SuperWomen JDs and What You Can Learn From Them: Featuring Patricia Gillette of San Francisco, California

Bio for this week's Superwoman JD: Ms. Gillette, a partner in Orrick's San Francisco office, is a member of the Employment Law Group.  Ms. Gillette's practice focuses on all aspects of employment law, including wrongful discharge and discrimination litigation in both state and federal court, representation of employers in hearings before administrative agencies and counseling and training employers on preventive personnel practices.

Ms. Gillette is a frequent lecturer to management and professional groups on employment issues. She has spoken for such nationally recognized groups as the American Bar Association, California State Bar Association, National Employment Law Institute, California Employment Law Council, Practising Law Institute, the Rutter Group, CEB and many other management employment groups.

Before joining Orrick, Ms. Gillette was a partner and Co-Chair of Heller Ehrman LLP's Labor and Employment Practice Group.  Prior to joining Heller Ehrman, Ms. Gillette was in private practice for several years and was in-house counsel for Bank of America, where she was in charge of the Personnel Advice Section of the Legal Department.

Ms. Gillette is the founder of the Opt-In Project, a nationwide initiative focused on changing the structure of law firms to increase the retention and advancement of women in the workplace.  Ms. Gillette speaks frequently on these issues at conferences across the nation.  She  also is Orrick's representative on the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force, a cross industry group focused on issues facing women and minorities in the workplace.

1. How has being a woman affected your career or legal education?
 Until I moved into leadership positions within my firms, I didn’t think that it affected my career at all.  When I moved into one of the top leadership positions, however, I experienced discrimination for the first time.  It wasn’t overt.  But it was definitely there.  I believe that my contribution to the firm at that level was limited by the discrimination which included dismissive behavior, exclusion from the informal decisionmaking process, and influence.  Of course, as it turned out, the positions I took and the actions I recommended were right….

2. What advice do you wish someone had given you when you first started practicing law?
Have a plan. 

3. What do you think the legal profession can do to increase the number of senior level females?
Get rid of measuring success by year out of law school and the billable hour.  Implement succession planning for leadership positions.  Encourage open communication and transparency.

4. Being a first year attorney anywhere is tough.  How do you think young attorneys can really hone their skills in their first few years? 
Understand that you have internal and external clients and serve both with the same amount of attention and urgency.   Know that one of your jobs is to bring in business, so start cultivating clients and client development skills early.  ASK for opportunities and take on challenges. Don’t be risk adverse.

5. Our profession is male dominated.  How can young women balance being feminine and professional at the same time?  I meet many women that simply act like one of the boys; I do not think that is the solution.  Do you have any advice for handling social situations, outings with clients, etc.?
Be yourself.  You don’t have to play golf to succeed.  If you like to eat, invite clients out to dinner; if you like music, invite clients to the symphony or the opera.  Do what feels comfortable.  Don’t be the party girl at firm events or with clients.

6. There is a perception that senior female attorneys think that they had it tough and so should you.  Do you think that this sentiment is true?  If so, do you think there is value in figuring things out on your own like women before you had to?
Senior women should share experiences and give advice so that people don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  Shame on those women who tell other women to figure it out for themselves.

7. What advice do you have for young female attorneys looking for a mentor?  Do you feel that there is added value in finding a female mentor?  What should they be looking for in a mentor, and what can they do to make themselves someone you would want to mentor? 
A mentor should be someone with whom you relate.  That may be a man or a woman.  For me, my best mentors have been men.  But, it is a myth that you look for one mentor.  There are mentors for balancing life and work; there are mentors for legal discussions; there are mentors for client development, etc.  One person rarely has it all.
8. We all have to make sacrifices for our careers, what sacrifices have you made and which would you make again? 
I sacrificed developing a lot of good close friends outside of work.  And that was a mistake.  I would not do that again.  And I wish I had become more active in women’s issues earlier in my career.

9. What is your favorite thing about being a lawyer?  I am sure you have a moment of achievement that made the sacrifices seem worth it. Can you tell us about a highlight in your career?
 The highlight of my life and my career is my two kids.  They are wonderful, open minded, fun loving, and smart young men.  My favorite thing about being a lawyer is problem solving.  I am good at it and it has made me successful.

10. Men still get paid more and get promoted faster.  What advice do you have for young women to help them accelerate their careers?
One of the reasons men get paid more is that they focus (or are given the opportunity to focus) on business development.  They also ask for opportunities and accept challenges. Women need to ask to go on pitches, ask for difficult assignments, seek and demand honest feedback.

11. What are your interests/hobbies outside of the legal practice?  How important do you think those interests/hobbies have been in maintaining some work life balance?
Cooking, community service and my kids.  Because I love to cook, I always made dinner for my family – yes every night.  And although we ate later than most families – 7or 7:30 – for my kids that was  normal.  As a result, we had wonderful discussions around the dinner table.  I also served on the boards of my kids’ schools as a community service, which allowed me to stay close to them and what was happening at their schools.  I ran the school carnival for 6 years – using the skills of delegation that I developed as a lawyer to make it work for a “working mom”.  I went on field trips, I was a room mother. I made them and their school my outside activities.  And I spent all my free time with my kids – Sundays were sacred in the sense that we did something as a family on those days. And on Saturdays, I took them with me to run errands – grocery shopping, dry cleaners, etc.  So we had lots of time together.

12. What has changed the most and the least since you started practicing law?  How have these changes affected you?
The increased focus on billable hours and profits per partner.  And the trust between associates and partners, partners and partners and lawyers and clients.  It is very very sad.

13. If you could go back, what would you have done differently in how you approached your legal education and career?
 I would have paid attention to where I went to law school instead of just choosing one based on where my husband (to whom I am still married) was going and I would have gone into politics.

14. What is one change you would like to see in the legal profession in the next 20 years?
 Get rid of the billable hour.

15. If you could give one piece of advice to new female lawyers, what would it be?

A Message from the Author:   This column is a Q&A with senior level female attorneys offering advice and mentorship to young female lawyers.  The questions below were sent to the interviewees and responses have not been edited for content.  The advice, experiences, personalities, and approaches of these women are extremely diverse and more importantly very useful to future generations of female attorneys.  I hope this column will offer helpful advice, and inspire healthy discussions.  I have an exciting lineup of female leaders in the profession, but if you have someone you would like to nominate, or you yourself would like to be interviewed, feel free to email me at  

Bio for the author of the column:   Noha Sidhom is a proud graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Law.  Before attending law school, Noha interned on Capitol Hill for the Honorable Charles Timothy Hagel and went on to campaign for Senate candidate Peter Ricketts.  During law school, she clerked at Husch Blackwell Sanders, formerly Blackwell Sanders.  She also did an internship at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Enforcement and an internship at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where she is now an attorney in the Office of General Counsel.  Noha is licensed in New York and New Jersey, and currently resides with her husband in Washington, D.C. 


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