After several decades of experience with women’s initiatives in a number of law firms, and DRI, the article below rings true to me. 

We recently reviewed DRI’s membership data and reached some interesting conclusions. DRI successfully recruits women at a rate equal to men in ages 26-30. Women become very engaged in DRI, participating significantly more than their male counterparts in seminars and the like. Then DRI loses them at a rate dramatically greater than men during ages 31-40. After that age, drop rates for men and those women who have remained members are roughly equivalent.

Of course, DRI’s membership demographics grossly track those of our member law firms. To the extent we can determine from limited data, DRI is losing women members disproportionately during ages 31-40 because women are leaving law firms disproportionately during those ages, which should come as no surprise to us in law firms.

This article suggests an approach to consider in reversing that trend, but it cannot succeed without senior leadership driving it. Nor can DRI reverse this trend in its membership ranks without leading its law firm members by example to do the same.

How One Law Firm Maintains Gender Balance

Harvard Business Review, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox

No area of the business world is more illogically gender imbalanced than law firms. Every year, top law firms recruit 60% female and 40% male law graduates into their practices. Within two years, their female majorities begin to leave. The percentage of female equity partners is now 17% in the top 100 US law firms.

The strangest part is that women lawyers aren’t leaving the profession. They are only leaving law firms, taking on corporate, government or regulatory roles instead.

Law firms who want to hold onto their female recruits can do so – but they need to behave differently. Gianmarco Monsellato, head of TAJ insists it’s only an issue of leadership.

His own firm is 50/ 50 gender balanced, at all levels – including equity partners and governance bodies. It’s fueled their success over the past decade, and TAJ is now the No. 5 law firm in France.

How did he do it? Dramatically differently than most law firms. Most of his competitors have spent years organizing women’s initiatives, networks, or mentoring programs that have done little to increase the percentage of women reaching the top. The National Association of Women Lawyers’ recent report is pretty clear: These “fix the women” approaches have not delivered.

Instead, Monsellato tackled the problem personally. He was involved in every promotion discussion. “For a long time,” he says, “I was the only one allocating cases.” He insisted on gender parity from the beginning. He personally ensured that the best assignments were evenly awarded between men and women. He tracked promotions and compensation to ensure parity. If there was a gap, he asked why. He put his best female lawyers on some of his toughest cases. When clients objected, he personally called them up and asked them to give the lawyer three months to prove herself. In every case, the client was quick to agree and managed to overcome the initial gender bias.

This kind of leadership on gender is rare, but spreading. A growing number of courageous male leaders are working very hard to balance their companies – because they ferociously believe it will enhance their businesses. I spend a lot of time with these kinds of leaders. The smartest among them know that gender balance is more about getting male leaders, and men in general, to push for balance than it is about getting women to change their own behavior.

Monsellato laughs at the ideas of “leaning in” and diversity programs. “If partners aren’t convinced, you won’t get anywhere. And diversity programs headed by women reporting to all-male boards will never work.” He never referred to his gender push as a diversity initiative, and he has never run diversity programs. “What I have done is promote people on performance. If someone works 50% of the time, we adjust that performance to its full-time equivalence. When you adjust performance on an FTE basis, maternity issues stop being an indicator.”

He knows just how hard his female lawyers work, and he doesn’t want to lose out on the benefits of their productivity and ideas. “My biggest issue is trying to stop women from working all the time,” he says, “as technology allows them to work anywhere, anytime.” It’s the “tone from the top” that is key, he insists. Speaking to a roomful of female lawyers at a recent conference, he reminded them, “You are not a minority. It’s about balance, not about gender diversity.”

Interestingly, in my experience, most of the leaders who’ve pushed hardest for gender balance are themselves not fully members of their companies’ dominant majority. They are often a different nationality than most of their colleagues, or the first non-home- country CEO. So, for example, the Peruvian-born Carlos Ghosn at Nissan in Japan, the Dutch Marijn Dekkers at BAYER (disclosure: they are a client) in Germany, or the Italian Monsellato at TAJ in France.

There is nothing better than being a bit of an outsider to understand the particular stickiness of the in-group’s hold on power. These are some of the more enlightened leaders on gender balance. They build true meritocracies, they get the best of 100% of the global talent pool – and they will win a huge competitive edge in this century of globalization.


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Categories: Diversity | Life/Work Balance

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The Fifth Circuit en banc dismissed the appeal in Comer v. Murphy Oil USA after vacating its prior panel decision that allowed Katrina victims to sue energy companies for money damages based on alleged greenhouse gas emissions causing the hurricane’s strength and resulting damage.  The appeal’s dismissal reinstates the district court’s earlier order dismissing the claims on political question and standing grounds. Click here to view the full order (.pdf), released last Friday.  It’s the latest twist in this case's wild ride through the Fifth Circuit.

