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The right environment is critical to attracting the best lawyers

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Nanette Mantell, office managing partner for the Princeton office of Reed Smith.
Nanette Mantell, office managing partner for the Princeton office of Reed Smith. - ()

Law firms are retaining female lawyers by helping them advance in their careers, experts said, both by creating flexible work and career schedules that address their family needs, and by endeavoring to provide a collegial, challenging and meaningful experience at work.

Nanette Mantell is managing partner of the Princeton office of Reed Smith, which she said has 52 lawyers, 22 of whom are women; of the 23 Reed Smith partners in her office, seven are women. Those female partners include a member of the Reed Smith executive committee and the vice chair of the life sciences industry group.

"We have been successful at nurturing and promoting women, in part because we have a relatively flexible work environment," Mantell said. "We've had women who have gone out on maternity leave and transitioned back very seamlessly, and we've had women who have gone to reduced work schedules and come back full time."

And both men and women are encouraged to work remotely, she said.

"We have no particular requirement for being in the office to get your work done," Mantell said. "We have clients all over the world, and it's just as easy to do those conference calls and negotiate that agreement from home as it is to come into the Princeton office. With the technology and the flexibility to work remotely, and with a hard-working but very congenial atmosphere here in Princeton, we have retained most of the people who start working here."

Kit Chaskin, global director of the Reed Smith women's initiative, said in 2001, global managing partner Gregory B. Jordan had the firm agree to allow him to appoint three seats on the executive committee, for the purpose of achieving balance. He appointed three women, and after a three-year term they stood for election to the executive committee, which is now 40 percent women. Women are 51 percent of the firm's associates and 22 percent of the partners.

Chaskin said the firm has created programs "designed to catch women right as they are getting to various pinch points in their careers, and provide them with really concrete help." For example, a woman on the partner track "will reach a point in her career where she really needs to do a trial. So we reach out and get these women the very specific work experience they need."

Chaskin said job dissatisfaction drives both women and men away from legal practice, and that younger lawyers "are much more interested in having a rich and varied and meaningful life both at work and outside of work."

Mantell said it is a great satisfaction to her that even though "my kids remember when I was getting faxes while on vacation" her daughter Natalie decided to become a lawyer, and is now an associate at Gibbons.

Rosemary Gousman is regional managing partner in the New Jersey office of employment law firm Fisher & Phillips, in the Murray Hill section of New Providence. She became a partner while working part time after the birth of her second child, at a firm that later merged with Fisher & Phillips.

"It is very hard to have a family and work full time as a lawyer," Gousman said. "Even when you work part time, you have to have incredible flexibility — that is what I found was the key to being successful."

While working part time, she said, "You have to change your schedule for court proceedings and depositions, and to be available to answer client calls and emergencies that arise on your day off — and it is so much easier to do that now with technology."

In the office Gousman heads, there are six male and six female lawyers. Two of the women are working part time, because "they are great lawyers, and we didn't want to lose them," she said. "They are incredibly flexible and really great assets."

When her daughter, Maggie, was considering law school, Gousman said she advised her against it. In her law school application, her daughter "wrote her personal statement about how her mom is a lawyer and how I tried to talk her out of becoming a lawyer — and she really didn't find it credible, because she thinks I really like my job." Maggie is now in her third year at Rutgers Law School, and like her mother, is working in employment law.

"I think the practice of law is very difficult, and I think it is becoming more difficult," Gousman said. "But I guess my daughter saw that I liked what I was doing."

E-mail to: beth@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @bethfitzgerald8

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