Best Law Firms for Women in 2015

Working Mother and Flex-Time Lawyers just named this year’s 50 Best Law Firms for Women 2015.  The ABA Journal listed many of the factors that were considered in assessing which firms emphasized the promotion and retention of female attorneys. Many of the firms on the list were large law firms which have put significant resources into making the workplace more female friendly.

Interestingly enough, the law firms that made the cut had more women equity partners than the national average (17%). It is about time we see more female partners! The number of rainmaking female partners has also been increasing. In 2014, 11% of firms had 3 or more rainmaking partners. In 2015, this number increased by 5%, which is incredible.

Best Law Firms for Women in 2015
Some of the firms that made the list are:

  • Holland & Hart
  • Ice Miller
  • WilmerHale
  • Cooley
  • Debevoise & Plimpton
  • Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner
  • Katten Muchin Rosenman
  • Morrison & Foerster
  • Vinson & Elkins

It is amazing how the conversation around the retention and cultivation of female attorneys continues to unfold. Even a decade ago, I would never have imagined how much change we would see. Law firms are (finally) realizing that they need to be conscious of what women want and require in a professional working environment if they want them to continue to practice at the firm. Law firms are offering part time and flex options, remote working arrangements, child care and generous parental leave plans.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”is a quote by the CEO of Microsoft that has always intrigued me.  I could not agree more with him on this point. Culture really does matter, and I sense that what distinguishes the firms listed in the article above is that they have proactively developed a culture that respects and promotes women.  In my opinion, this, more than any of the other qualifications considered in coming up with the list, is what sets the winners apart.

Finally Statistics for Criminal Defense

I am a firm believer in the “less statistics, more action” philosophy. Nevertheless, statistics do make us become aware of where we are and how we need to change, and thus should not be ignored. The American Bar Foundation and the ABA Commission on Women just released a report titled First Chairs at Trial More Women Need Seats at the Table, a research report on the participation of women lawyers as lead counsel and trial counsel in litigation.  Almost every woman criminal defense attorney I know can tell you a story about the time they were the only female on the defense side in a multi-defendant case. In my own experience, I remember one time where it was me and seven other men. I felt like Snow White.

This report caught my attention because it is the first time I have seen statistics about women in criminal defense. First, the study reflects on the number of lead counsel attorney appearances by men and women in criminal matters. These numbers were virtually identical; 88% of all men appearing and 89% of all women appearing entered lead counsel notice of appearances. This did not come as a surprise considering that criminal cases “tend not to be layered with different levels of associates and partners.” However, a gender gap presented itself with appearances in general in criminal cases. In the report it says, “among all attorneys appearing in criminal cases, 67% are men. Among attorneys appearing as lead counsel, 67% are men (33% are women), and among attorneys appearing as trial attorney, 79% are men (21% are women).” Additionally, the study found that there is a gender gap between prosecution work and defense work. For example, “men appearing as lead counsel in criminal cases, 34% appear for the government and 66% appear for defendants. Of women appearing as lead counsel in criminal cases, the ratio is reversed: 69% appear for the government and 31% appear for defendants.”  This statistics tell me that women excel in the public sector but things shift as they enter the private sector. The study doesn’t distinguish between public defender and private defense work but there is still valuable information to be gained from these statistics.

The report summarized, “[t]he results in criminal cases—where one side is the government and the other a private party, albeit a criminal defendant—show a pattern consistent with the private vs. public sector gender gap we observed in civil cases. Women lead counsel in criminal cases represent the government more than twice as often as they represent criminal defendants. For men, the ratio is reversed: men appear as lead counsel for private defendants twice as often as they appear for the government. Even so, only a minority of attorneys appearing in criminal cases are women.”

The report presents an upside to the criminal field for women because it provides greater opportunity for women to act as lead counsel in cases. However, the same gender gap throughout law still exists in criminal, especially in the private sector. What caught my interest was the fact that women drop from handling 33% of criminal cases as lead counsel, to 21% as trial attorneys.  For me, the answer is simple; it is up to all of us to make sure we create more seats for women at the trial table.

