Webinar Recap: Practical Advice for Women Seeking to Make Equity Partner

Leopard Solutions launched a series of three Webinars, each featuring a prominent woman in the industry tackling a unique topic, to mark Women’s History Month 2024; the idea was to create a forum to empower attendees with actionable advice to navigate the challenges in the field still dominated by men in the upper echelons. 

“If you hit the bullseye every time, you have the target too close.”

Practical Advice for Women Seeking to Make Equity Partner  

The first session took place on March 13. It featured an intimate conversation between Laura Leopard, CEO and Founder of Leopard Solutions, and Christy Tosh Crider, Chair of Healthcare Litigation at Baker Donelson. The subject was the path for women to equity partnerships at law firms. Data has shown that women tend to drop out mid-career, so the two experts sought to identify some of the hurdles women have encountered in the interest of helping them achieve longevity at law firms.

Women's History Month - Webinar 1 Laura Leopard and Christy Tosh Crider

Here are some of the critical instructive tools that were provided: 

When should we start laying the foundation for a path to equity partnership?  

  • The journey begins at law school. The three core tenets to forging success were skill (being a great lawyer), relationships (with people who could both build your team and drive business to it), and business acumen (how to best serve clients). These are all critical items to work to improve through your tenure as an associate.   
  • Feel free to ask questions about the business side of operations, including how numbers are calculated. Curiosity is foundational toward advancement.   

What are some pitfalls that come with being an equity shareholder?   

  • The “race: does not end with equity partnership; you will be expected to continue to grow your business.   
  • Short-term thinking: Many law firms are structured to reward high billable hours immediately. Billable hours represent an investment of time in the firm but do not translate to planting the seeds for future business; that process can take years. For every decision you face, ask yourself, “What is the long-term return on investment, and is this part of my path to becoming an equity partner?”  
  • Lack of Patience—The road to partnership can be arduous, taking 10 to 15 years. One must exercise patience and determination to cross the threshold, but finding joy in the work is equally important. Once you make a partner, you might still have 20-30 years remaining in your career. Devoid of joy, the days will be thankless.   
  • Lack of work ethic—Like owning any business, you can expect long nights, unreasonable client demands, and interruptions to your personal life. It would help if you learned to cope with these challenges and hard work while still being able to demonstrate joy.   
  • Failure to think about building a team and building it early—You cannot build a book of business without having people to service that book. Surround yourself with individuals who have your best interests at heart, and theirs are yours. You cannot handle all the assignments yourself.   
  • Failure to take risks- Most moments of career growth are preceded by fear of failure. It would help if you built up the confidence that you are ready to take on the next big challenge without pulling in a senior to assist. You learn more from your failures than you do from your wins.   
  • Find a law firm that embraces entrepreneurial spirit and will help you facilitate great ideas.   

For women struggling to find joy in their work due to pressures, is it because they have not found their niche yet?  

  • One can find joy in hard work, meeting clients’ needs, and solving the problem that keeps them up at night.   
  • Find an area of the firm where an embedded expert has yet to be embedded. Passion can be found in the business opportunity itself. Find a need that is not met, surround yourself with enough information and good people, and the joy will come from having built something. In time, you may develop an enthusiasm for a practice area you did not initially envision yourself as you worked in it over the years.   

How do when overcome the mid-career hump when expectations are heightened and emerge on the other end?   

For Crider, the “hump” occurred after she became an income shareholder when you find yourself having to juggle billable hour demands with developing a client base. For many, this critical juncture occurs at the same time many lawyers are starting to have families.   

  • Hunker down and know it is going to get better. Unbelievably, there may come a day when you miss the competing time commitments to your work and small children.   
  • Ask yourself what support systems your firm has in place to help you get over the hump. Hopefully, it will take the form of a gender-neutral family leave policy because that barrier disproportionately comes down over women. When everyone takes the time that they need, it helps combat biases.   
  • Baker Donelson has a women-to-equity partner program that takes 12-14 women and helps mentor and prepare them for getting to the other side.   
  • Ask yourself, “What are the things I can be doing to nurture myself during this hump?” If that means hiring someone to do the things you do not have space for, so be it.   

What concrete steps does the women’s initiative take at your firm?   

Baker Women comprises 12 committees that hold listening meetings to determine what needs of women lawyers at firms still need to be met. Among the committees are a business development committee, which helps women build their books of business, and a pathway to leadership committee, where they help women develop the skills needed to ascend to leadership positions. Those two committees formed a women in equity committee that asks women income shareholders interested in pursuing equity within three years to share their business plan. If accepted, you stay within the program until you graduate. Different firm faculty members join the meetings, rotating to impart skills necessary for advancement. To date, the program has had a very favorable graduation rate.   

The composition of this incoming generation is evolving to the point where women have now surpassed men as students and among the associate ranks. That will not necessarily ease the path for women looking to make equity, but it will force firms to reevaluate the paths that they offer because the old rigid way of promoting people is not sustainable. Firms that do not adapt and create “multiple beautiful paths to success” will lose in the war for talent.   

Did you miss the first session of the webinar series? Watch the replay now.  

Don’t miss more insightful conversations, sign up for the next two sessions today. 

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