Take Advantage of Women’s Initiatives at Firms

July 2011Articles Philadelphia Bar Reporter

Leaders of women’s initiatives from local law firms reported on the development and progress of those initiatives at a recent meeting of the Women in the Profession Committee.

The panelists at the May 31 program were Caitlin M. Piccarello, Deena Jo Schneider, Lauren McKenna and Barbara Uberti Manerchia.

In 2008, Piccarello started a women’s initiative at Saul Ewing LLP. The group meets monthly and organizes an annual client event, training event and a social networking event for its women attorneys. Piccarello identified one struggle faced by her group as determining the level to which male colleagues can or should be included. This issue compelled Piccarrello to reach out to other local women’s initiative leaders to collaborate and share ideas.

McKenna, a partner who has been with Fox Rothschild LLP for nearly 21 years, helped to create Fox’s women’s initiative, which had started several years prior as a women’s marketing group. Recognizing the need to better understand and support the promotion, recruitment and retention of women attorneys, McKenna in 2009 developed a women’s initiative model that was approved by the firm’s executive committee and which is now in the execution stage. She hopes to include leadership training and sponsorship for women lawyers to promote professional growth. In developing a model, McKenna focused on identifying women’s needs, challenges and expectations from such an initiative.

Schneider is a partner with Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP and has been with the firm for more than 30 years. When she joined in 1974, Schneider was one of only 10 women out of 97 lawyers, which was pretty good back then, she remarked. Also recognizing a need for female support as Schneider saw higher proportions of women attorneys leaving practice, Schnader’s women’s initiative started with informal meetings that developed into a more organized effort. The group now has annual events including a holiday lunch, a summer event centered around their summer associates and two client events outside of the firm offices. They also have monthly meetings where they host speakers, discuss business development, leadership issues and advancement of women. Schneider stressed the importance of creating a law firm culture where women want to work, which is facilitated by a women’s initiative.

Uberti Manerchia has been practicing since 1978, having started with Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and currently as counsel for Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP. Upon her firm’s request, she implemented a women’s initiative focusing primarily on business development. With an ambitious agenda, Potter holds a spring, summer and fall event, which focuses on education, community involvement and team-building skills. Uberti Manerchia suggested hosting events at the firm to showcase the offices. To keep the events interesting, she suggested planning interactive activities, which are a great
way to develop relationships. At one of their recent events, antiques were brought in, with attendees guessing the value and prizes awarded to the closest bidders.

Highly organized in her approach, Uberti Manerchia even developed formal recommendations for the role of male attorneys in the women’s initiative which include supporting the initiative, encouraging participation and attending certain portions of some events where men can invite their women clients. Having female exclusivity is important for a women’s initiative, but male attorney support is also important for success.

For any women attorneys interested in starting a women’s initiative in their firm, Piccarello urged sending an email to women colleagues, generating buzz about the initiative, planning simple but interesting meetings, like one they hosted at a woman partner’s home, and considering how to secure firm funding.

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