Criminal Defense: Obama Commutes 46 Drug Sentences

President Obama commuted 46 defendant’s sentences this week – what a turnaround for the defense bar.  More often than not, our cries for leniency and a reasonable perspective when fashioning a sentence falls on deaf ears –  so much so that it feels hard to trust that people are actually listening and doing something about it.  As defense attorneys we develop tough skins, and an ability to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off after every lost battle. Because of this experience, it has been difficult, at least for me, to trust there is a genuine and universal desire to help our clients.  This feeling has stuck with me throughout the Clemency Project, where I feel as though I have been waiting for the rug to get pulled out from underneath me.

But I must admit that in this week’s announcement, something shifted.  I began to relax, and mistrust was replaced with hope.  I never thought I would see the day where a sitting President would give a news conference explaining that the punishment levied in the drug sentences he commuted didn’t fit the crime while he announced we are a nation of second chances.  And then post a video of his address (see embedded video below) on social media.  The President even sent personal letters to the 46 prisoners, encouraging them to take advantage of the second chance they had been given.  Finally, the President will be the first sitting president to visit a federal prison this week and is expected to announce his administration’s plans to overhaul the criminal justice system. If I am dreaming, don’t pinch me.

These 46 newly commuted sentences that bring the total of sentences commuted to around 90, is still a small drop in a big bucket, but it is starting to feel like a powerful drop. This drop is about far more than just the lives of 46 people, it is a strong statement by our leader that something has to change; that our criminal justice system is broken.  It is hope for our clients past, present, and future.

This announcement also reminds me that there is still an overwhelming amount of work to do.  There is an army of lawyer volunteers to assist with the overwhelming number of applicants for clemency but that army is a drop in the bucket too. Even more lawyers are needed.  If you would like to help, please visit The Clemency Project and volunteer if you have not already.  It is so important that we take advantage of this opportunity for our clients, our system, and our humanity.


Why Women Need to Stop Apologizing

Why Women Need to Stop Apologizing

Many years ago I began to notice women using the phrase, “I’m Sorry” frequently in their regular vocabulary when there wasn’t any exchange that warranted an apology.  Not only did I notice other women apologizing too much, I noticed myself doing it as well. “I’m sorry” was such an ingrained part of my vocabulary that I really had to work at stopping it, and I’m still not sure that I have totally nipped this bad habit in the butt.  I have to work to stay conscious of it, or I catch myself slipping back in the pattern of using I’m sorry as a precursor to most requests. 

So where did this bad habit come from, and how do we stop it? Just recently op-ed contributor Sloan Crosley eloquently explained Why Women Apologize and Should Stop. She takes up the belief that women do this to express politeness, and presents an alternative theory that, “[t}hese sorrys are actually assertive. Unfortunately, for both addresser and addressee alike, the ‘assertive apology’ is too indirect, obscuring the point. It comes off as passive-aggressive — the easiest of the aggressions to dismiss.” And she makes the case why women need to stop. She states, “[i]t’s not what we’re saying that’s the problem, it’s what we’re not saying. The sorrys are taking up airtime that should be used for making logical, declarative statements, expressing opinions and relaying accurate impressions of what we want.”

Crosley isn’t the only one who has noticed this phenomenon among other women. For example,  Pantene’s 2014 “Not Sorry” ad was aimed at highlighting the constant use of the phrase I’m sorry, then encourages women to lose it.  Comedian Amy Schumer also noticed the trend and aired a skit of accomplished women on a panel apologizing all the time in an effort to out the problem.  The skit is actually pretty painful to watch when you realize how true it is.  It’s almost impossible to watch these videos without seeing a little of yourself in the women depicted.

This conversation is about much than a phrase.  “Sorrygate” is just another example of how our programing and wiring hinders women in business.  When women primarily worked in the home, these idiosyncrasies didn’t matter.  Women are struggling for equality in business in so many ways, and feeling obligated to apologize for everything does affect our success.  Don’t mistake my intentions in this article; examining what we are doing to affect our own success in business is not about blaming women.  This absolutely is not about blame, it’s about taking a look at what we can control to affect change for ourselves.

