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It’s all about engagement – in our clients, our people, our communities

Morgan Lewis is the largest law firm in the world led by a woman. In this interview with US editor (content) Helen Donegan, firm chair Jami McKeon provides insight into her plans for her second term in the role, reveals what most challenges and excites her in her work, and shares her thoughts on women in the legal profession

The firm has changed dramatically since you first became chair. Has your focus changed for your second term and, if so, what is your main focus now?

It is certainly correct that our firm has changed dramatically. Expanding in practice areas and locations where our clients most need us has led to us growing by upwards of 50% to more than 2,000 lawyers. This is much more than a numbers game, however. Our focus has been and remains on client service – meaning, serving our clients where and how they need us – by deploying a fully integrated bench of elite lawyers across all of our 15 practice groups and 31 offices.

I am most passionate about continuing to foster a diverse, inclusive, and collaborative culture in my next term. Everything we do is oriented toward our ‘one firm, one vision’culture, and our ability to deliver excellence seamlessly across Morgan Lewis.

Are there any big differences that you expect in your second term compared to the first?

During my first term, we made bold moves in expanding our global footprint and attracting superlative lawyers and professionals to continue to establish ourselves as a global, world-class law firm. Our focus now is to keep getting better and to work on more subtle (although still important) things, such as building upon our connected legal services and continuing to increase our edge in innovative client solutions and technology.

What was the biggest change you made in your first term to benefit clients?

We have always been thoroughly devoted to client service but I am especially proud of the fact that during my first term we formalised our commitment in this area and really made it the primary focus of the firm. For instance, we instituted a firmwide Exceptional Client Service training programme. Our instructors visited every office worldwide and employed a unique and standardised curriculum that underscored our all-in approach to client service and, importantly, gave everyone – both lawyers and staff – practical tools to implement that approach. This was of particular importance in light of our significant growth and our commitment to our clients that they will get the same elite service in every practice, every office, and every country around the world. We believe that our clients expect and deserve service that is exceptional, and we know from our clients that in a competitive market full of high-quality lawyers, that level of service is a distinguishing factor for our firm.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Morgan Lewis?

Much the same challenges as those facing any other firm, I suspect, including the rapid advancement of technology, as well as the uncertain future of globalisation and the world economies. We have positioned ourselves well to meet each of these challenges, however. We have long pursued innovative technological solutions, such as our cutting-edge eData Practice, as well as our award-winning ability to manage and utilise large volumes of information via our Parallex system.

We have structured our firm globally to take advantage of, and to meet, client needs anywhere they arise. We follow a prudent and conservative management course that closely aligns with client needs. We have outstanding talent, and we operate extremely effectively as a unified team. I am proud of our position in all of these areas.

Which of your recent initiatives excites you the most?

That would be ML Well. An enormous challenge facing law firms – one that the ABA itself has recognised – is maintaining the health and wellbeing of our people, and Morgan Lewis was one of the first firms to sign the ABA’s Well-Being Pledge. Even before signing the pledge, we had been focusing on this issue and were already in a position to roll out ML Well. What was unique about our approach is that it was not just a programme. Ours was the first firm to appoint a Chief Engagement Officer, and the first to retain a Director of Well-Being, someone who has a master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania (where the concept was first conceived).

ML Well addresses both the physical and mental health of each person at our firm. The outstanding leaders of ML Well are implementing a comprehensive, multidimensional programme offered to all firm personnel to create a healthier, more engaged environment. We have an online portal featuring news and updates on ML Well learning opportunities and events across the firm that we will continue to develop. By having full-time, dedicated staff focused on this critical issue we are taking concrete steps toward promoting wellbeing.

Differentiation is important, so how does Morgan Lewis stand apart from competitors?

The way we work together, with each other and with our clients. We focus on the total needs of our clients, not simply the one-off big matter. Our clients know they can turn to Morgan Lewis to handle their biggest challenges, but also know we can provide solutions to their everyday legal challenges. We serve a large percentage of our clients with multiple Morgan Lewis practice groups, meaning our synergy and collaboration works well for them. We aim for each of our 15 practices to be both a destination and a resource.

Our commitment to cost-effective delivery of services, utilising technology and our highly recognised business team, also gives us major advantages in the market. As I noted before, our clients know that with Morgan Lewis they get a fully integrated team that works effectively and with consistent high quality across the entire firm – and that client service is something they describe as a differentiating factor.

Focusing on you and your role again, experience and results secured your election and re-election as chair. Do you feel any pressure associated with the fact that Morgan Lewis is the largest law firm in the world led by a woman?

Honestly, I view it as an opportunity more than a pressure. We talk in our family about pressure being a privilege, and I believe that. In that regard, I feel lucky to be among the too few women leading global law firms. As the chair of our firm, I take seriously my commitment to the thousands of people within Morgan Lewis, and to the many thousands of clients, to guide this firm in as successful and effective a manner as possible, and I think I would feel the same no matter my gender. At the same time, I acknowledge that having a woman at the top is important not just for our firm, but for the industry. We hear that from clients and from lawyers across the profession, and I hope that I can make a positive contribution to our profession in my role.

What, if anything, do you think has changed for women in the legal industry since you started practicing?

