female lawyers women lawyers attorneys old girls network

The old girls' network?

Hundreds have gathered here in Chicago for the 10th annual Inside Counsel SuperConference. Though it’s perfectly pleasant weather outside, the Fairmont Hotel meeting rooms are upholding the Windy City’s reputation for frigid temperatures.

Many of the sessions offer advice on how in-house counsel can improve their offerings to their companies and get the most from their outside counsel. One law firm that has set up shop in the vendors’ alley has an advertisement that reads, “The Billable Hour is dead… and we killed it” — a pure pander-play to cost-conscious in-house counsel.

But the conference is not dedicated solely to budget busting, belt-tightening moves. Last night was a celebration of female GCs and law firm partners, with a series of awards for successful women lawyers and the companies and firms that support them.

Winners offered advice on empowering women in the work place. I wish I’d kept count of the number of times I heard the word “mentor.” I also heard a new term: “the old girls’ network.”

So what advice did they have for the XX set?

There was a lot of talk about how to measure the advancement of women in the legal world. One set of numbers thrown out: There are 85 female GCs in the Fortune 500 today. In 1979, there were two.

When it comes to law firms, the Awards Committee had developed another matrix to measure “esquiress” advancement: the number of female partners with $1 million+ books of business; the percentages of women on key committees (Executive, Equity Partnership, and Compensation); and the percentage of women as relationship managers.

One of the night’s award winners, Sidley Austin, had an impressive 76 women with $1 million-plus books of business, which contributed to partner Karen Popp’s taking home “The Rainmaker Award.”

One award was given to a pair of female lawyers: the “Sharing the Power Award,” which goes to a general counsel and a law firm partner “who have collaborated to increase the economic empowerment of women in that firm.”

Elizabeth McNamara, of Davis, Wright, & Tremaine, took home one half of the award, and H. Gwen Marcus, the GC of Showtime Networks, took home the other half. The two first met working together as associates at Paul Weiss in the 1980s. “Who says the old girl network doesn’t work?” asked McNamara Marcus. “Emphasis on girl, not old,” she added.

“As in-house counsel, the last thing I’m supposed to do is encourage ‘economic empowerment’ of anyone in outside counsel,” joked Marcus. “Regardless of gender. So don’t tell my bosses at Showtime that I won.”

Marcus reflected on the advances women have made in the legal profession but also on the complicated messages sent to young women by the fact that the last two female nominees to the Supreme Court have been single and childless, as if success at that level means you can’t “have it all.”

That said, many of the night’s award winners had husbands in attendance and children mentioned in their award speeches. And Continental Airlines General Counsel Jennifer Vogel could not be there in person to accept her Anastasia D. Kelly Award. She had a more important ceremony to attend: her daughter’s elementary school graduation.

List of Award Winners [InsideCounsel SuperConference]


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