In business it is critical to consistently communicate your competence and ability to be effective. Women should be pridefully talking about their successes and boasting about their abilities.  Apologizing all the time sends the message that you are not competent or confident.  Make a change today by cutting out the sorrys at a starting ground. Lastly, don’t forget to sing your own praises, you deserve it.

A Week In Review: Same Sex Marriage, Charleston, and Human Worth

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: It’s about Worth

Recently there have been a whirlwind of monumental shifts in our country,  and although this blog is focused on the very specific goal of highlighting and promoting women in the criminal defense field, I feel compelled to discuss these events.

By far, the most powerful among them was the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges, and the related cases that held that same-sex marriage is a guaranteed Constitutional right.  At first glance this case appears to be about marriage, but in reality it sheds light on much deeper issues of human rights.  This case was about equality and human worth – as Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist from the New York Times, so eloquently stated in Our Weddings Our Worth; “It was about worth. From the highest of this nation’s perches, in the most authoritative of this nation’s voices, a majority of justices told a minority of Americans that they’re normal and that they belong — fully, joyously and with cake.”

This was not the only significant case ruling this week. The day before the same-sex marriage ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act.  Otherwise known as Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act provides healthcare to all Americans. This is yet another huge statement about how we strive to see worth and value in every citizen, by assuring them access to medical care.

There was also the memorial for the horrific shooting in Charleston, and the video of President Obama delivering a powerful eulogy that moved our nation. Hopefully his words serve to heal some of the pain caused by the hatred and bigotry behind that senseless crime.  This event forces us to remember that prejudice and bigotry are alive and that we must continue fighting to assure that every person is treated equally and with value regardless of race, sex, or sexual orientation.

Lastly, it would be negligent to not mention that the Supreme Court also issued a ruling on Friday relevant to criminal defense in Johnson v. United States.  The case determined that imposing an increased sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) residual clause was a violation of due process due to the fact the clause was unconstitutionally vague.

As criminal defense attorneys we, more than most, understand fighting and struggling for others to see the worth and value in every citizen.  Our clients are often society’s most hated and disregarded citizens.  At the core of what we do is the belief that a person is more than the worst thing that they have done in their life and that they have worth beyond a criminal act.  The theme that rings loud and clear this past week is a theme we appreciate and have to value.  When our nation demonstrates compassion and understanding in the way that it has this past week, we are all better for it.

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Current Happenings in Criminal Defense

Lately there seems to be a lot to talk about. For one, Loretta Lynch has hit the ground running since taking over the top spot as United States Attorney General. In late May, the Department of Justice announced the Indictment of a total of fourteen defendants which included FIFA officials and corporate executives associated with bribes. The New York Times summarized how the defendants fit into the long history of bribes associated with the World Cup. The investigation into FIFA continues as defendants have entered pleas and began cooperating with the Government. In fact it has expanded into an investigation into the involvement of Swiss banks in money laundering transactions related to the probe. All in all, the FIFA bribery case has and will continue to keep the criminal defense bar busy for a long time.

Then, just last week the Department of Justice announced the arrest of 243 people for health care fraud offenses throughout the United States. It is being called the largest crackdown on health care fraud in the history of the department. It was announced that the fraud charged resulted in $712 Million in fraudulent billing to the Medicare system. And as we can expect in any large federal indictment, when people start pleading there will be more to follow.

Clearly there is a lot of criminal defense work to go around and I hope that we will all remember to support other women in the field whenever we can. Stay tuned!

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: What’s the Best Way to Break into White Collar Defense?

I have been meaning to address this topic for some time because I can’t even count anymore how many young lawyers ask me how to break into the white collar field. And the answer is both simple and complicated. I remember once I had a young woman fresh off law school graduation ask for guidance on the topic. She was having a hard time finding an opportunity in the white-collar field. She sat in my office and said, “I want to be a white-collar lawyer.” I told her that realistically nobody graduates from law school and specializes in white-collar defense. I advised her to focus initially on a career in criminal defense.   She landed a job shortly after in a respected criminal defense firm.

