder poor younger women. Some things for attorneys to work from outside will require larger social change, Black Women Lawyers’ the office. But today, technology some things will require institutional Association of Greater Chicago makes possible all kinds of flexible change. The institutions are working Inc.: 321 S. Plymouth Ct., Suite work arrangements. on this, so this is a joint endeavor.” 600, Chicago, IL 60604, 312-554- Perlman says she owes her work-life 2088, www.bwla.org. A volunteer balance, in part, to technology that Tara Swords can be reached at organization that addresses issues lets her be a better attorney and a firstname.lastname@example.org. unique to African-American women in law.
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