Mentoring Circles: An Opportunity for Women Lawyers to Change the Statistics
By: Tiffanie N. Limbrick, Sidley Austin, LLP
Mentoring is a hot topic these days, especially for women lawyers. You cannot walk into a bookstore without seeing shelves of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In or Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor. But why are these books so popular? Because women—and especially women lawyers—are still fighting for equality in the workplace.
While there are impressive women role models in the C-Suite and women running for president, the statistics demonstrate that women still have a long way to go. According to the National Association of Women Lawyers, although 50 percent of the nation’s law students are women, only 38 percent of non-equity partners of firms are women and only 18 percent are equity partners. And our strides in closing the compensation gap are similarly disheartening—female equity partners earn 20 percent less than their male counterparts. These statistics are sobering and demand action.
The Dallas Association of Young Lawyers (DAYL) and the Dallas Women Lawyers Association (DWLA) joined forces to tackle this problem by forming the Mentoring Circles program. The Mentoring Circles program connects young women lawyers with experienced women attorneys by forming groups of five to six young women and three to four experienced women attorneys. The Mentoring Circles meet once a month to discuss topics ranging from business development, communication styles, and any other challenge the mentees may be facing. In addition, the DWLA and DAYL are hosting quarterly events for the Mentoring Circles, including a panel of successful mentees and their mentors, a networking event where the mentees can learn and practice networking skills, a breakfast featuring special guest Linda Hirshman, author of Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World, and a panel discussion with renowned Dallas women rainmakers who will discuss the fine art of business development from a woman’s perspective.
When planning the Mentoring Circles program, the planning committee set a goal of 30 mentors and 10 mentees for the inaugural year. The planning committee quickly learned that there was a much bigger need in Dallas than they realized—and there were many experienced women attorneys ready to stand up and meet that need. Over 115 mentees and 75 mentors signed up for the program—with requests to join the program pouring in even after the application period ended.
Reviewing the mentees’ applications, it was clear that young women lawyers are seeking advice on three main topics. First, they are craving to learn about business development. That is not a skill taught in law school or even in CLEs—and, if it is taught, business development techniques are often taught from the perspective of a male attorney.
Second, young women lawyers seek advice regarding their day-to-day interactions with female and male attorneys alike—whether within a firm, in the courtroom, or at the negotiating table. The mentees posed such questions as: “How do I speak up in a meeting without being interrupted?”; “Should I avoid traditional ‘women’s work’, such as administrative tasks or even bringing cookies into the office?”; and “How do I handle male attorneys who are condescending or disrespectful?”
Finally, young women lawyers are looking for guidance on professional development generally—what should they do to achieve their goals, whether that is to become an equity partner, go in-house, secure a seat on the bench, or be a successful solo practitioner. Whatever the goals are, young women lawyers seek role models and mentors to help them along their journey.
The Mentoring Circles program provides an opportunity for these young women lawyers to identify role models in the Dallas Bar and develop mentoring relationships with multiple successful and inspiring women. None of this could be done, however, without the dedication of the many experienced women attorneys who volunteered their time to be mentors. These women are judges, in-house counsel, managing partners, prosecutors, and solo practitioners. They serve on boards, manage successful private practices, have appeared before the United States Supreme Court, serve as chief legal counsel for major corporations, and more. These are the women who are bucking the statistics—and they are doing it in our own backyard.
The DAYL and the DWLA are proud of the success this program has seen thus far and are eager to see the impact it will have on the Dallas Bar in the years to come.
Tiffanie N. Limbrick is an associate in the Dallas office of Sidley Austin LLP. She serves on the board of directors for both the Dallas Women Lawyers Association and the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers. If you would like to learn more about this program, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Sidley Austin LLP, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.