Issue 32, Summer 2011

This issue of Management Solutions features two programs doing a great deal to accelerate gender equity in law firms: the Hastings Leadership Academy for Women and the Women in Law Empowerment Forum’s Gold Standard Certification initiative. 

We are also seeing some exciting innovations in the legal profession. This issue describes innovations in three areas of the profession: a new virtual law school program that is global in scope and impact, a law firm using a new practice model to provide legal services in a flexible way, and an individual lawyer’s initiative to form a national business referral network.

My schedule this summer will take me to New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Tampa and Miami. If you would like to talk with me about my services or arrange a meeting while I am in one of those cities, please let me know.

Contents of this Issue

2011 Hastings Leadership Academy for Women

WILEF Gold Standard Certification

Wonder where your future partners will come from? Don't look at young men.

Law Without Walls

Fenwick starts a FLEXible client service model

Do It Yourself Business Network

In the News

Upcoming Events

2011 Hastings Leadership Academy for Women

Do you know any women law firm partners or in-house counsel who have the potential and desire to become leaders? Are you one of those women?

The 2011 Hastings Leadership Academy for Women will be held July 20-23 at Hastings Law School in San Francisco. This unique course is designed to give successful women the skills, support and political savvy they need to become the leaders they aspire to be and that their firms and companies need them to be. 

Since 2007, the Leadership Academy has been preparing women to assume leadership roles and positions of power.  The mission of the Leadership Academy is “to prepare women to assume greater leadership responsibilities, increase their visibility and value to their firms and companies, and leverage their abilities and talents more strategically for positive business results.” Each year, graduates tell us their experience in the Leadership Academy is transformative – and the stories of their success prove them right.  You can read about some of those stories at

With less than a month to go, we have just a few slots left for partners.  So register right away to reserve a spot and to have sufficient time for the pre-course preparation, which includes a 360-degree assessment. Or forward this information to another woman and encourage her to take this career-enhancing course.

In-house women should also register without delay.  One full day of the course, Friday, July 22, is open to experienced women in-house lawyers and alumnae from prior years’ Leadership Academies.  In-house women will participate in hands-on programs that teach self-advocacy, career management, and leadership projection.  Alumnae will spend part of the day in advanced seminars that build on the lessons they learned before.

Details about the course, curriculum, and faculty, as well as registration information are available at  If you want to listen to a recorded teleconference about the benefits of the Leadership Academy, there is also a link to an mp3 recording on that page.  The teleconference presents the perspectives of three Leadership Academy alumnae; Wilma Wallace, Associate General Counsel of the Gap and Leadership Academy faculty member; and Keith Wetmore, the Chair of Morrison & Foerster, which has had women attend the Leadership Academy each year since it began. 

WILEF Gold Standard Certification

Earlier this month, Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF) announced the names of 32 law firms that would receive WILEF certification as "Gold Standard" firms because they have a significant number of women in the highest levels of leadership and compensation. This is very good news and every one of these firms, which are listed in the sidebar, should be congratulated. The firms will be honored at a special WILEF event in New York on September 13.  It was my privilege to chair the certification committee.

To be WILEF certified, a law firm had to have 100 or more lawyers and satisfy at least three of these six criteria:

  1. Women account for at least 20% of equity partners.
  2. Women represent at least 10% of firm chairs and office managing partners.
  3. Women make up at least 20% of the firm's primary governance committee.
  4. Women represent 20% or more of the firm's compensation committee.
  5. Women make up at least 25% of practice group leaders and/or department heads.
  6. Women represent at least 10% of the top half of the most highly compensated partners.

For purposes of certification, we considered data and percentages only for offices in the United States.

These WILEF certification criteria focus on quantitative results, not comparative policies or subjective criteria that form the basis of other surveys that label firms “best firms for women.” WILEF certified firms achieve these quantitative results in various ways and with different cultures, policies, and management structures. However they do it, they are welcoming women into top leadership and integrating them into the power structure. These women are powerful in their own right, and they also have access to decision-makers and the decision-making processes where power is concentrated.

While not revealing details about specific firms, WILEF did disclose a percentage breakdown of firms that met each standard.  Taking a close look at the data from these certified firms presents some very good news - and some news that is disturbing.