Certainly, the numbers. There were very few women partners or firm leaders when I started practising law and the numbers have been growing. Retaining and promoting talented women is a priority that our clients and most elite law firms recognise as important, and technology has helped us in this regard. We now can make it easier for lawyers to work remotely, which especially benefits working mothers. We were a leader in establishing a formal remote working policy, and two-thirds of our associates who are part of that programme are women.

“I acknowledge that having a woman at the top is important not just for our firm, but for the industry”

In addition, we have more clients who focus on women having real and meaningful roles in client relationships. At Morgan Lewis, we started a programme after I became chair called ML Women, which is a way of harnessing the great talent of our fantastic women to serve clients across the firm, and our male colleagues have recognised this as a win-win for both our firm and our clients.

We also have instituted programmes – open to both women and men – that have proven to be a great benefit to people with family obligations, by giving them an opportunity to transition into and back from extended leaves. We have expansive pregnancy, disability, and child parental leave policies, providing significant leave time for parents welcoming children through birth or adoption. Other firms are taking similar steps. We are definitely working together to make a positive change.

How do you and the firm support women to succeed in their legal careers and take on leadership roles?

We make sure that women are inspired to succeed and become leaders, and the results are self-evident. Right now, 35% of the members of our firm’s Advisory Board are women, and a significant number of our office managing partners and practice group leaders are women – and the majority of our operations chiefs are also women. We are making significant strides to improve on those proportions. For instance, 60% of our most recently announced partnership class are women. We also make it a goal to include women in prominent roles in our client teams. This is not only the right thing to do; clients expect it because they know that diverse teams produce better advice. Finally, the tremendous talent of our women lawyers enables them to meet these needs.

How do you balance your responsibilities as chair with your litigation practice? How has your involvement in client-facing work changed since becoming chair?

I constantly toggle from firm management to client matters. I started out with the firm as an associate and eventually became the leader of the litigation department, the firm’s largest group, and a member of the Advisory Board. Now, as chair, I am privileged to continue to serve our clients, and truly value the insights I receive in balancing both responsibilities.

How do you achieve harmony between the personal and professional sides of your life?

As with all other balancing acts, sometimes better than others! I am fortunate to have a large but very close family, so family has always been important to me. I have never shied away from making clear that focus; even back in the 80s when women were advised not to talk about their families, I had my kids in the office with me, hand drawn pictures on the wall, and my windowsills full of family photos. I work hard to make everyone’s various events, and I talk about them.

I also encourage others to talk about their families, and I involve mine in our work-life and encourage others to do the same. I do not believe there is such a thing as work-life balance; it’s all life. The question is how you integrate those parts of your life – family, community, friends, and work – so that you can thrive in each of the parts of your life. That is the goal, and when we talk about wellbeing, that ability to integrate work with the important other parts of one’s life is paramount.

What is your greatest day-to-day challenge?

The days go by so fast it seems there is never enough time to do everything I want to do. In addition, I am very conscious of how many people depend on us. I realise we are not doctors physically saving lives, but we are sometimes in a position to save the existence of a company or change the course of an outcome that would have profound impact on people’s lives. And of course, I care deeply about the lives of the many people at our firm who depend on us for their livelihood and their sense of satisfaction in what they do every day. Having this sense of responsibility gives me perspective and true meaning to persevere.

How would you define Morgan Lewis’culture?

In a word, collaborative. That is our ‘secret sauce’: the way our people interact with clients and with each other to deliver integrated legal services. Everyone now uses that word, but it has defined Morgan Lewis for decades. We are analogous to the bicycle racing peloton, with the entire group of riders supporting a single goal, and each rider utilising his or her unique skillset, as a sprinter or endurance rider, to push the group forward through various types of terrain and challenges. As a result, everyone ends up going faster than any single rider would alone. That is what we are striving to achieve here.

How do you maintain that culture across all of the firm’s offices?

It’s all about engagement – in our clients, our people, our communities.

We engage with all of our offices constantly. Everyone at our firm takes pride in the fact that we are a single, unified organisation. We bring our lawyers together in myriad ways throughout each year, and every practice group has a single global leader so that everyone is working on a team that is moving collectively and harmoniously.

We also do things to help people stay on top of what is going on everywhere in the firm. One of our unique tools is a daily newsletter, TODAY at Morgan Lewis, that provides a roundup of news about our accomplishments for clients, accolades, firm happenings, and other information that knits our firm together. We also make increasing efforts to engage all personnel, lawyers and staff, in initiatives such as ML Well and Exceptional Client Service. We want to leave no-one behind and we value each person who calls Morgan Lewis home.

Another critical area for us is community engagement, particularly through our Community Impact Week, and our pro bono programme, which both involve all of our offices globally and keeps us connected with all the communities in which we operate. We are the only firm of our size that requires, and achieves, 100% participation worldwide in our 20-hour pro bono challenge. I am very, very proud of our commitment to that goal.

Finally, what advice would you give to the next generation of partners? Would your advice be the same for both men and women?

For the next generation, I would say jump at opportunities presented to you even if you have to stretch your comfort level. You have to believe in yourself and have the confidence that if you have done your homework and the hard thinking and preparation, you will succeed.

My advice to both men and women would be pretty much the same: be yourself. You can never be more than second best if you are trying to be someone else, and it is just too hard. Over the years I have received a great deal of advice, much of which I keep with me and heed, but being able to find my own path has been important. This also applies in terms of our people bringing their authentic selves to the workplace. We all have something to bring to the table and, at Morgan Lewis, we value having a range of views and perspectives.

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