Lisa M. Tittemore featured in the Boston Business Journal: Women in Law Table of Experts
Boston Business Journal Market President Carolyn Jones recently sat down with Lisa Tittemore and a "Table of Experts" for a conversation about their view of the legal landscape with a focus on women. Below is a transcript of the conversation which was featured in the May 27, 2022 issue of the Boston Business Journal, and can be viewed here.
The Table of Experts included:
Lisa M. Tittemore, Sunstein LLP
Lisa Barton, Morgan Lewis
Kimberly Donlon, Major, Lindsey & Africa
Carolyn Jones: How did the pandemic affect women attorneys and what’s the long-term impact of the changes it has caused?
Lisa Barton: Childcare responsibilities most often fall on women, and for many of us with children at home during the pandemic, it was trying to manage a practice and get your children ready for Zoom school, or whatever they were doing, because many were at home. I do think that was difficult, and I think that some women did leave the law at that point because they were concerned about being able to manage all of this anymore. However, I do think in long term, the pandemic has brought some positive outcomes for women. I feel like it’s brought more flexibility, because we all learned that we can work remotely and still collaborate and work together. The flexibility of being able to work from home at least part of the week is advantageous to all attorneys but to women, particularly. I know if I’m working, and my children are in the other room they still feel like I’m home, and I’m able to be part of things.
Kimberly Donlon: Harvard economist Claudia Golden, said the overall pattern shows that women stayed and persevered. There was the original hiccup with the “How do we manage this?” But over time she analyzes that women were more productive and able to balance and get more productive hours into the day. There wasn’t a steep decline. There was also other analysis in the article that across the board in the attrition rate of attorneys there was only about a 2% variance between men and women leaving the profession, which is in pretty standard. The actual numbers, pre-pandemic of women leaving the profession was a higher percentage than now.
Lisa Tittemore: Certainly, the pandemic did impact women differently because women are always doing more multitasking, including caring for families and caring for older relatives as well. So yes, I do think the pandemic has been harder on women in some ways, but of course, hard on everyone. There are good things that will come out of it because we as humans have the capacity to learn, and as we’ve gone through this, we are continually learning and improving from it. We are finding the things that worked and use those as we go forward.
Lisa T: I think for the more junior female lawyers at law firms, partnership is still the goal for them. I think that law firms are starting to realize the benefit of having more female partners. In addition, even some of the larger national law firms are making part-time people partner. They realize the value of those attorneys.
Kimberly: Absolutely. I think that women do want to make partner and I think what helps is that they’re seeing more and more women get elevated to partner.
Lisa B: I think it is critical to continue to give women opportunities. We should help them by providing mentors and role models. I think that will keep women interested in staying at their firms even if they don’t choose to be a partner.
Kimberly: We are definitely seeing many more women in high profile positions. And the nice thing we’re also seeing are women who are willing to reach back and help the next generation. The Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts has a wonderful bi-annual program called the Women’s Leadership Initiative, where we find experienced women mentors -- like Lisa Tittemore -- from different areas of the law across Boston and match them with up-and-coming female lawyers. The program provides them with coaching, business development tools, and most importantly a network to call upon as their legal career continues. By joining together and trying to help bring along people who really love the law.
Lisa B: I think that having intentional ways for people to interact and meet each other will help develop some of those relationships. At Morgan Lewis, we have an initiative called ML Women. It is a business development initiative that helps women develop and learn effective ways to build their practice, to connect with each other, and to connect throughout the firm. To be successful in a law firm you really need the skills to build a practice, and our goal is to try to help women meet and learn from other women in order to do just that. Another way to build relationships is to participate in pro bono initiatives where you meet and work with attorneys you may not otherwise know and those attorneys can become mentors or may think of you when their clients have a need for your expertise.
Lisa T: I was thinking about the question: How can junior female lawyers build relationships with more senior lawyers to grow in their practice? And I was thinking about it from the junior lawyer perspective. What are some concrete things that one can do? Lisa Barton talked about a bunch of really good ideas. Sometimes, it can be intimidating but it doesn’t have to be because at the end of the day we’re all humans and want to help. You want to find someone whose career path you would admire, and then talk to that person. Just having that conversation can open up a lot of opportunities.
