By Noha Sidhom • February 26, 2009•Superwomen JDs and What You Can Learn From Them
Bio for this week's Superwoman JD:
Ms. Liebenberg is a member of Fine, Kaplan and Black. She is a 1970 graduate of the University of Michigan and a 1975 graduate of the Catholic University Columbus School of Law, magna cum laude, where she was the Notes Editor of the Law Review. Thereafter, she served as a law clerk for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. She concentrates her practice in complex commercial litigation, including antitrust and class actions. In addition, Ms. Liebenberg handles the defense of white collar criminal cases.
In May, 2007, Ms. Liebenberg was named as one of The National Law Journal's "50 Most Influential Women Lawyers in America." In June, 2008, she was named as one of the "Top Ten Super Lawyers in Pennsylvania" in Philadelphia Magazine, the only woman ever to receive this designation. In October, 2006, Ms. Liebenberg was named by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell as a "Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania." In April, 2003, she was named as the first recipient of the Lynette Norton Award by the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession. That award was given to her in recognition of her outstanding litigation skills and mentoring of women attorneys. In December, 2003, she was named as one of the "Women of Distinction" by the Philadelphia Business Journal and the National Association of Women Business Owners, based on her commitment to professional excellence and community involvement.
In 2008, Ms. Liebenberg was appointed as Chair of the American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession, whose first Chair was Senator Hillary Clinton. In addition, she chaired the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession from 1995 to 1997. She was appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to the Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness, and serves as Chair of its Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Victims Committee. Previously, she was appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to its Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System, where she was Co-Chair of the Gender Bias Committee. She also served as Co-Chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association's Women in the Profession Committee. In addition, she served as Co-Chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association's Special Committee to Coordinate the Bar's Response to Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System, as well as its Gender Fairness Task Force.
1. What advice do you wish someone had given you when you first started practicing law?
Early in my career, I wish I had been advised to become involved in bar association activities. Over the course of my career, I have learned that such activities provide excellent networking opportunities, and they have enabled me to develop business referral sources from all over the country.
2. What do you think the legal profession can do to increase the number of senior level females?
Despite the fact that nearly 50% of law school graduates have been women for more for more than 20 years, the number of women equity partners has remained static at below 20%. This continuing disparity is an issue of great concern to me. The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, on which I serve as Chair, has several on-going initiatives to address this serious and long-standing problem. It is imperative that women receive assignments and performance evaluations that are fair and gender-neutral, as they impact compensation, advancement and ascension to partnership. The Commission's groundbreaking manual, Fair Measure: Toward Effective Attorney Evaluations, provides a comprehensive set of materials to ensure that women attorneys are treated fairly and are afforded the opportunity to achieve success at their law firms and corporations.
Also, since credit for business origination is critically important for purposes of both compensation and advancement to equity partner status, it is essential that women receive such credit for the clients and matters they have helped to attract and to develop. Moreover, senior women should be afforded the opportunity to have the clients whose business they have helped to grow "bequeathed" to them by senior partners who are retiring.
3. Being a first year attorney anywhere is tough. How do you think young attorneys can really hone their skills in their first few years?
The best way to hone your skills is to try to identify your niche or subject of particular interest and to become as knowledgeable as possible about that area of law. You should also avail yourself of every opportunity to work with experienced attorneys from whom you can learn. Seek out matters that will enable you to handle front-line responsibility early in your career. Firms also need to be committed to assigning younger women lawyers to work on significant matters for significant clients early in their careers. Also, pro bono work often provides an excellent opportunity for young lawyers to develop their skills.
4. 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?
Unfortunately, there does appear to be a perception that senior female attorneys are unwilling to assist younger lawyers. In my experience, however, I have found that there are many senior women who, despite having faced challenges early in their own careers, are fully committed to helping younger women advance within the profession.
Younger women should seek out mentors in their own law firms or corporations. Many firms have women initiatives where senior women attorneys provide networking and mentoring opportunities for their younger women partners and associates. In addition, there are many women's bar associations as well as committees devoted to women in the profession. In these organizations, you will be able to find successful senior women attorneys with whom you can network and from whom you can learn a great deal.
5. 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?
Finding one or more mentors is invaluable to achieving success. Male mentors can be just as helpful as female mentors. The key is finding mentors who can help you develop your legal skills; ensure that you are exposed to a broad spectrum of work assignments; introduce you to clients; and provide guidance and insights on firm politics and culture. You may need to seek out several mentors to fill these different roles. It is important to bear in mind that senior lawyers have many demands on their time, so don't give up if you can't schedule a meeting on the first try.
6. We all have to make sacrifices for our careers, what sacrifices have you made and which would you make again?
My practice is concentrated primarily in complex commercial litigation, particularly antitrust class actions. As a result, I have always traveled extensively. This was very difficult as I was raising three children, and unfortunately I missed some of their activities because of my travel. However, my husband and children were very understanding. In fact, now that my children are grown and have embarked on their own professional careers, they understand and appreciate that my professional success required certain sacrifices.
7. 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?
I love being a lawyer. Fortunately, my career has afforded me the opportunity to work on many interesting and challenging cases, and also enabled me to work in bar associations and community groups on various causes about which I care deeply. Although it is difficult to pick just one case to highlight, I am proudest of the five years I spent defending a business executive who had been improperly prosecuted by the federal government in an important case of first impression that received considerable national attention. Vindicating his rights and preserving his liberty was the most professionally and personally satisfying achievement of my career.
8. 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?
Given that technology can make working at a law firm feel like a 24/7 job, it is essential that quality time is set aside to enjoy one's family and outside hobbies. When my children were younger, we always set aside time for a ski vacation, a sport I still enjoy. In addition, I love attending the theatre and often attend plays with my friends, who are also my clients.
9. What is one change you would like to see in the legal profession in the next 20 years?
In 20 years, I would like to see the number of women equity partners increase to reflect the number of women in the profession. I hope to see a reversal of the attrition rates so that women practicing 10-20 years who are in their 30's and 40's remain in the practice, and can fill the ranks of equity partners. Finally, I hope to see the culture of law firms change so that work-life balance programs are not only offered, but are actually utilized by both men and women lawyers.
10. If you could give one piece of advice to new female lawyers, what would it be?
I would advise young female attorneys to consider concentrating in a particular field of law early in their careers. Developing knowledge and expertise in a particular area of law may make associates more valuable and enable them to change jobs or take advantage of more flexible work arrangements.
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 email@example.com.
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.