WILEF Standard % of Certified Firms Meeting Standard
1. 20% of equity partners 42%
2. 10% of firm chairs and office managing partners 81%
3. 20% of the firm's primary governance committee 72%
4. 20% of the firm's compensation committee 75%

5. 25% of practice group leaders and/or department heads 37%
6. 10% of the top half of the most highly compensated partners  84%


The best news:

  • The most surprising good news was about compensation: 84% of WILEF certified firms met the standard that women constitute at least 10% of the top half of the highest paid partners.
  • 81% met the standard that women be 10% of firm chairs and office managing partners.
  • 75% of certified firms met the standard that women make up at least 20% of the compensation committee.
  • At 72% of certified firms, women constitute at least 20% of the firm's primary governance committee.

However, there was some disappointing news as well:

  • Only 42% of the WILEF certified firms had 20% or more women equity partners.
  • Only 37% of the certified firms had 25% or more women practice group leaders and department chairs.  (This is the only standard that calls for 25%.)
  • Only 3 firms met all six of the WILEF certification criteria.

The small number of certified firms with 20% or more women equity partners is especially troubling. What this demonstrates is that equity partnership remains far more out of reach for women than for men. Even in the best firms, disproportionately few women are making it to equity partnership. A small number of women in these certified firms who are equity partners are doing very well financially and filling many powerful positions. But since the other 5 categories are all based on women equity partners, the number of these powerful and highly compensated women is a small subset of a group that is very small to begin with.

Regarding the last bullet point above, only 3 of the certified firms met all six criteria. Firms did not need to meet all six; it took just 3 to qualify.  And several firms did meet 4 or even 5 criteria. But only 3 out of more than 300 firms that were invited to apply met all six. Considering the number of women in law firms for the past three decades, the WILEF criteria set the bar pretty low - and still few firms could meet them. Hardly any firms could meet them all. That law firms have squandered so much female talent over the years is not just a costly loss; it is a disgrace.

WILEF undertook this certification initiative to recognize firms where women have achieved a good degree of success at top levels of leadership and compensation. We were pleased that 32 firms qualified for this initial period of WILEF certification and we expect the number to grow. WILEF will accept applications for certification throughout the year, so firms can be certified whenever they reach the threshold for qualification. In fact, in the short time since the certified firms were announced, we have received several additional applications from firms that qualify for certification.

Firms will also have to keep up their efforts rather than rest on their laurels. WILEF certification is good for one year, so firms will have to meet WILEF standards each year in order to remain certified.  WILEF will also reconsider the criteria from time to time so that the bar for Gold Standard certification will rise. 

This WILEF initiative is already having a broad and important impact. Firms of all sizes from all over the country are taking a close look at the number of women they have in leadership and asking why they do not qualify when their competitors do.  Women lawyers and students considering law firm positions will look at whether a firm is WILEF certified. And many firms, desiring to be certified, are setting internal targets and reinvigorating efforts to empower and advance women, using the WILEF standards as their guide.  As more firms do so and receive acknowledgement for their successes, we hope to see more movement, more quickly, toward gender parity in law firm leadership.


Wonder where your future partners will come from? Don't look at young men.

One reason most law firms have not made it a top business priority to retain and advance women is that they do not really believe they need to keep them. The prevailing law firm model depends on a certain amount of lawyer attrition, and both women and men leave their firms without becoming partner.  Firms assume that even if women leave in larger numbers, there will be a steady supply of young men eager to become partners.  They also assume these young men will willingly follow the traditional path to partnership. So long as these assumptions held up, firms had little incentive to undertake any fundamental changes in the existing system. As long as plenty of young men desired partnership, were willing to dedicate themselves to pursuing it, and devoted their lives to the firm once they made it, firms could comfortably continue as they were.

But all that has changed. The desire among all associates for partnership continues to decline along with the prospects for making partner and the security of being one. Today law firm lawyers, men and women, partners as well as associates, see themselves as free agents who follow their own interests and those of their clients rather than feel any sense of loyalty to a firm or the people who work there. For associates in particular, being a lawyer in a firm is seen not as building a career but as holding a job, and doing that only until something better comes along.

In addition, firms are starting to experience a significant change in the young men they depend on. These men are no longer willing to follow the traditional path to partnership. They increasingly seek more well-rounded lives.  Many of them seek meaning in their work that they do not find in law firm practice.  These men are complaining about many of the same conditions that women have been dealing with since women came into the legal profession en masse, including unreasonable work demands that consume their lives but provide little fulfillment.

