May 2015

Making Partner

PritchardFor these Bryn Mawr alumnae, life in “Biglaw” has presented its share of challenges–and rewards.

by Elizabeth Sander ’99

Therese Pritchard ’75 never thought she would have a career, let alone one that would send her to the top of one of the country’s largest law firms.

Growing up in a traditional ethnic family outside of Boston, the only daughter of a Lebanese mother and an Italian father, Pritchard received little encouragement to pursue a profession. It was at Bryn Mawr, where Pritchard studied philosophy and encountered the adage “Our failures only marry,” that she began to consider a different path.

Today, Pritchard holds a powerful position in an industry in which women—despite making up nearly half of all law school graduates—still struggle to reach the top. Last fall, she became chair of Bryan Cave, a law firm with 1,000 attorneys in 25 offices across the globe. Her ascent comes after a successful career in securities litigation, first prosecuting high-profile Wall Street cases for the Securities and Exchange Commission and later in the private sector.

Despite her success in handling some of the SEC’s most notable cases during the 1980s, snide remarks from judges, opposing counsel, and even secretaries were common in her early years. “Women were expected to behave in a particular way that wasn’t consistent with being a tough, aggressive federal prosecutor,” she says. Challenges for women still persist, she says, but “the world is a better place now.”

Although women lawyers are less likely to confront overt discrimination today, statistics suggest they grapple with subtler obstacles. Women account for roughly 47 percent of law school students and 45 percent of associate lawyers in private practice, according to the American Bar Association. Yet 20 percent of partners are women; an even smaller share are promoted to equity partner and receive a cut of the firm’s profits. Meanwhile, among the country’s 200 largest law firms, women are only four percent of managing partners, according to a 2012 report from the National Association of Women Lawyers.

Over the past two decades, Pritchard has become well acquainted with life in Biglaw. After joining Bryan Cave in 1999, she soon took the helm of its securities enforcement and litigation group and represented major public companies, banks, accounting firms, hedge funds, and individuals under investigation by the federal government. More recently she oversaw the firm’s offices in Asia and served on its compensation and executive committees. When she became chair last year, Pritchard joined a handful of women to lead the country’s 100 biggest law firms.

Speaking in her corner office overlooking downtown Washington, D.C., with framed photos of her two adult daughters dotting the shelves, Pritchard says she is most concerned about implicit biases that hold women back. It’s not necessarily that people think women aren’t as capable as men, she says. But male partners often assume women have too many responsibilities to handle the big transactions or complex cases that allow lawyers to prove their talent.

Women should be allowed to make those choices for themselves, Pritchard says. “A guy coming from a perfectly nice place is projecting a decision on a woman that isn’t necessarily the decision she would have made,” Pritchard says. “There’s an awful lot of that. So from my perspective, it’s about making sure the opportunities are equal, particularly for our younger women, to demonstrate they are great lawyers.”

WatsonDuring her second year at Rutgers University School of Law in Newark, N.J., Natalie Watson ’99 applied to work for a summer at one of New Jersey’s oldest and largest law firms. Katie Gummer ’86, a Bryn Mawr alumna and attorney at the firm, McCarter & English, interviewed her. Watson thought law firm work would simply be a good way to pay off some student loans; during the application process, she was candid.

“Because she was an alum, I was somewhat honest with her about my skepticism about my desire to be at a big law firm long-term,” recalls Watson, who majored in English. “I didn’t think it would fit with my values. I said I wanted to do public interest work.”

Gummer’s reply was transformative, Watson says. Public service shouldn’t be limited to the nonprofit sector, Gummer told Watson. When that happens, people who feel strongly about important issues are then absent from a world where their influence is most needed. “Wherever you go,” Watson remembers Gummer saying, “you have an element of public service to bring to your work.”

A decade later, Watson is now a partner at McCarter and litigates complex business cases. (Gummer, meanwhile, is a judge.) She represents Fortune 500 companies as well as individuals, and her cases range from class actions to wrongful death and sexual harassment claims. That passion for the public interest hasn’t waned: She serves on McCarter’s diversity committee and chairs the board of trustees of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.

In some ways, Watson says, the law firm climate isn’t so different today from what women lawyers experienced a generation ago. In meetings with attorneys from an opposing side, there’s often a presumption that Watson will be the one to take notes. She frequently has to establish her dominance at depositions. “I’ve always been one of the few women in the room,” she says. “There are definitely impediments that still exist.”

