A Message of Female Empowerment at the 2018 Corporate Legal Operations Institute

Diversity Sign

The 2018 Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) Institute kicked off April 22 with a brief introduction from the organization’s CEO and President, Connie Brenton, followed by a powerful session in which she held a conversation about women in legal leadership roles with two female attorneys who are, by anyone’s account, power players in their profession. Against the backdrop of current cultural momentum for the gender equality movement and the recent headlining news about the striking gender pay gap among U.K. law firms, both women shared empowering stories in which they encouraged women in positions of power to be agents of change in the industry.

Janet McCarthy, Global General Counsel at the Santa Fe Group, shared her personal account as a smart young law student and lawyer who followed career opportunities across the globe, only to confront quiet sexism when she worked for a company in Japan, and more blatant sexism as she negotiated deals on behalf of her UK company in boardrooms in the United States. Shocked into temporary silence by comments she faced at the time, she later shared her story with other top partners and GCs in the legal industry, and earlier this week, with a large ballroom filled with legal operations professionals, many in charge of outside counsel vetting and retention. Her message? Women, have each other’s backs. Men, you better have our backs, too. Make change by demanding that the law firms you hire are meeting your diversity standards and doing something about the gender pay gap.

The second speaker, Jennifer Warner, Vice President of Legal for Columbia Sportswear Company, shared a very personal story challenging the audience to examine and rethink assumptions they may have made about her on first sight. Her message was to always question and challenge the assumptions you make about people when deciding whom to hire and with whom to work. For example, she said that in her experience, and contrary to popular misconception, mothers are the hardest workers and most valuable members of her team.

These women had a receptive audience for their message of gender equality and female empowerment. Institute attendance was about 60 percent female this year, reflecting a similar gender breakdown in legal operations roles. When asked about this trend, Brenton, who is Senior Director of Legal Operations at NetApp, Inc., said that legal ops leadership roles are well-suited to women. CLOC board member Lisa Konie, Senior Director of Legal Operations at Adobe, said that women are adept at juggling and multitasking, which is a huge part of the legal ops role. Brenton also noted with a smile that women are also discovering that they have more fun in legal operations roles than they do in traditional legal roles. And over the course of four days, dozens of energetic sessions, a number of cocktail receptions, and one 70s-style dance party, about two thousand legal operations professionals seemed to concur with her that legal ops teams really do have more fun, all while lifting each other up and pushing the industry swiftly into the future.