So what roads really lead to a white-collar practice? Some of the best advice I have seen written on this topic is by a fellow blogger and highly respected white-collar defense attorney, Matt Kaiser of Kaiser, LeGrand, & Dillon, PLLC in Washington D.C. His longtime partner Rebecca LeGrand is one of our own which gives him, as they say, street credibility on the WCDA blog. He addressed this topic three times in posts at Above the Law, here, here, and here. I highly recommend reading each of those posts if you’re trying to figure out how to break into white-collar practice.

From my standpoint, never forget that the heart and soul of any white-collar case is basic criminal defense. Regardless of how complicated or sophisticated a white-collar matter is, you still need to understand the basics of examining a charging document and the elements of the offense. You still need to determine if there are any legal challenges to the use of evidence and gain a command of the facts of the case. So the first answer is to master the fundamentals of defending a person accused of a crime. After you have mastered that there are unique facets to defending a white-collar matter, but without the basics of criminal defense you are missing the forest for the trees.

The best place to gain this experience is and always will be in the public sector. As either a prosecutor or public defender you get the opportunity to gain experience and critical trial skills necessary to defend a criminal matter. These are skills that simply aren’t easily obtainable in the private sector. Now, in this respect, not all roads are equal. Without question a job as an AUSA, Federal Public Defender, or an Assistant Director at the SEC are all well suited as a springboard into a white-collar practice. For the simple reason that you have more opportunities to touch white-collar matters. But even a state attorney or state public defenders’ job can be a strong stepping-stone to a federal public sector job or to develop federal experience in the private sector.

There is a belief amongst some that the golden path to a white-collar practice is an AUSA pedigree, but that mold has long been broken. Take for example Cris Arguedas from Arguedas, Cassman & Headley, LLP who is currently defending FedEx, charged in a criminal Indictment. Or Theodore Wells from Paul Weiss, and Hank Asbill from Jones Day to name just a few more well-known and successful white-collar lawyers who were either public defenders or grew up in BigLaw through the help of mentors. There are many more. And in fact there are equally successful and exceptionally qualified white-collar lawyers that were AUSA’s, many who I respect and hold in high regard.

Just don’t buy into the belief there is only one path to developing a white-collar practice. The bottom line is that focusing on white-collar defense is not something you can fall into out of law school. You have to be mindful of the paths you choose that can open doors to focusing on white-collar defense. But from where I stand it is well worth the effort.

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Alexandra the Great

Criminal defense heroes come in all types. There is of course the classic dramatic trial lawyer who can bring any witness to their knees with a masterful cross. Then there is the silent but deadly trial lawyer who the opponent underestimates at every turn, but in fact is nothing short of a jury whisperer. But the most unrecognized heroes among us are the appellate lawyers who yield the power to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat. And this week one of those unsung heroines is Alexandra Shapiro.

She just won a new trial for former Deutsche Bank broker David Parse, who was convicted of tax fraud relating to a tax shelter scheme. The reversal was based on egregious juror misconduct which deprived the defendant of a fair and impartial jury. If that wasn’t enough, Alexandra Shapiro was also one of the architects behind the Unites States v. Newman appeal which has served as a game changer for insider trader prosecutions. The Second Circuit reversed and directed acquittals for both Todd Newman and Anthony Chiasson on the grounds that an insider trading offense requires that the Government prove that the tippee knew that the insider disclosed material nonpublic information in exchange for personal benefit. The Court found that the Government lacked proof on both fronts. Shapiro was involved in representing defendant Chiasson. And at the end of 2012, she obtained a reversal of the conviction of a tax lawyer and former partner of Ernst & Young arising from his work on the firm’s tax shelter practice. The Court found there was a lack of evidence to support the conviction of her client, Richard Shapiro.

Simply review the list of appellate victories on the bio section of her website and you will see that Alexandra Shapiro has been involved in the reversal of some of this country’s largest white collar prosecutions. So today in the wake of a huge victory for Alexandra Shapiro and her client I think it is time that those of us in the trial trenches pay some respect to the true appellate heroines amongst us, who honestly don’t get the glory they deserve. Let’s face it, we all agree there is nothing like walking a client out a courtroom after a Not Guilty verdict but in truth I think it must pale in many ways to unlocking the jail cell door for a convicted client. That is truly the stuff of heroes!

