From the Chair of the ABA Law Practice Division

Volume 40 Number 1

By

About the Author

Michael Downey is a legal ethics lawyer and litigation partner in the St. Louis office of Armstrong Teasdale LLP. Author of Introduction to Law Firm Practice (ABA, 2010), Mike teaches legal ethics and law firm practice at Washington University School of Law and professional responsibility at Saint Louis University School of Law.

Law Practice Magazine | January/February 2014 | The Management IssueToo often, even today, female lawyers do not receive their due. Opposing counsel still presume female lawyers are court reporters at depositions. Women continue to be left out of important client pitch teams or do not receive credit for clients they originate or client responsibility when senior rainmakers retire.

As chair of the ABA Law Practice Division (LP), I have directed LP’s resources to help promote gender equity. Specifically, I have asked the ABA Women Rainmakers to use their spring 2014 local programming to promote the work of the ABA Gender Equity Task Force. I have also asked the Law Practice Today webzine to focus an upcoming issue on gender equity issues.

How can you promote fairer treatment and fairer compensation for women? I offer four true stories about lawyers who have shown courage in promoting equality for colleagues, regardless of gender.

  1. A young female lawyer recently told me she had assumed primary responsibility for an appeal but her calls to the senior male opposing counsel were repeatedly ignored. Finally, the opposing counsel called the firm and asked for the lawyer in charge of the appeal. The firm connected the call to the female lawyer, but opposing counsel refused to discuss the case with her. Instead, he asked her to get him a partner. The female attorney explained the situation to the partner. The partner then contacted the opposing counsel, said that the female lawyer was in charge of the case and that any discussions about the case would have to be with her.
  2. Another female lawyer worked closely with a senior lawyer at a two-lawyer white collar criminal defense boutique. After the two lawyers had worked on a major case together for several months, achieving solid results, the client approached the senior lawyer and said, “I really like working with you, but I am tired of dealing with your colleague. I won’t do it any longer.” The senior lawyer responded, “I have worked closely with my colleague for a long time and I know she is an excellent lawyer. You certainly do not have to work with her. That is your choice. However, we are a team. So I am going to refund your retainer and withdraw from your case. You should retain new counsel.”
  3. Largely at the encouragement of a major client, a team of lawyers moved to a large firm. Two partners led the team, a senior male partner and a more junior female partner. The client made clear both partners were crucial components of the team. Before the move, the senior lawyer had received full credit for the client’s work. The new firm took the client’s message of both partners’ necessity to heart and gave the female partner equal credit for the client’s work.
  4. A large firm’s leadership determined that its method for crediting business origination placed too much emphasis on historical factors. It developed a new compensation system and introduced it at an all-partner retreat. “We are no longer going to consider historic credit for clients,” firm leaders told the partners, adding, “We know that none of you really believe this. So, we have gone through our firm’s accounting system and deleted all the historic origination data from the firm’s computer system.” They then set out to explain the new compensation system.

I hope these stories help inspire you to seek a personal role in working for gender equity and fair compensation in the legal profession. I also hope that you will attend—or even host—one of our 2014 ABA Women Rainmaker local programs on gender equity. And I invite you to share additional success stories about working for gender equity in the legal profession with me at mdowney@armstrongteasdale.com.

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