Recall that Mississippi residents sued many energy companies for money claiming the defendants were responsible for greenhouse gas emissions that were in turn somehow responsible for the severity of Hurricane Katrina and its resulting damages. The federal district court dismissed on both political question and standing grounds. On October 16, 2009, a panel the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the case did not present a non-justiciable political question and that plaintiffs have standing to pursue state law damages claims for negligence, trespass, and nuisance. 585 F.3d 855 (5th Cir. 2009). The court wrote: "Here, the plaintiffs' complaint alleges that defendants' emissions caused the plaintiffs' property damage, which is redressable through monetary damages; for example, the plaintiffs allege that defendants' willful, unreasonable use of their property to emit greenhouse gasses constituted private nuisance under Mississippi law because it inflicted injury on the plaintiffs' land by causing both land loss due to sea level rise and property damage due to Hurricane Katrina." The panel held that plaintiffs do not have standing to pursue claims for unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation, and civil conspiracy. The third judge on the panel concurred, but stated that he thought the case should be dismissed for failure to allege facts sufficient to show proximate cause.  The panel reversed and remanded the case to the district court.

The appellee defendants applied for rehearing en banc of the panel decision and order. A bare quorum of nine out of the full court's 16 active judges (the remaining seven having recused themselves), voted six to three to grant rehearing en banc, which vacated the panel opinion and order. 598 F.3d 208 (5th Cir. 2010). Subsequently, one of the six judges voting to grant rehearing en banc has recused herself, leaving only eight of the 16 active judges to hear the case. Because a quorum was lacking, the remaining eight judges voted five to three to dismiss the appeal. Because the court's prior grant of rehearing en banc had previously vacated the panel's opinion and order, the court's most recent order dismissing the appeal reinstates the district court's initial decision dismissing the case on political question and standing grounds.

Needless to say, the three dissenting judges had some choice things to say about the five-judge decision that vitiated the prior panel decision remanding the case for further proceedings on the state law damages claims for negligence, trespass, and nuisance. We probably have not heard the last of this.

John Parker Sweeney
Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC
Baltimore, Maryland

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Categories: Climate Change | Court of Appeals

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Check out yesterday’s Wall Street Journal for a most troubling think-piece exploring the implications of widespread recusals of federal appellate judges who hold energy stocks from appeals involing inchoate climate change nuisance actions.

Wall Street Journal opinion

The WSJ reports that the Fifth Circuit has had to put off the en banc rehearing it had scheduled for last month on the appeal in the Comer case for lack of a quorum of sitting circuit judges. Recall that the trial court had dismissed this class action against fossil fuel energy companies by Mississippi victims of Hurricane Katrina claiming that emissions attributable to the defendants had caused the severe storm damage. A panel of the Fifth Circuit had affirmed the dismissal on political question grounds with one judge noting that he would affirm the dismissal on causation grounds. That Fifth Circuit panel opinion conflicted with the opinion of the Second Circuit in the AEP case, which allowed an action by several states and environmental groups to proceed against fossil fuel burning power plants in the Northeast by reversing a similar dismissal on political question ground by the trial court. The WSJ now suggests that judges who do not want to see an en banc ruling contrary to AEP, which would confirm a split between circuits and set up a potential certiorari vehicle to SCOTUS are manipulating the recusal process to prevent a quorum for the court’s en banc rehearing.

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Categories: Climate Change | Court of Appeals

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Sign up now for DRI Climate Change Webcast June 18 1:00-2:30 EDT 


What's the Obama Administration doing about Climate Change?  More in four months than the prior administration did in in eight years.


How will this affect you and your clients? Take 90 minutes to hear Roger Martella, former General Counsel of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, who will share his insights into the strategy and agenda of the new administration. 


The DRI Climate Change Task Force will be hosting its second webinar on June 18th from 1:00 - 2:30 pm EDT, "Climate Change in the Obama Administration: The Status of Proposed Global Warming Policies and Legislation."  You will receive the latest updates on the EPA's "Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting Rule" and "Endangerment Finding"; the draft of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, introduced by Reps. Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey; state and regional greenhouse gas regulatory programs; and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provisions on clean energy and carbon capture and storage.


Please take the time to pass on the attached invitation to your colleagues, clients and other contacts and encourage them to join us for this informative session.


Thank you for your continued support of this popular series.

Download Invitation (561.75 kb)

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Categories: Climate Change

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For a change, there are more similarities than differences between the Presidential candidates on climate change policy. Both candidates embrace the necessity of a coherent international and national response to global warming based upon a variety of approaches to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

A quick review of each candidate’s web site on climate change issues reveals proposed programs that are more alike than not. Many of the differences are more stylistic appeals to different audiences than they are real substantive differences.

For instance, John McCain’s site is more crisp and business-like in its presentation, avoiding the more emotionally laden language that the Campaign reserves for other issues that resonate more passionately with the Republican base and independent minded voters.

Full Article

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Categories: Climate Change

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