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Finding your ‘belonging’ in law

Female role models: spotlight on Norton Rose Fulbright’s US Management Committee

Four out of nine members of Norton Rose Fulbright’s US Management Committee are women. And three of these women come from minority backgrounds. In recognition of this strong example of female leadership within one of the largest global law firms, Helen Donegan (US editor for content) spoke with these partners to hear about their practices and management responsibilities, and to ask about their experiences as women in the legal profession

To start, please can you provide a brief overview of your areas of responsibility within the firm, and as part of the US Management Committee?

Shauna Clark: As members of the US Management Committee, Gina, Stacey, Judi, and I support our US managing partner, Jeff Cody, in the management of the firm’s US operations and strategy. We work tirelessly to ensure that our firm provides first-rate legal services to our clients so that we remain a consistent leader in the US legal field. In addition to my role on the US Management Committee, I am also the head of our US Employment and Labour practice. I am responsible for making sure that our exceptional employment and labour lawyers provide employers with excellent consulting advice and strongly defend them in contested proceedings. Our aim is to assist corporate America in fostering a strong work environment and corporate growth.

Gina Shishima: We have three primary groups within the firm: Intellectual Property, Litigation, and Business. I recently led our US Intellectual Property group and worked closely with the heads of Litigation and Business to manage the three primary groups. Now, as our new Chief Operations Partner, I work closely with Jeff Cody to manage the business services side of the law firm, as well as implementing strategic initiatives that touch on a variety of aspects of the firm’s business. I am also on our partner compensation and promotion committee, and I previously led our Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which is something that is still a very important area of focus for me and others on the Management Committee.

“Our Management Committee is very flexible, and we are able to balance the service side of our practices with our management/administrative responsibilities in light of this premise”
Stacey Martinez, Global Co-Head of Life Sciences and Healthcare

Stacey Martinez: I have held several titles over the past few years with a variety of responsibilities related to each. I am currently the Global Co-Head of our Life Sciences and Healthcare group and serve on the committee that sets compensation and recommends new partners into the partnership. Previously, I served as the Partner-in-Charge and Administrative Partner of the Austin office. As part of the US Management Committee, we are responsible for the business and strategic side of our law firm and we set policies that, among other things, show our commitment to diversity and inclusion (as already alluded to).

Judi Archer: In addition to serving in my first year on our US Management Committee, I am the Chair of US Hiring, which means I have oversight for law school and experienced lateral hiring across the US. I have held various other leadership roles since joining the firm 15 years ago, including most recently as a member of the firm’s Partnership Committee for three terms, a particular honour since that committee is elected by all of our partners. I also served for the past six years as Chair of the US Women in the Firm Committee and Women’s Network. We have held all of these leadership positions while maintaining active legal practices.

How do each of you balance client needs with these management responsibilities?

Clark: I am passionate about both client needs and my firm’s management. When I undertake my professional obligations, I do so with the deepest commitment to doing every task to the best of my ability. Sometimes, it is difficult, but I am blessed to be surrounded and supported by a great professional and personal support system. My support system, coupled with my faith, enables me to give my best to both the clients and the firm members I proudly serve.

Shishima: I work with a talented team that works hard to make sure that clients are getting their legal needs addressed in a way that is timely and meets, if not exceeds, their expectations, and they get me involved as needed.

Martinez: Serving client needs is the basis of our foundation and it is our number one priority. Our Management Committee is very flexible, and we are able to balance the service side of our practices with our management/administrative responsibilities in light of this premise. In other words, client needs are paramount and we find the time to manage around providing excellent legal advice and counsel.

“Women lawyers need to have the freedom, equal opportunities, and sponsorship to develop and showcase their talents without man-made
hindrances”
Shauna Clark, Head of Employment and Labour, United States

Archer: I balance these needs in the same way that I prioritise work obligations, or work and family obligations. It is less about balance and more about managing and prioritising competing obligations. I am fortunate to work with a tremendous group of partners and associates, and know that when I am occupied with management responsibilities, my clients and matters are in good hands. And when I am in court or with clients, other firm leaders will ably handle management issues with as much input as I can give.

Within your individual sectors, what do you think will be the biggest challenges for clients over the next 12 months?

Clark: The workplace is rapidly changing. The gig economy, artificial intelligence, employee activism, and the proliferation of state legislative changes impact the work space and present new challenges for today’s employer. Pay equity, legal compliance, workforce management, and diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of our clients’ focus. Our firm’s Employment and Labor team know this, and we are particularly poised to assist our clients in addressing these challenges in an efficient, effective, and productive manner.