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: More Action, Less Statistics

It seems that recently there have been an even greater focus on studies and statistics that tell us what we already know about the challenges women face in law. But I can’t help but wonder if this focus can actually become a distraction.

I recently had a friend tell me that initiatives and committees focused on promoting women take women away from what should be their real focus; getting business and making it rain. And the more I read these dismal statistics the more I am beginning to think she is on to something. That being said, I still believe there is value in facing the current status of women in law; the cold hard facts so to speak. And I am mindful that not all women have the opportunity to develop and learn the necessary skill set to get business. Finally I also know there are many factors that contribute to these sad statistics but I do think that we need more action and less statistics. But of course I feel compelled to share them nonetheless:

  • A recent Harvard Law School Study reveals that women lawyers work more hours than men. HLS conducted a survey of graduates of the classes of 1975, 1985, 1995 and 2000 entitled “The Women and Men of Harvard Law School” The study evaluated many differences between male and female lawyers including satisfaction, compensation, and leadership. In all the graduating classes studied, women outpaced mean in the number of hours worked while the class of 2000 women worked eight hours more per week than their male counterparts. The ABA Journal summarized the other findings from the study here.
  • The New York Times reported the findings from a recent study which revealed that some men “fake” 80 hour work weeks. In fact many news sites commented on the new study by Boston University professor Erin Reid that found that 31 percent men and only 11 percent women managed to pass as workaholics without the need to demand more flexible work environments. The takeaway being that men are doing a better job at “faking it to make it” than women are.
  • An American Lawyer Special Report about Big Law Failing Women which evaluates the status of women in big law and even contemplates the need for quotas. The articles include some pretty alarming statistics such as:
    • A $250,000 pay gap between comparable men and women Big Law partners
    • 8% female equity partners among Am Law 200 firms
    • 2181 is the year to expect gender parity among Big Law partners at the current rate of growth
    • Only 15% of Am Law 200 firms with three or more women on the compensation committee
    • Only 1 female named partner out of 258 named partners among Am Law 100 firms
    • 19 firms that hired associates from the On Ramp program that gives women who have taken a break from firms a chance to return.

So read them and weep or…let’s throw these statistics on their head by starting to concentrate on increasing our businesses and consequently our power in the field. And if you have trouble in that department find another woman in the field you can trust and ask for help. We are all in this together!

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Claire Rauscher and Karen Popp on Duke Energy Team

Two of our own, Claire Rauscher of Womble Carlyle and Karen Popp of Sidley Austin were part of the team that represented Duke Energy in the recent corporate plea and sentence to criminal violations under the Clean Air Act. Claire Rauscher and her partner James Cooney of Womble Carlyle represented Duke Energy from the outset. A multi-jurisdictional investigation by both state and federal agencies began after a 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River in North Carolina. That investigation finally resulted in criminal charges being filed earlier this year.

Karen Popp was added to the team of lawyers representing Duke, and when she entered a notice of appearance, it certainly caught the media’s attention. Just this month the company entered a guilty plea to nine misdemeanor counts for ash-related violations at five power plants. Some of the counts were directly related to the Dan River spill but others were related to ash violations at other plants. The company was sentenced to five years probation and was fined $68 million, reportedly the largest fine ever imposed under the Clean Water Act. In addition the company is required to spend $34 million toward environmental projects in North Carolina and Virginia.

Duke Energy made a wise choice to assure that at least half of their team of lawyers were women. So often, as was the case here, companies are dealing with women on the prosecution side of the table, and building a diverse defense team is important. And the company couldn’t have found more experienced women in the white-collar field then Claire Rauscher and Karen Popp. Anyone that knows federal court knows that a plea to misdemeanors, regardless of whether you are an individual or a big company, means there was some fine lawyering on the defense side.

I am excited to see that women are and will continue to be involved in the biggest white-collar cases around the country. Congrats to both Claire and Karen for a job well done!