Just this month, A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center released the report of a national study of 250 white-collar professional men with children under 16: Beyond the Breadwinner: Professional Dads Speak Out on Work and Family. The study found a high degree of work dissatisfaction among fathers: 

  1. Most of these fathers say that balancing work and family causes frequent stress. An overwhelming majority, 85%, experience conflicts due to their need to be both a good provider and an engaged parent, and 74% worry that their jobs prevent them from having the time to be the kind of dads they want to be.
  2. 85 percent say they would take advantage of family-friendly work policies if senior leaders would set the example or if they saw other male colleagues do so without negative repercussions. For now, however, a notable minority of respondents reported that men who do so experience negative treatment and disapproval at work. 

These findings were echoed and reinforced by another study published this month by the Boston College Center for Work & Family.  That study, entitled The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted, studied white-collar workers at four Fortune 500 companies who were new fathers.  It found among other things that 53% of fathers would consider not working outside the home if this option were financially feasible, suggesting that the role of stay-at-home dad is becoming more acceptable.

In both of these studies, men were found to favor policies that support workplace flexibility but emphasized the importance of supportive managers and workplace cultures, especially in encouraging men to take advantage of family-friendly policies.

Moreover, young men with families give equal or greater importance to their wives' careers rather than assume that their own will take priority. This attitudinal change reflects greater demographic changes in family structure throughout society.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1975, 44.7% of families with children under 18 had an employed husband and stay-at-home wife.  In 2008, only 20.7% of families had this traditional configuration, while 43.5% of families had married, dual-earner parents. Whether their wives work because they want to or have to, men see their wives as economic partners and do not expect to have the support at home that stay-at-home wives could offer men of previous generations. 

Many other studies over the last few years have shown that young men and women today are not as centered on work as previous generations. They place as much value on family and their personal lives as on work, and they are willing to follow - or create - unconventional paths to fashion the careers they want.  Law firm partners everywhere bemoan that associates of both sexes limit their time at work or refuse to stay late for a last-minute assignment. They are witnessing more male associates taking parenting leave, working reduced hours and opting for permanent associate or even contract lawyer positions. Just as women have for years rejected female role models who "sacrificed too much for their careers," partners are now seeing men reject the male role models they see for the same reason. 

In this environment, law firms cannot rely primarily on men to become their future partners, leaders and rainmakers.  Men make up only half the talent pool entering law firm practice, and their desire for partnership and leadership is waning.  Nor can firms afford to continue wasting and losing women – the other half of the talent pool - who could fill those roles if the firm’s culture, work environment and leadership opportunities supported their ambitions.

The upshot of all this is that firms are finally beginning to understand that issues like career and work flexibility are not just "women's issues" but critical business issues that apply to the entire legal workforce. Fewer and fewer lawyers, men or women, desire partnership enough to devote their whole lives to their work, much less a law firm.  Firms will have to make partnership more appealing, and the road to partnership more flexible, if they hope to have the partners they need in the future.

Law Without Walls

Like other legal institutions, law schools are under pressure to innovate. One course that shows how creativity and technology can transform legal education is Law Without Walls (LWOW). By its own description, “Law Without Walls is, among other things, an attempt to eliminate the barriers between faculty and students, business and law, professors and practitioners, education and practice.  It is an exciting and unique opportunity to collaborate across institutions and countries and gain invaluable experience and insight into the world of law and business.” 

Created by Michele DeStefano Beardslee and Michael Bossone at the University of Miami School of Law, LWOW is a mostly virtual law school class that brings together students, faculty, practitioners, and entrepreneurs from around the country and the world.  For a full semester, students from 6 law schools - Fordham Law, Harvard Law, Miami Law, New York Law School, Peking University School of Transnational Law, and University College London Laws – attend live weekly classes, work together remotely in pairs and with academic faculty and outside advisors (also from around the world), and produce innovative solutions that address a problem in legal education or practice. 

Students from different law schools are paired up and spend much of the course working on a “Project of Worth.”  These projects address a controversial or unsettled topic in legal education or practice that is assigned to each student pair. At the end of the semester, all the students travel to Miami, where they present their Projects of Worth to panels of faculty and outside mentors, advisors and subject matter experts. Some of the issues addressed by students’ Projects of Worth this year included the struggle between ethics and efficiency in outsourcing legal services; pros and cons of third party litigation funding; and architecture, design and aesthetic impact of lawyers’ workspace in the digital age. 

I served as a mentor to a pair of students whose Project of Worth involved how to teach law students relevant business skills. Their solution was a video game that taught various principles of business and economics.  The students were a young man in a 4-year JD/MBA/LLM program at the University of Miami and a young woman licensed to practice law in India who was pursuing an LLM at University College London Laws.  We met almost weekly via AdobeConnect and Skype and communicated between meetings by email.