Shishima: In the IP sector, the biggest challenge facing clients is bringing new products to market in the face of increased regulatory scrutiny and high R&D costs. High R&D costs are often due to the unpredictability in identifying products that ultimately have clinical value.

Martinez: I think big data and technology are going to continue to impact the life sciences and healthcare industry for at least the next 12 months and probably well into the future. The collection of data from a variety of sources is necessary to thrive in this space. HIPAA concerns, privacy issues, and regulatory requirements, however, will need to be addressed, overcome, and/or revised to allow the industry to use the data in a manner that is helpful, insightful, and meaningful. This is the only way our life sciences and healthcare clients will be able to meet the needs of their patients and constituents. And the race for technology is on, which is creating a frenzy of activity to find the next best disruption. All of this is leading up to the establishment and growth of personalised medicine, including gene therapies, artificial intelligence that assists with medical treatment, and, more importantly, preventative care.

“Now, the four of us – and a number of our women partners – hold important leadership roles, provide valuable input into our business and, I hope, inspire the next generation of women to know they can succeed”
Judi Archer, Chair of US Hiring

Archer: My practice – commercial litigation and employment – requires keeping up with substantive litigation issues that span different industries. But clients are also focused on industry-specific issues and look to us to advise on what issues we and other clients are experiencing and seeing on the horizon. In addition, they want us to continue to find innovative and efficient ways of delivering legal services. We are fortunate to be able to draw on our firm’s global reach and perspective, deep industry knowledge, and innovative technology and processes to help our clients address all of their challenges.

What have been the biggest challenges for you as a woman in the legal profession?

Clark: I subscribe to the premise espoused by US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, quoting Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Jeanne Coyne, that a ‘wise woman and a wise man reach the same conclusion’. The biggest challenges are simply doing the many jobs well and repeatedly opening doors for and supporting all women and minorities so that they may not only succeed but thrive. Women lawyers need to have the freedom, equal opportunities, and sponsorship to develop and showcase their talents without man-made hindrances.

Shishima: For me, it is all of the competing demands on my time as a partner in an ever-growing competitive law firm market that seem to increase rather than abate as my career progresses. While having young children presented its own challenges, the need (and desire) to be present and involved when they get older grows along with the demands of the job. While men and women both face these issues, having a spouse with his own career means continually navigating how to divide and conquer.

Periodically, I do what I call an Ann-MarieSlaughter check, and I evaluate whether I need to make any significant changes in my job for the sake of my family. (Professor Slaughter had a much more high-powered job on Secretary of State Clinton’s team and she wrote about resigning that position in order to re-prioritise and focus on challenges her family was facing). Knock on wood, I have not reached that point, but I acknowledge I have been very fortunate in many ways.

Archer: We are part of a profession largely structured by earlier generations and dominated by men. The law firm model doesn’t necessarily reflect women’s realities, strengths, or personalities. Women may be judged by traditional male standards, based on stereotypes or biases, which can impact how we are perceived and what opportunities we get. Although the legal profession has made real progress on diversity, there is less emphasis on rethinking the profession and more pressure on women to conform our behaviours to succeed. Ultimately, we have to continue to push for our profession to better reflect our changing society and workforce. We must bring our own personalities and strengths to our work and make sure we get opportunities because of, not in spite of, who we are.

What do you think is the most effective thing Norton Rose Fulbright does to support its female lawyers?

Clark: Norton Rose Fulbright truly ‘walks the walk’. It genuinely values its women lawyers. The firm has a serious and realised commitment to the hiring, inclusion, retention, promotion, and advancement of women lawyers in all meaningful positions in the firm, as is evidenced by the number of women who hold major leadership positions in our firm on the Management Committee, the Partnership Committee, the Partner Review Committee, and as practice leader heads.

Martinez: I believe that one of the most effective things we have done is implement our ‘Career Strategies Program’. It is a training programme designed to equip our senior female associates with strategies and techniques for achieving their full potential. We have been able to measure the success of this programme by the number of new female partners we make each year; in its inaugural year, 100% of our new female partners participated in the programme.

