Women In Litigation

Editor: Please tell the readers about your background and professional experience.

Rochon : I attended New York University Law School where I was a member of the Law Review . After graduating, I clerked in the District Court of New Jersey and in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. I then joined Kramer Levin's litigation department. I have a fairly varied practice. I primarily represent large pharmaceutical companies in complex commercial litigation, including false advertising. I also practice in the fields of securities and white collar criminal defense. At Kramer Levin, I am Chair of the Women's Initiative Committee and a member of the Diversity Committee.

Law : I graduated from Fordham Law School where I also was a member of the Law Review . After law school, I clerked in the Eastern District of New York. After initially joining a larger law firm, I left to join Kramer Levin where I have been a litigator for a little over ten years. I work primarily on complex commercial litigation with a special focus on false advertising and employment law. I also handle lots of securities matters and represent directors and officers in a variety of litigations and arbitrations. At Kramer Levin, I am Co-Chair of the Hiring Committee and a member of the Women's Initiative Committee.

Editor: Even though there are essentially equal numbers of women graduating from law schools and joining law firms, there are very few women litigation partners. Does this present a challenge for women?

Rochon: It is true that the number of women partners in many litigation departments, including ours, is low. I believe that the national average of women partners generally is 17 percent. Because there are few role models, it is difficult for women who are trying to balance home and professional responsibilities to assess whether they want to stay and endeavor to progress to partner. An additional hurdle is that the hours in the litigation department can be more demanding than in other departments. I believe, however, that balance is possible. In today's age of technology and market pressures to keep talented women, women can be more creative in structuring a schedule that permits balance while facilitating career advancement.

Law: When I look at the choices made by my law school friends, only two of the women from my group of friends still practice law. And I know from my conversations with those who left, the lack of role models played an important factor in their decision to leave. We really have to do better at enticing smart women to stay. Clients tell us that they want diverse legal staffing. And on a daily basis we see the value of staffing our matters with people with different perspectives. These pressures, particularly from clients, are very helpful in getting law firms to become more flexible. No doubt it is hard, but balance is possible. We just have to help people to do that in a meaningful way.

Editor: Developing business is an important part of any law practice. Do women develop business differently than men? What are your programs to help women succeed in this regard?

Law: When I look around, many of the major rainmakers at firms are men. That begs the question of whether there are gender differences in the way people develop business. To be sure, there are some men and women who develop business the exact same way. But for others there are differences. As a working mom - I have three daughters, ages six, four and one, at home - I want to go home at the end of the day. So the traditional ways of developing business - the late-night dinners and sporting events - do not work for me.

I do it differently, often by expanding relationships that already exist or developing new relationships through natural connections. No matter how one chooses to develop business, you have to do it in a way that works for you or you will not be successful at it.

Rochon: Enhancing our women's networking and business development skills has been a major focus of our women's initiative programs. For example, this year we hosted a very large networking event with our women attorneys and women clients. In preparation for that event, we organized panel discussions with some of the largest rainmakers in our firm to provide different perspectives on networking and business development. We have established a lunch program where successful women in the fields of law and business meet with small groups of our women attorneys to exchange ideas and share their strategies for success. We also have internal meetings on the topic, including bringing guest speakers to speak to our women about generating business and effective self-promotion and an interactive workshop on improving one's website biography. These programs are all intended to provide women with tools that they can use to develop their careers.

Editor: We know that a litigation practice can be time intensive and unforgiving and that some women are juggling home and work responsibilities. How does one strike this balance?

Rochon: This subject has been of great interest to attorneys these days. We have had several presentations on how to balance work and home responsibilities. From what we understand, compared to the corporate world, however, law firms are surprisingly flexible places. Because of the billable hour system, work is not necessarily confined to a place or time. Even in the fast paced and high powered world of litigation there are many tasks such as preparing for a deposition, writing a brief, preparing for an argument or a trial that do not have to be done at a particular time in the day, thus giving lawyers the freedom to structure their schedules in a way in which they can effectively juggle both work and home.

