Cecilia Sanabria: For quite some time now the legal profession has acknowledged that more needs to be done to develop female talent, and there has been much discussion about women in the law. Having those conversations is a great start, but the practical piece is often missing. We wanted to develop a programme that would have a real impact on the lives and careers of female attorneys. What we have started with Finnegan FORWARD, and what we will continue to develop over the coming months, is a set of tools and resources that will help women advance their careers.
As science and engineering professionals, Danielle and I are both acutely aware that women in STEM-related areas of law face a number of obstacles to career progression. Therefore, we were interested in finding ways to move the needle when it comes to our diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Danielle Duszczyszyn: When we sat down to plan the Finnegan FORWARD initiatives, we wanted to make sure our female attorneys were given a clear path to partnership. The first step was to identify the practical barriers women face in the legal profession. One consistent challenge female attorneys face, both within their firms and when developing relationships with clients, is how to best market themselves. As a generalisation, women tend to downplay their experience. If a female attorney is not, for example, comfortable listing her relevant experiences or is not certain that her experiences are relevant to a particular matter, it can result in her being missed in a pool of candidates. It takes conscious effort to routinely think about everything you’ve done and been exposed to, but that is a helpful practice if you want to be more visible within a firm.
No one in this firm is ever going to overlook a qualified female attorney, but they may not see that there is a suitably qualified attorney available. We are encouraging women to put their hands up for a role on the team so that they are best positioned to get more opportunities within the firm.
Cecilia Sanabria: Junior lawyers may sometimes assume that because they haven’t worked on a particular type of matter for 20 years they don’t have the necessary experience for a particular matter; and not every lawyer knows how to best present their experience and expertise in a particular area and how it may be beneficial to a team. Often, clients want lawyers who have approached problems from a variety of angles and who bring new and creative solutions to the table. At Finnegan FORWARD, we run programmes that help lawyers better understand how to interpret the experience they have and what qualifies as experience for a particular matter.
Danielle Duszczyszyn: The other big issue we wanted to address is how female lawyers can improve their visibility with clients. Successful lawyers have inevitably developed a book of business – they have clients who have worked with them before and who trust them. These relationships of trust are foundational to a partner’s practice, and helping lawyers form those reputations is an important to their career development. We are working hard to make sure our more junior female attorneys have opportunities to network, or to spend time with mentors who can help them along that path. We are also helping female attorneys carve out a niche practice, whether by helping them publish and gain a reputation as subject matter experts, or by nominating them for awards that highlight their strengths and offer them the same exposure and recognition as our male attorneys receive.
Cecilia Sanabria: The reason we are committed to this is to help women, but as with all D&I initiatives, the positive outcomes go far beyond that. Clients want to see diverse teams because they know those teams deliver better results. We have a large talent pool to draw on, which is great for our partners, and we are putting together more diverse, stronger teams.
Danielle Duszczyszyn: As a firm, Finnegan tends to be very collaborative when it comes to business development. We also like to keep an open dialogue with our clients or potential clients about how we can do things better together. This is particularly true when it comes to D&I; GCs and legal teams have been on this journey far longer than law firms so we welcome their ideas and perspectives.
Danielle Duszczyszyn focuses on patent litigation before U.S. district courts, patent prosecution, and client counselling in the areas of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and chemical arts. She serves as co-chair of Finnegan’s pro bono asylum program and was recently appointed to co-lead Finnegan FORWARD (Focused on Raising Women’s Advancement, Representation, and Development), the firm’s women’s business initiative.
Cecilia Sanabria focuses her practice on complex patent litigation and client counselling in the mechanical, industrial, and electrical fields. She represents clients before U.S. district courts and the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). She has been selected as an “HNBA Top Lawyer under 40” by the Hispanic National Bar Association and was named one of Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s (MCCA) Top 20 Rising Stars for 2020. Cecilia also serves as co-lead for the Finnegan FORWARD women’s business initiative.