Are Women Lawyers More Successful In-House Because Companies Value Their People Skills?

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It’s a controversial idea. But some women lawyers are suggesting that female attorneys do better, overall, when working in-house at least in part because corporations value the people skills they tend to bring to the table more than law firms do.

“Companies have tended to reward the kinds of skills that women in general are known for bringing—the ability to accommodate and collaborate, the ability to lead teams, the ability to look for different kinds of solutions,” Susan Hackett tells Corporate Counsel. A former general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel, she recently co-founded Legal Executive Leadership.

Corporations also are more convinced of the value of having a diverse group of attorneys than law firms, the lengthy article suggests, which may help explain why only about 15 percent of the equity partners at law firms are female, a statistic that has stayed stable for years. Expectations that law firm attorneys will work a high number of hours is another likely reason, as is the fact that far more male than female lawyers have a stay-at-home spouse who helps lighten their load outside the office.

Regardless of the reason why, the fact remains that “women are not advancing in firms as well as they should,” says partner Stephanie Scharf of Schoeman Updike & Kaufman. A former president of the National Association of Women Lawyers, she was previously a partner at Jenner & Block and Kirkland & Ellis.

While there may be no overt discrimination in many law firms, the men who comprise most of their leaders may naturally tend to feel an affinity with other males or establish workplace practices that men are more comfortable with, the article suggests.

Hackett tells a story about one day, early on in her career, when she was working at a well-known law firm based in Washington, D.C.

“I can remember working all day at the firm and realizing that, at 6:30, all the guys were sitting down in one of the partners’ offices downstairs drinking Jack Daniels,” she recounts. ” It wasn’t that I didn’t get along with those people, and it wasn’t that I wanted to drink Jack Daniels with them that much, but I thought to myself as I watched this, ‘There’s something happening here that I’m not part of.’ “

Related coverage: “What Century Are We In? Still Mistaken for Court Reporters, Women Lawyers Need to Speak Up, One Says”

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