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Wilmer Puts a Woman on Top; Brits' List of Best U.S. Female Lawyers

Vivia Chen

February 15, 2012

Murley_Susan1. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr gets new co-managing partners—and one of them is a she! It's a sad commentary that this should still be news, but it's pretty rare for an elite Am Law 100 firm to elect a woman to a top post.

Wilmer now joins a select (make that minuscule) club with the appointment of corporate partner Susan Murley (on right) as co-MP (her cohort is Robert Novick, a partner in the regulation and government affairs group). They succeed the Two Bills—William Lee and William Perlstein—who are returning to full-time practice.

Murley's appointment is a first for the firm, but she downplays its significance. She says it was a gradual transition, since "I had been on the management committee for eight years." She says she has no set agenda in mind beyond continuing what the Two Bills had already set in motion.

How will her election change things for women? "As long as women don't yet represent 50 percent of the partnership, I'll ask why that might be the case."

That sounds pretty mild, but we understand that no one wants a radical in management. In any case, we hope women flourish under Murley and Novick's reign.

2. Another week, another women's event—but this one came wrapped in a British flag. Catherine McGregor, the managing editor of Chambers & Partners, the U.K. organization that rates lawyers and firms, hosted the first Chambers U.S.A. Women in Law Awards. Held at the Plaza Hotel, it was a who's who of female legal luminaries—Mary Jo White, Candace Beinecke, Franci Blassberg, Faiza Saeed, to name just a few.

No real surprises as to the honorees list, but there was a bit of an Academy Awards-like suspense when the nominees' names were read just before the winner was announced in each of the practice area categories. (Click here for the list.)

Thankfully,  the winners' speeches were a lBritFlagot shorter than the ones in Tinsel Town. Many of the winners thanked the women at their firms for their success--which was a nice touch of sisterly unity. Cravath Swaine & Moore partner Sandra Goldstein gave a particularly memorable speech, singling out her 80-year-old mother, Gloria Goldstein, a retired New York State appellate judge, as her role model.

The big jolt of the evening was that a smallish (150 lawyers) firm in Atlanta—Morris, Manning & Martin—won in the best mentoring category, beating out the likes of Vinson & Elkins; Weil, Gotshal & Manges; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Manning's mentoring program stood out because it is highly individualized, says McGregor. "Each mentee has both a mentor and a sponsor—someone who's on the management committee—and that has a real impact in the long run."

But will Manning's program work in the big firms? Sure, says Manning's managing partner, Louise Wells. Keeping personality fit in mind is key, she says, "meaning let whomever is the best fit for someone be that person's mentor. It works for women and men. Meetings and formal tools are not always as successful as personal ones."

Big Wall Street firms—are you paying attention?


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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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