Archer: For women to succeed at the firm – and in the legal profession generally – it is important for them to see women among firm leaders and decision makers. Our firm has a strong history and current commitment to ensure that its women lawyers have leadership opportunities – on management committees as already mentioned, running practice groups, and offices. When I joined the firm 15 years ago, half of our then-Executive Committee were women partners. Now, the four of us – and a number of our women partners – hold important leadership roles, provide valuable input into our business, and, I hope, inspire the next generation of women to know they can succeed.

“Find your ‘Belonging Group’ – a group of people who accept and support you”
Gina Shishima, Chief Operations Partner

What involvement (if any) do you have in any wider diversity initiatives or those specifically designed to support and advance women in the legal profession?

Clark: I am intimately involved in diversity and inclusion efforts, particularly for women and minorities. As an African-American woman lawyer who has achieved many ‘firsts’ in our firm as both a woman and a minority, I know the importance of passionately advocating for diversity and inclusion both within our firm and in the work environments of our firm’s clients. I helped develop and enforce our firm’s diversity and inclusion policies and efforts, and I counsel the boards and C-suite executives of many of the largest domestic and international employers on the importance of diversity and inclusion of women, not only in the workforce at large but also in executive leadership positions. There is a genuine understanding today that corporations achieve greater results with the significant involvement of women, including women lawyers.

Shishima: I have been active in the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), and for several years I co-chaired the Women’s Leadership Network and worked hard to increase the programming for women attorneys at the NAPABA convention. More recently, I worked with others to spearhead an effort through NAPABA to provide a network for Asian-American law firm partners in senior management of large law firms, and we are working to increase the number of law firm partners at those higher levels in management.

Archer: I am the Chair of the Women in the Legal Profession Committee of the New York City Bar Association, which offers programs to support women lawyers and promote equality in the profession. I routinely participate in panels and conferences on gender-related issues. I’m also involved in an informal group comprised of women leaders at top firms who share best practices on gender and diversity initiatives.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

Clark: Always strive to do your best, never give up, and accept no limitations on your own potential.

Shishima: Knowledge is power. Whether it’s knowledge about the facts of a case, the law, a particular industry sector, the client, the partner’s work style, or internal law firm politics, any of it can help progress your career in a meaningful way if you pursue that knowledge and then use it strategically.

What advice would you give to junior female attorneys hoping to advance within the profession?

Shishima: Find your ‘Belonging Group’ – a group of people who accept and support you. Peers and/or a sponsor can make all the difference (and they may not bear any resemblance to how you see yourself or to the people you usually associate with). If you can identify them, that is an investment of your time and effort that will lead to benefits throughout your career.

Archer: Be intentional and consistent about developing and maintaining meaningful relationships – inside and outside your firm or organisation. I see the importance of this advice every day, and would encourage all junior female attorneys to keep it top of mind. Relationships are crucial to every aspect of our professional lives. Creating close client relationships will assure clients that they can trust you to understand their business and help them overcome problems and challenges to achieve business goals.

Having been a client, I understand the positive impact of strong in-house/outside counsel relationships. Within a firm, establishing and investing in relationships will lead to better training and feedback, more responsibility, and, ultimately, advocacy on your behalf – for work, promotions, business, and leadership opportunities. Finally, having real friendships with your colleagues (like Shauna, Stacey, and Gina) enriches your professional and personal life immeasurably.

What are you most proud of in your career to date?

Clark: I am most proud that my legal accomplishments have not come at the expense of my faith or family. God comes first, then family, and then our law firm.

Shishima: I am most proud to have served on the Management Committee as an Asian-American woman with Shauna and Stacey, two other women of colour – one African-American and the other Hispanic/Latinx (who also is a member of the LGBTQ community). They have my utmost trust and respect, and I am looking forward to continue serving with them along with Judi, our newly added female colleague.

Martinez: I am incredibly proud of the work I did in the vaccine litigation as it is such a public health issue. I am also proud to have spent my entire career practicing law at Norton Rose Fulbright. The values we have embraced – quality, unity, integrity – are the ones by which we live and breathe. My career at Norton Rose Fulbright started out as a phenomenal learning experience, turned into a gratifying and successful legal practice, and is now one in which I help develop the strategies for our next generation to run with and push us to even greater heights.

Archer: I am also most proud of the successes I’ve achieved for my clients, but a close second is the impact I’ve had in training and mentoring more junior colleagues. I believe we all have a responsibility to the next generation of lawyers, and I’ve been told by more than one woman lawyer that they’ve seen me as an example of how to succeed without sacrificing my home life. My husband and I have built a really close-knit, joyful family, with two incredible kids who are proud of me.

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