This course was academically rigorous in a new and different way.  At the same time, it required creativity and offered many kinds of resources and substantial support throughout the process.  Its substance, process and means of delivery were all new, and the ideas and solutions it generated were thoughtful and exciting.  The success of this enterprise holds great promise for the future of legal education.

Fenwick starts a FLEXible client service model

Fenwick & West, a Silicon Valley firm, has long had a reputation for flexibility in personnel matters. Late last year the firm rolled out an innovative new service that offers flexibility to its clients: FLEX by Fenwick. Through FLEX, the firm now offers staffing solutions for clients that have periodic or ongoing legal needs but are not yet ready or able to hire full-time legal staff.  Some FLEX clients are companies that need staffing for a limited purpose or where the need is not expected to be long-term. But FLEX also serves clients that seek less expensive services for day-to-day transactional work while continuing to use Fenwick for their more complex and sophisticated legal needs. 

Key to the FLEX model is the billing structure, which is predictable and yes, flexible.  Clients buy legal services by blocks of time.  There is a monthly plan with a minimum of 20 hours per month, and a weekly plan based on the number of days the client wants an attorney to be available each week.  The price depends on the plan the client chooses and the experience level of the lawyer.  FLEX lawyers have at least 8-10 years of practice experience in both in-house and law firm settings. Some are alumni of the firm but none are currently Fenwick partners or associates.

The beauty of FLEX is that it expands the services available to price-sensitive clients with specific legal needs while keeping those clients in the Fenwick fold.  It is designed from the client’s viewpoint, emphasizing what clients want most - practicality, value and predictability.

Do It Yourself Business Network

Carol Owen, a trial lawyer in Nashville, TN, needed a fresh approach to expand her practice. For the practice she envisioned, she needed a network of lawyers with whom she could share business referrals.  Those lawyers had to be successful rainmakers with similar types of clients and high quality business to refer; they had to be top performers with top credentials; and they had to share her ambition, drive and commitment to building a successful and lucrative law practice.  She realized that in order to attract the kinds of complex cases she wanted, this referral network would have to be national in scope.  And she also decided that it would be easier and more comfortable if this network were comprised of other women who were not tied to existing business networks and who appreciated the issues that women face in trying to develop business.

Carol then set out to find the right women for her network.  She started with three women she knew, then searched in each federal judicial district for two women, one litigator and one non-litigator, who met her criteria.  She made cold calls to the women she thought would be a good fit. As she explained her vision for this network, almost every woman she approached eagerly accepted her invitation to join.  She invited these women to a 3-day conference that she hosted to initiate the group, which she called simply The Roundtable.  She set up programs for CLE credit.  She invited a state Supreme Court justice and a federal judge from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to attend the first conference; both came and spoke with the group. A former state Supreme Court justice who had returned to private practice also attended, as a Roundtable member.  Some of the Roundtable members invited women clients.

Since she started it in 2008, this Roundtable of about two dozen women from 8-10 law firms around the country has taken hold just as Carol had envisioned.  They continue to meet for three days every year and stay in touch throughout the year. They have been referring substantial legal matters to each other and have provided support in other ways as well. When women have had disputes with their partners over origination credit for work referred through the Roundtable, Roundtable members have spoken up to substantiate the source of the business and help their colleagues receive credit for it.

Did this take a lot of time and effort to get off the ground? Yes, but the initiative has paid off for Carol in the form of new business, greater professional visibility, and an enhanced reputation for leadership. The potential for this network to become a powerful resource is limitless.

Anyone who wants a network like Carol Owens’ can have one.  All it takes is initiative, purpose and the will to make it happen.

In the News

Two glowing reviews of my book, Women on Top: The Woman’s Guide to Leadership and Power in Law Firms (Thomson Reuters 2010)
Emily N. Masalski and Jamie Spannhake

My article, “Beyond Mentors: The Need for Champions,” appeared in Peer Bulletin, May 3, 2011,

I was featured in Marcie Areias’ article, “Developing Talent,” The Recorder, February 15, 2011. (Subscription required)

My presentation on “Becoming Politically Savvy” at the City Bar of New York was featured in The Glass Hammer  

Upcoming Events

Chicago, July 15: I’ll be speaking on “Online Collaboration in a Global World” at the Professional Development Consortium

San Francisco, July 20-23:  2011 Hastings Leadership Academy for Women

Washington, DC, December: I’ll be speaking on “Implementing a Successful Mentoring Program for Lawyers: Lessons from the Worldwide Law Department at IBM” at the Professional Development Institute

©2011 Ida Abbott Consulting