Women in Law: Creating a Culture of Diversity

Shot of a group of female coworkers having a meeting in the boardroom

Highlighting the importance of gender diversity in the legal profession for the next generation of practicing attorneys.

Businesses are recognizing and valuing diversity in the workforce more than ever before, and this is equally true in the legal profession. Clients and customers continue to request more diverse attorneys to work on their matters, as many believe diversity is a fundamental value that also offers better business outcomes. Women represent half the world’s population but continue to be under-represented in the legal profession at all attorney levels around the world.

How can law firms and legal departments attract and retain women lawyers? Many practicing women attorneys face challenges to remain in the legal field — whether it be balancing family commitments and thriving work careers, competition for equity partnership, or leadership positions in law firms and legal departments. The outcome of weighing these challenges often leads to the decision to leave the practice.

Creating discussions about these issues, ways to handle challenges, and highlighting the importance of gender diversity in the legal profession could help curb the decline in retention for the next generation of practicing attorneys. A team of Microsoft Corporation attorneys and Perkins Coie attorneys decided to partner on engaging the next generation of women lawyers to be part of the solution.

Gender Diversity Initiatives
For over a decade, Microsoft’s Legal and Corporate Affairs department has been actively involved in executing Microsoft’s diversity and inclusion strategy, with worldwide initiatives such as the Go Global Program in place to attract, mentor and retain women legal professionals. Perkins Coie has demonstrated similar dedication to the success of women in the legal profession through its established diversity team and committed Women’s Forum (the firm’s women’s lawyer affinity group) to work together hand-in-hand with firm leadership in tackling diversity challenges.

In connection with the Go Global Program in the United States and Perkins Coie’s diversity initiatives, we teamed up on a new program to inform and inspire women law students about their future in the legal field. With combined experience both at law firms and in a corporate legal department, we wanted to help facilitate a discussion with law students on ways women can be more successful in practice, illustrate some challenges we’ve faced along the way, and share some lessons learned in our early years of practice.

The program included a two-part series in Chicago and Washington D.C., where both seasoned and new women lawyers from both organizations offered law students a glimpse into what lies ahead after law school, various perspectives on legal career options and tips on how to navigate the changing legal market — at a law firm, in-house law department, or in business or government. Our plan is to bring the program to Seattle in the spring of 2016.

Tips for Women Attorneys in Early Years of Practice
Here are some tips for the women law students we shared during the presentation.

  • Network with each other, learn from each other, support each other, and empower each other – the sooner, the better.
  • Establish mentorship relationships and seek out internship opportunities early to identify whether, among other things, pursuing a law firm career or a career as a corporate attorney will satisfy your professional pursuits. If not, don’t be afraid to create new opportunities.
  • Always treat yourself like a solo practitioner in the sense that you take ownership over your career and build your own practice.
  • To be relevant and competitive in our world market, create an environment where your talent is reflective of the consumers or clientele you wish to serve.
  • Know there is great value and excellence in diversity in thought and leadership.

Microsoft and Perkins Coie hope to continue this important discussion by expanding the program to additional cities in spring 2016. If you’d like to learn more, contact diversity@perkinscoie.com for information about Perkins Coie’s diversity programs, or see www.microsoft.com/en-us/legal/LCADiversity.aspx for information about Microsoft’s Legal and Corporate Affairs diversity strategy.

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