The elevation of Kathleen Sullivan to name partner at Quinn Emanuel symbolized some serious change in the world of Biglaw. Diversity in the partnership ranks is growing. Sullivan is likely Biglaw’s first openly LGBT name partner, and she appears to be the first female to get her name on the door at an AmLaw 100 firm.
We raised the gender milestone question last week, asking our readers if they knew of any that came before her.
We think it is now fair to award her this distinction in Biglaw lore. After all, the next day, the American Lawyer declared it definitively: Quinn Emanuel Becomes First Am Law 100 Firm to Have a Female Name Partner.
But our readers did raise the names of some other notable females who deserve asterisks next to their names in the legal history books…
Patricia Hynes is another female lawyer who rose to the highest ranks at a top firm. A press release from June 1, 1993 declared: Patricia Hynes Becomes Name Partner at Milberg Weiss Law Firm; One of First Women to Achieve Name Recognition at National Law Firm (Gavel bang: ABA Commission on Women in the Profession).
But Hynes’s 1993 elevation does not interfere with our declaration of Sullivan as the first female name partner at an AmLaw 100 firm. Though a well-regarded firm — despite a little scandal — Milberg has never made the AmLaw 100 list.
We noticed the delicate hedging in that Milberg press release. As many commenters know, definitively declaring yourself “first” can be risky.
Other females had gotten their names on prestigious law firm doors, after all. Readers, for example, pointed us to Carla Anderson Hills in the comments and by email:
Carla Anderson Hills, former US Trade Representative, was a name partner at what is now Latham & Watkins, if my memory serves me right. I remember them removing her name from the reception area when I interviewed in the D.C. office in the late 80’s.
And female legal pioneer Betty Fletcher, a longtime federal appeals court judge, achieved name recognition even earlier. From a reader email:
Probably doesn’t count, but Betty Fletcher, as you know now on the Ninth Circuit, was a named partner in the Preston Gates firm, a predecessor to the AmLaw 100 K & L Gates, until her appointment in 1979. At the time the firm was named Preston Thorgrimson, Ellis, Holman & Fletcher. Her inclusion as a named partner in the 1970s was probably a first for larger firms at the time.
Lat, who clerked on the Ninth Circuit, describes Fletcher as “1,000 years old,” the “liberal lioness of the Ninth Circuit,” and the “mama of Willy Fletcher” (Ninth Circuit Judge William Fletcher). The lioness becoming a name partner was a first, but it preceded the Am Law listing; the American Lawyer started ranking law firms in 1985.
The Importance of the Name on the Door [City Room/New York Times]
Quinn Emanuel Becomes First Am Law 100 Firm to Have a Female Name Partner [The American Lawyer]