Law: Litigators also have the ability to plan in advance. While there are occasions where we are confronted with an application for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction, we usually know about our deadlines upfront. And, when you have control over scheduling, it is easier to make your work responsibilities work with your home responsibilities.

Rochon : The BlackBerry, and technology generally, has also helped make this possible. As much as the BlackBerry is maligned for being a tether to the workplace, it does enable one to achieve flexibility because you can be responsive and connected to work even if you're physically not present in the office.

Editor: Y ou have worked part-time during your career as a litigator. Please describe your firm's leave and part-time policies and their impact on advancement?

Rochon : Our firm has excellent leave policies, which can be used not only for child care but also to care for an ill spouse or parent. Our child care leave policy allows attorneys to take time in connection with the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child. A typical maternity leave is about six and one half months. The policy provides for four weeks of paid paternity leave in addition to any accrued vacation time; and an increasing, albeit still small, number of attorneys are taking advantage of that benefit.

With regard to our part-time program, attorneys can work either three or four days a week. In the past, I think people had the view that individuals who worked part-time were less committed to their careers and less responsive to clients such that partnership, or at least partnership on the same track as other attorneys, was not advisable until the attorney returned to full-time status. This attitude has changed in recent years and certainly no longer exists at Kramer Levin. Several of our partners, including Kerri and I, made partner with our classes, even after having worked part-time for a significant length of time, and several women continue to work part-time after having made partner.

Law: Law firms typically have great maternity leave policies and six month leaves are fairly common. I think, and hope, that law firms are also becoming more open to the idea that you can be a successful litigator even if you are not in the office five days a week. But flexibility is the key. There are times when one's schedule must change because of a client's needs, a court scheduled matter or because of something at home. It works both ways.

Editor: We know that clients expect their attorneys to be available to them on a full-time basis and litigation especially is perceived as being incompatible with a part-time arrangement. How is this issue resolved?

Rochon: The perception that part-time litigators are less effective advocates or less responsive to their clients is simply false. Working less than a 100 percent schedule because of child care responsibilities requires the same juggling and balance that is present in every litigation practice. There are very few litigators who work on any one matter 100 percent of their time; and clients and colleagues understand that attorneys are juggling many matters. One is not less responsive to a client or dedicated to his or her job simply because one returns a client call, after taking her child to the doctor, than if one returned the call after a deposition on another matter. As long as a part-time attorney's case load is structured appropriately and an attorney is flexible and conscientious, responsiveness to one's clients and colleagues is simply a non-issue.

Law: We also find that clients are particular busy people with competing demands on their time. For some it is because they are overloaded in the office, and for others it is because they, too, are balancing between work and home. We are all juggling something. What makes the juggling act a bit easier is the ability to work out of the office. As Jennifer said earlier, the BlackBerry makes this easier. So does the ability to access your work files from your home computer.

Editor: How do you gauge the success of women's initiative efforts? Has your retention and promotion of women increased?

Rochon: I believe that women are now seeing an increasing number of other women succeeding and it inspires them to stay. Kerri has certainly inspired me to stay. In the last few years, 20 percent of our new partners have been women - higher than the national average we mentioned earlier. Several have worked part-time during their careers and some continued to work part-time after making partner. Women are seeing the fabric of the partnership changing, which we hope will have a positive influence on their decision to stay.

Law : I would like to think that the programs we are establishing to develop and mentor our women makes them more likely to stay. And retaining the women we have also increases our ability to recruit talented women. We have had some really terrific women join or rejoin the litigation department after taking time away from the workplace to concentrate on child rearing or other activities. We hope that the energy and enthusiasm shared by the women litigators has a real impact on retention and recruitment.

Editor: How do you envision the impact of your initiatives in five years time?

Law: In five years, I would like to see more women advance and become active voices in law firms. For those who chose to leave, I hope it is not because of the lack of role models but because they chose to do something else, having had options.

Rochon: I hope to see more women participating in firm management and more women generating significant books of business. I also hope that a strong sense of community among the women at the firm will develop and that these connections will extend well beyond an attorney's service at the firm. Most importantly, I hope that the issues we are talking or fighting about today - gender equality, maternity leave, or part-time issues - will become more noncontroversial and less newsworthy.

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