What I found to be successful is that when you’re reaching out and helping people they want to help you back. The Women’s Bar Association has been amazing, and as part of the Women’s Bar Association, I am part of a WBA mentoring circle, and this was something that was set up years and years ago. We are still connected to this day!
Kimberly: It’s also about taking initiative. I think that’s one thing that women lawyers are going to face a bit of a headwind coming out of Covid going into the new hybrid model because often women are reluctant to ask for things. So do it – ask for that case, for part of that deal. Raise your hand, but on your terms. But I have a caveat on that which is, do your homework first and be strategic.
Lisa B: We have an assignment program for all of our junior lawyers. If an attorney doesn’t have enough work, there is a way that we can identify this and assign work to them. Attorneys can also directly ask for work, and we do have assigned mentors as well. Junior attorneys also organically find mentors, and I think that having multiple ways to obtain work and connect with senior attorneys is important. We find that some junior attorneys take their own initiative to obtain work and others need a bit more support and structure - at least at the beginning. It can be a win-win for everyone when there are
multiple paths and everyone can find their own way to make it work.
Lisa B: In a law firm, partners must build a practice and contribute in meaningful ways to thrive. That is why at Morgan Lewis, we focus on helping women to learn Business Development skills and we use our ML Women initiative to showcase ways to build a practice. I believe that the overall landscape is more equal men and women than it ever has been with more and more women clients serving in general counsel and senior executives roles. However, even with these positive developments, we need to continue to give support and guidance on areas for growth to help women be successful.
Lisa T: That disparity is not the case in our firm, and we have supported women who are part-time. We want to meet people where they are. Because when there’s somebody who has a lot to offer and they want to be part of it, then we want them to be able to contribute what they’re comfortable contributing because it’s valuable. And so, I think that focusing on making sure that women get opportunities to develop a practice, to get introduced to clients, is key, because that will help them overall.
Kimberly: We do study this, and yes, there is a gender gap in terms of compensation. In many cases it is because of the area of law. For example, a lot of women gravitate to employment law. It’s usually a lower billing rate so encouraging women to go for it if they’re interested in corporate law, or if they want to do private equity, do that.
Lisa B: It’s very important because it’s the right thing -- it’s what we should be doing. But it’s also important, because studies have shown that diverse teams perform better for clients and come up with more creative solutions. Clients also want to know that their firms are supporting diversity. I think that in every case attracting and retaining top talent is key, and, I think that we need to have a diverse workforce to keep a diverse workforce. If you are the only person or one of a few people that you feel is like you, then it’s hard to get engaged and interested and see a path forward.
Lisa T: It’s important, and for the reasons, Lisa Barton said, because it is you get better results with diverse teams. And it’s the right thing to do. We’ve put together a unique program where some of our attorneys, including me and our managing partner, volunteer their time to teach students in the Charles Hamilton Houston Enrichment Program at New England Law Boston about what it means to be a lawyer, specific nuts and bolts about what you need to do to succeed as a lawyer whether in private practice, in-house, government, etc.
Kimberly: The reality of the Boston market is there are not a lot of people of color in the profession. We must work hard to keep law students and young lawyers of color here. The WBA’s Women of Color committee has many networking, branding and business development programs. And on June 21, please join us at their “Pioneering Women in the Law: Leading by Example” event where they will recognize three incredible women leaders of color.
Lisa T: Ultimately, I love being a lawyer. I love what I do, and I think it’s a great profession. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for women. I think women can be and are some of the best lawyers around. Yes, there is still inequity, but I think we see progress and some exciting things that are happening. I mean we got the Biden Harris ticket. Now we will have Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. So, there are some very good trends and I feel the road ahead is positive.
Kimberly: I echo what Lisa Tittemore said – you’ve got to love what you do, because it’s a big part of your day, and if you don’t then do something different.
Lisa B: I also agree. You must love what you do. I think that the pandemic brought increased flexibility that will benefit women. I believe the door is open for women to have what they want in their legal career and personal life, because there is now even more flexibility. I also think that women, and frankly all attorneys, need to be themselves. You don’t have to try to be a certain way to be successful and you will not be successful if you aren’t happy. Being able to be yourself is a big part of happiness. Going forward, I believe things look really good for women. While continued progress is needed, we have come a long way.