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'It is possible to have a family and succeed if you find your niche and work hard'

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Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft London partner Samantha Hutchinson highlights the challenges for working mothers in the legal profession and how the firm supports women and promotes diversity

How do you think the Covid-19 pandemic has or will impact gender parity in the legal profession within your jurisdiction?

I think it will bring a greater acceptance that flexible working does not mean less efficiency or productivity which will hopefully make it easier for women in particular to be able to work more flexibly from home. In my team, we have always adopted flexible working as we have both men and women with children and I’ve found that giving this flexibility and trust engenders great working relationships.

What obstacles have you had to contend with during your legal career that related to your gender?

Taking time out to have children made it more difficult to progress as quickly as others, as well as wanting to work more flexibly when my children were younger. I’ve strived as I’ve progressed in my career to ensure that everyone in my team has the same opportunities and support and lead by example in making time to be with my children, but equally deliver to my clients.

From the perspective of gender equality how does the environment in which you work now compare to the one you began your career in?

Incredibly different. At Cadwalader, there really is a sense that it makes no difference what colour, creed, gender, etc you are, what matters is your dedication to your field and delivering excellent service to our clients. No-one is looking over your shoulder to see if you’ve left the office and trusts that you will do whatever needs to be done to deliver to our clients.

Do you feel the legal profession within the jurisdiction where you are based treats women and men equally?

No, but I do feel a predilection towards the idea that working flexibly means that you can’t be as efficient as working long hours in the office has meant the legal profession has lost a lot of talent, particularly women with young children.

Who do you consider have been the leading figures in your jurisdiction’s legal profession in improving or challenging gender equality in the last decade and why?

Perhaps not the jurisdiction but the fund finance legal industry has a much higher proportion of female partners than many other areas of finance. The industry has formed an association for the women in its industry which has made great strides in promoting women.

Are there any initiatives within the legal profession in your jurisdiction to promote gender equality?

The fund finance industry has formed an association for the women which has made great strides in promoting women in the industry.

What initiatives do you have in place at your firm to promote gender equality? Does your firm have other diversity programmes?

Firm leadership is invested in the success of our diverse and women attorneys and have designed the following talent management programmes:

  • Basic Training (junior programme) provides additional professional development skills for diverse second-year associates on career development topics such as ‘Being an Indispensable Junior Associate’, and ‘Dealing with Difficult Situations’.

  • Business Development Boot Camp (mid-level programme) educates mid-level women associates on business development skills, brand management and pitch preparation.

  • Base Camp (sixth and seventh year associates) focuses on leadership training and other programming to help prepare high performing diverse and women associates for the next stage of their careers.

Does the legal profession within your jurisdiction or your firm have any initiatives to support working mothers? If they are, do you think they are sufficient?

Cadwalader offers expectant and new parents an individual coaching programme. The professional coach provides relevant and individualised guidance before, during and after leave to assist attorneys in transitioning through the arrival of a child and the effect being a new parent can have on an attorney’s professional career.

The firm offers alternative work schedules to accommodate the challenging and often conflicting priorities of our women attorneys. In addition, we have adopted an 80% return to work programme, under which the firm offers primary caregivers the option to return to work on a reduced (80%) schedule for a three month period.

How does your firm compare to others in your market when considering gender equality?

The sponsorship programme is a nomination-based program for high-performing, diverse and women associates and special counsel. The goal of the sponsorship program is to ensure that these attorneys gain the skills necessary to rise through the ranks successful. In October 2019, Thomson Reuters published a case study on Cadwalader’s sponsorship programme, highlighting what it described as a highly regarded sponsorship program. Further, Cadwalader was recognised by the New York City Bar as ‘one of the first law firms to formally prepare women and diverse senior associates and special counsel for future leadership roles at the firm with its [sponsorship program]’.

What do you feel are the biggest obstacles for women in your jurisdiction joining the legal profession now?

From my perspective, I don’t see any obstacles for women joining the legal profession. The obstacles come later with juggling family life and transactional work which can be very fast-paced and make juggling very difficult.

Do you feel women are well represented at partner level and in management positions in firms within the jurisdiction where you are based? If not, what do you think can be done to ensure women are well represented in these positions?

Cadwalader strives to ensure that women are well represented in the partnership and our sponsorship programme plays a large role in this effort. The goal of the sponsorship programme is to ensure that our talented senior diverse and women attorneys have an opportunity to gain the skills necessary to be successful at the firm. We are proud to report that since the program launched in 2013, fourteen protégés have been promoted to partner and fifteen have been promoted to special counsel. Further, two women partners serve on our management committee and three women partners serve as practice group leaders.

What advice would you give to women in junior positions to encourage them to work towards attaining senior positions?

Find a mentor who will support you and guide you. It is possible to have a family and succeed if you find your niche and work hard.

If you could introduce one policy related to gender equality in the legal profession what would it be?

An acceptance of flexible working.