Eileen KavanaghLitigator Eileen Kavanagh ’75 remembers a time when she was the only woman in the room. “You must be the court reporter,” was a common greeting in her early years. Kavanagh’s solution was humor. “I’m a much lower life form,” she would say. “I’m an attorney.”

After Kavanagh graduated from Seton Hall University School of Law, she applied to Wall Street firms, with hopes of doing securities work. “In the early 1980s, nobody in Wall Street wanted to hire a woman who lived in New Jersey and had a child,” she says. “I never got a job.”

So Kavanagh, who studied English and history at Bryn Mawr, ended up working at a litigation firm defending companies in complex business cases. She loved it. Over the years, Kavanagh built a practice handling a variety of matters for companies, including the defense of personal injury and property damage claims. Now she is a partner at Litchfield Cavo in Boston.

All the while, the legal demographics were changing. And then one day in the late 1990s, Kavanagh walked into a courtroom, and everyone—judge, bailiff, court reporter, lawyers on both sides—was female.

In the past decade, as large companies have chosen to handle many of their legal matters themselves with in-house attorneys, the law firm landscape has become ever more competitive. When companies need an outside firm, they want top-notch service for a good price.

Elizabeth Schubert, Sidley AustinSo for many large-firm lawyers, a key to success is being business-savvy and knowing how to get clients. For a long time, if young lawyers worked hard and did well, in time they’d make partner. Eventually, they’d have a shot at equity partner. But it’s no longer enough to be a good lawyer, Watson says. “Those days are long gone.”
Elizabeth Schubert ’89 studied history of art at Bryn Mawr and is now a partner at Sidley Austin in Chicago. Every day brings a new lesson in the importance of going after the things you want, she says: a new client, a new job, a promotion.

Not long ago, Schubert, who represents advisers to hedge funds in the negotiation of trading and derivatives agreements, decided she wanted to co-lead a group of derivatives lawyers at her firm. So in a meeting with a member of the firm’s management committee, “I just asked for it,” she says. “He looked at me and said, ‘We’ll think about it.’ And they gave it to me. What if I hadn’t asked?”

But succeeding in this world also demands a commitment to a billable-hour pricing structure that some alumnae say can be difficult to square with parenting or caretaking responsibilities.

However family-friendly firms might claim to be, Kavanagh says, working 60 or 70 hours a week is anything but. And that’s what lawyers have to do to get ahead, she says. In Kavanagh’s view, women should take the pressure off and do what works best for them and their families. Her three kids were fed and loved, she points out, and she attended “a mind numbingly large” number of Little League games.

“But I also refused to feel guilty,” she says. “I think it’s important that kids do understand that there are responsibilities in life, and this is what we have to do.”
Pritchard credits the help of a supportive spouse, Ivor Pritchard HC ’74. Yet for many years, she says, her life was two things: work and children. “People used to say to me, ‘Don’t you have any “me time?”’ I would say, ‘Absolutely, I take a shower every day.’”

To young women lawyers, Pritchard has often given the same advice: always perform at the top of your game, she tells them. And remember that more and more in-house lawyers are women; they’re the ones who’ll be farming out companies’ legal work in the years to come.
So stay in touch with your girlfriends, she says. “You are the future rainmakers.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChiemi Suzuki ’00 remembers the moment when everything clicked. She was working in a research laboratory at the California Institute of Technology during the summer before her senior year at Bryn Mawr when she heard a talk by a representative of that university’s technology licensing office. The message: Intellectual property law needs people who understand science.

Suzuki, a biology major, already knew that neither a Ph.D. nor a medical degree would be right for her. So after Bryn Mawr, she went to the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law and then to Columbia University for a master’s in biotechnology. During her time at Columbia, Suzuki realized the best way to blend her interests in science, writing, and business was to become a patent litigator.

Today, Suzuki is counsel with the New York law firm Crowell & Moring. She represents generic pharmaceutical companies in patent litigation against branded pharmaceutical drugs, with the ultimate goal of making less-expensive drugs available to the public.

“A lot of what I do involves looking at science and figuring out how to translate that language into something that’s going to be meaningful to a federal judge who may not have taken a science course since junior or senior year of high school,” Suzuki says. “These are highly technical matters, and ultimately a lot of them come down to what we call a battle of the experts and who the judge ends up believing.”

Suzuki also serves on her firm’s diversity committee. “One of the most meaningful things to me is we have a female managing partner,” Suzuki says. “I see a lot of opportunities for myself and all the women attorneys here because of the importance this firm places on diversity.”
—Elizabeth Sander ’99