Oh, if only women could schmooze. We’d be better equipped to solve so many misfortunes.
One such ill: the dearth of female lawyers in commercial and appellate cases.
A panel of legal professionals suggested that women lawyers’ ability--or lack thereof--to network, schmooze, and ask for business is keeping them from first-chairing commercial and appellate cases.
The discussion, which took place recently at the New York City Bar, started with some staggering statistics: 98 commercial cases went before the court from September 2010 to January 2011, according to data collected from the New York state court's appellate division, first department. On 86 of those cases, male attorneys took the lead role, leaving 12 cases in the hands of female attorneys. That means that 12 percent of the court’s total commercial docket had a woman at the helm. Yet nationally, 31 percent of all lawyers are women.
Those numbers just don’t add up. Several women New York state court judges noticed the discrepancy and initiated the event, which attracted about 200 bleary-eyed female associates, law school students, partners, and judges.
The panel included Judge Deborah Batts, district court judge for the Southern District of New York; Bristol-Myers Squibb general counsel Sandra Leung; Allstate Insurance general counsel Michele Coleman Mayes; Justice Angela Mazzarelli of the appellate division; Sullivan & Cromwell partner Penny Shane, and the moderator, Justice Rosalyn Richter of the appellate division. They were asked to play the blame game.women litigators
Who’s at fault for this disparity? Big firms, who aren’t dedicating enough resources to developing female talent? Clients, who often opt for the tradition playbook that calls for older white men to quarterback a trial? Perhaps we should blame women’s mothering duties that pull them away from their work? Or could we point a finger at women themselves, who aren’t aggressive enough in securing a lead counsel role?
“It’s all of the above,” said Shane, after these options were posed to the panel.
Yet one question in particular hit a chord: “The reason we’re seeing all these men on all these cases is because men get business and women don’t,” said Richter, the moderator. “Is that true?”
Shane called women’s weaker relationships with clients “a contributing cause” to the lack of female lawyers in commercial cases. But, she said, “the ways of getting business include doing very good work, and women do very good work.”
Bristol-Myers’s Leung argued that doing good work isn’t enough. “To really get business, you gotta schmooze,” she said, and women are sometimes more reluctant to do so. “I get far more phone calls from male partners at law firms wanting to meet me for lunch than women,” she said.
Allstate’s Coleman Mayes agreed: “I have never seen a man be reticent to ask me for business. In fact, they will strangle you to make sure you sit long enough so they can tell you they want your business and why they’re so good,” she said. “Women will dance around it: ‘Well, I don’t want to abuse our relationship.’ And I say, ‘Men don’t care if they abuse it; neither should you.’”
If women can’t build relationships, said Coleman Mayes, they’re at a disadvantage, “because at the end of the day, this is not a charitable organization we’re running.”
So women plus schmoozing equals more opportunities in court? Is the solution to solving the absence of women in commercial and appellate litigation that simple? Or should other factors like mentoring programs, family obligations, or law firm politics carry just as much or more blame?