Leadership, Partnership and Women in the Law: How this Firm Got it Right

At the close of 2014, O’Melveny & Myers LLP promoted a partnership class comprised of 40% women. Ms. JD wanted to hear from the firm to learn about the types of initiatives or values the firm fosters to ensure that gender is not a determining factor in whether an attorney excels or advances at the firm.  We also wanted some advice on how women attorneys starting their legal careers should approach the daunting idea of making partner one day.

It’s a topic that continues to loom at the forefront of discussions on motherhood and the law. Can women really manage motherhood with partner track positions at law firms? O’Melveny & Myers LLP, an international law firm founded in Los Angeles, California and the 29th largest law firm in the world, was one on this list of the 50 Best Law Firms for Women in 2014. As a best law firm for women, O’Melveny & Myers LLP is one of the firms in the country that focuses on strengthening women’s representation and influence in equity partnership and leadership, along with leading the profession in supporting flexible work arrangements and paid parental leave.

While many firms tout their options for flexible or reduced schedule work arrangements for new parents (mostly mothers), this often comes with the notion that making partner or taking a leadership role at the firm may no longer be a viable option.  We asked the four female partners,  Courtney Dyer, Katrina Robson, Amy Siegel, and Jennifer Taylor to shed some light on how their careers flourished at O’Melveny & Myers and to share advice on how young lawyers should approach leadership, balance, and finding a firm that is a great fit.

Leadership Potential and Opportunities

Courtney Dyer: I look for confidence.  The confidence to lead a team with the skills to balance when to jump in and when to stand back and let others shine.  Leadership roles are available regardless of whether the end goal is partnership.  I was interested in recruiting law students and laterals to join O’Melveny so I asked to be part of the Employment Committee."

Katrina Robson: I think everyone has leadership potential.   How you develop it—that’s a different question.   […]  Be willing to take risks—especially about sharing your ideas.  Ask for feedback.  Be honest with yourself and open to change when it’s appropriate.  When you make a mistake, do your best to correct it, learn from it, and then move on—don’t dwell.  Work as hard for your colleagues’ success as for your own.  And show compassion to and interest in everyone.  O’Melveny’s leadership values the diversity of experiences and views that we all bring to the table and offers a variety of leadership roles so that each person can make the most of his or her unique combination of skills, interests, and relationships.   As a result, I think every person who has advanced to partnership at O’Melveny has had a distinct set of leadership experiences.

Work-Life Balance

Jennifer Taylor: The Firm’s culture is nothing but supportive, and I think it is significant that there is buy-in from men and women alike.  One of my male colleagues, for example, just began a four-month paternity leave.  I believe that fact is indicative of our Firm’s values and breeds an environment where our colleagues feel free to actually make use of the cutting-edge programs that our Firm leadership has developed.

Amy Siegel: Our Firm recognizes that working parents not only want to perform their best at work, they want to be really great parents at home, too.  And, achieving both is not easy.  Recently, I helped spearhead the Firm’s launch of a unique benefits program with ParentWings, which offers one-on-one consulting services to attorneys and staff, addressing a wide range of parenting issues, such as behavior, nutrition/lactation and sleep training, among others.  By empowering working parents to feel secure in their parenting skills, we can maintain a truly supportive culture.

Courtney Dyer: Our clients are global.  So my hours have always been “flexible” to the extent that my work day may extend past regular business hours in my time zone. This flexibility allows me opportunities to attend school functions, have dinner with my children, and hop online after bedtime.  O’Melveny fosters an environment that supports working parents by giving us the tools to balance our commitments and still meet client needs.

Katrina Robson: […]  Our talent development and administrative team has developed an entire infrastructure to support parents and I frequently tap into that to help me balance work and family.  But what really makes the balancing act possible, at least for me, is the support of my colleagues.  We are committed to delivering the highest quality work and being available virtually on-demand to clients, which means that, yes, we work nights and the all-too-frequent weekend.  We couldn’t achieve that standard and have personal lives if we didn’t work as a team.

Parental Leave

Courtney Dyer: I took just over four months of maternity leave with my first child and five months after my second.  The best advice I received was to stay engaged to the extent possible until your leave starts, disconnect and focus on your family while on leave, and then be prepared to hit the ground running when you return.  Recognizing this advice may not work well for everyone, O’Melveny provides tremendous support to parents returning from leave.

Katrina Robson: I’ve taken parental leave and worked a reduced schedule when it was the right thing to do for my family.   The firm respected and fully supported those decisions.   In return, I respected the accommodations that were being made for me and worked hard to support my colleagues and deliver value to the firm.

Advice to young, women lawyers

Jennifer Taylor: First, do not let your career consume you.  It is very easy to let work become the number one priority.  I eventually found myself in that position and it was quite difficult to come to the decision to start a family.  But after making the leap, it has been a choice that I have not regretted.    Second, I think it is possible to have it all, but it is not necessary to do it all.  Some of the best advice that I received was to give something up.  Of course don’t give up the important things, but maybe you don’t need to be the one doing the laundry or all of the cooking.  Outsourcing makes it much easier to find balance.

Amy Siegel: Build a wide network of mentors and supporters both inside and outside the law firm, including both men and women.  They will all have different perspectives on how to be professionally successful within the firm, and how to be a good parent and citizen outside the firm. Over time, you can determine which styles you want to adopt in order to find the right work-life balance for you and your family.

Katrina Robson: Kathy Sanders, an O’Melveny partner, gave me some great advice in my first year as an attorney: “Don’t put your life on hold.”  At the time, I took it to mean that I would be a better lawyer if I also had a fulfilling personal life.  And I’ve found that to be true.  But I think it also means (at least to me) that the time to start learning how to balance your professional and personal life is right now.  In my experience, this career becomes more demanding, not less.  Practicing the balancing act today—when you’re single, dating, or newly married—will prepare you for the inevitable complexities to come, whether that’s having a family, caring for your parents, or staying active in your community.

Ms. JDs should look for this when choosing the firm of their dreams…

Jennifer Taylor: To this day, I still recall that one of the primary factors that drew me to O’Melveny was the sense that the Firm values people as people and not just cogs in a legal machine.  There is a respect for one another’s interests, commitments, and backgrounds—whether that means a family at home, a passion for local theater or some other intense hobby.  I think that means we have an environment filled with more well-rounded and happy people, but we are all also better lawyers for the diverse perspectives and values that each individual brings to the table.

Courtney Dyer: I’d advise women lawyers to seek out firms that have a great reputation in their practice area of interest and have strong commitments to the communities where they operate.  If you meet attorneys throughout the recruiting process that are enthusiastic about what they do and with whom they work, that firm is likely to have strong values and good benefits.

Katrina Robson: Start by looking for a first-rate group of colleagues, people who will support you when you need it, make you laugh—even at midnight after sixteen hours of work—and will have thoughtful discussions with you about leadership, career potential, and developing business.  After that, it depends on what you want to achieve.  Think about your objectives carefully and consider which firm will provide you with the best platform for achieving those objectives.  I wanted to work on high-profile, cutting-edge legal issues with talented colleagues who would value my contributions and who would challenge me to achieve uncompromising excellence.  O’Melveny was unquestionably the right place for me.


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