ABA to hold summit November 7-8 at Harvard Law School on optimizing women’s long-term legal careers

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2017 — Distinguished women lawyers from around the country will gather at Harvard Law School on Nov. 7-8 to discuss a problem that has affected the legal profession for decades —experienced women leaving the legal profession in substantial numbers.

The National Summit on Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law is sponsored by the American Bar Association and hosted by Harvard Law School Executive Education, and will be held at Wasserstein Hall on the Harvard Law School campus in Cambridge, Mass.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts will offer videotaped welcoming remarks, and Christina Tchen, partner, Buckley Sandler LLP and former assistant to the president and chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama and former executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, will be among the distinguished panelists.

Statistics show that for more than 25 years, close to half of law school graduates have been women, entering the profession at the same rate as men. However, gender differences quickly emerge. Forty-one percent of the lawyers age 40 or older at firms are women, and their numbers continue to shrink. Only 27 percent of the lawyers who are age 50 or older at firms are women. In addition, those women remain aren’t moving up into law firm leadership. While women constitute 40 percent to 45 percent of associates in the entering classes of U.S. big law firms, they make up only about 25 percent of partners and a mere 18 percent of equity partners.

“Too little is understood about the career dynamics of women lawyers,” said ABA President Hilarie Bass, who has made this issue one of the signature initiatives of her presidential term. “What we do know is far too many women lawyers are leaving the profession in what should be the prime of their careers. This is a huge loss of talent and expertise to the legal profession and to our justice system that we cannot afford. This summit will be a big step toward getting more information and developing real solutions.”

The summit will focus on the unique issues and career dynamics facing women lawyers in practice for more than 20 years, and explore the reasons for their disproportionately high rate of attrition. The summit will identify best practices to retain senior women lawyers, whose professional development entailed substantial investments by their firms and companies over the years and who have created strong relationships with the clients they serve.

The commission is co-chaired by Roberta D. Liebenberg, senior partner, Fine Kaplan & Black, RPC and past chair of the ABA Commission on Women; and Stephanie A. Scharf, partner, Scharf Banks Marmor LLC and chair of the ABA Commission on Women.

The two-day summit will begin with an opening reception on Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 6 p.m., with Bass giving welcoming remarks.

Wednesday morning, Nov. 8, will feature plenary sessions open to media:

“Plenary 1: Why Experienced Women Lawyers Leave and Why We Should Care” — This session will be moderated by Michelle Banks, senior advisor, BarkerGilmore LLC and former general counsel of Gap Inc. Panelists include Tchen; Stasia Kelly, partner and co-managing partner (Americas), DLA Piper; and Denise Keane, former executive vice president and general counsel of Altria Group.

9:10-10:25 a.m.

“Plenary 2: Fixing the Problem: What Works?” — This session will be moderated by Patricia Gillette, author, speaker and Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (JAMS) mediator. Panelists include Guy Halgren, chairman of the executive committee, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP; Michele Coleman Mayes, vice president, general counsel and secretary, The New York Public Library; Scott Westfahl, professor of Practice, Harvard Law School, and faculty director, Harvard Law School Executive Education; and Sheila Cheston, corporate vice president and general counsel, Northrop Grumman Corporation.

10:40 a.m.-12:10 p.m.

Cathy Benko, vice chairman and managing principal of the professional services firm of Deloitte, and an expert on the changing workforce, will be the luncheon speaker at 12:30 p.m.

Go here to learn more about the ABA’s Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law Initiative.

Go to www.abalegalfactcheck.com for the ABA’s new feature that cites case and statutory law and other legal precedents to distinguish legal fact from fiction.

With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. Follow the latest ABA news at www.americanbar.org/news and on Twitter @ABANews.

- American Bar Association