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- Women law firm leaders are few and far between, but there have been more in recent years.
- Law firm leaders are in charge of firms’ strategic initiatives, financials, and culture.
- Insider compiled a list of women who lead some of the largest US law firms.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Women ascending to the partnership at elite law firms is still recent history, with many Big Law firms promoting their first women partners as late as the 1970s. But in the last two decades, female lawyers have finally started to rise all the way to the top.
Currently, just over a handful of women are top brass at the biggest law firms in the country. Their titles differ from firm to firm — managing partner, chairperson, CEO, or partner in charge — but these women are in charge of strategic leadership; working with the executive committee; overseeing financials; cultivating firm culture; and other big-picture duties that keep firms running successfully. Many law firm leaders also maintain some parts of their legal practice in addition to their management duties.
Regina Pisa, the first-ever woman to lead a Big Law firm, stepped into the top role at Goodwin Procter in 1998 and led the firm until 2014. In the years that followed her election as chairperson, more women joined the slim ranks of law firm leadership, while others became partners or practice group leaders. But as recently as 2015, there were only three AmLaw 200 law firms with women managing partners, according to the National Association of Women Lawyers.
The legal industry still has a long way to go to fully diversify its ranks. Although women and people of color nearly make up the majority of summer associate and first-year associate classes, only 31% of nonequity partners and 20% of equity partners in the 200 largest law firms are women, according to the American Bar Association. Women of color make up only about 2% of Big Law partnerships, according to the National Association for Law Placement.
Still, the small club of women in charge is growing, and experts say visibility at the top is a key step in inspiring the next generation of female lawyers. Insider has compiled a list of nine women who are in charge of some of the largest law firms, as measured by revenue. Three of the nine — Ellen Fleishacker at Arnold & Porter, Marie-Aimée de Dampierre at Hogan Lovells, and Barbara Becker at Gibson Dunn — were elected or appointed in 2021.
Faiza Saeed, Cravath, Swaine & Moore’s presiding partner
Saeed, a top M&A lawyer, has been leading Cravath’s 500 attorneys since 2017, and she is the first female presiding partner in the firm’s history. During her tenure, the Wall Street firm has focused on diversifying its summer associate class — in 2020, it was 59% women, 40% people of color, and 9% LGBTQ+ — and posted a record-high yearly revenue of nearly $816 million in 2019.
Before becoming presiding partner, Saeed co-led the firm’s top-ranked M&A practice, and she recently represented Disney in its $85 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox in 2019; Viacom’s board committee in its $30 billion merger with CBS in 2019; and Time Warner in multiple matters, including its 2018 sale to AT&T and 2016 investment in Hulu.
Susan Murley, co-managing partner of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr
Murley has been co-leading WilmerHale with her colleague, Robert Novick, since 2012. A lifer at the firm and a longtime leader, she previously chaired the firm’s transactional department, which is made up of 11 practice groups across eight offices, as well as its corporate department.
She was also assistant managing partner of the law firm Hale and Dorr before it became WilmerHale, and after the merger served on the firm’s management committee up until her election to co-managing partner.
Jami McKeon, chair of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius
A firm lifer who has been a litigator at Morgan Lewis for 40 years, McKeon was elected chair in 2014 and re-elected to a second term five years later. Morgan Lewis ranked 7th on the 2020 AmLaw 200 list, which ranks firms by gross revenue, making it the largest law firm run by a woman. During her first term, she oversaw a merger that brought in 750 new attorneys to the firm, and today she leads more than 2,000 lawyers across the world.
Julie Jones, chair of Ropes & Gray
A dealmaker known for brokering multibillion-dollar transactions in the healthcare and technology industries, Jones has been on the firm’s management committee since 2011 and became its first female chair in 2020 (she was selected in 2017 and served as chair-elect for two years).
Prior to taking command of the 1,200-lawyer firm, she led Ropes & Gray’s securities and public companies group from 2006-2011.
Kim Koopersmith, chairperson of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
Koopersmith was elected to be Akin Gump’s first woman chairperson in 2012, and prior to that served as the firm’s US managing partner. She’s also headed the firm’s partner compensation and partner admissions committees. In her leadership role, she created an initiative for women’s professional development and implemented a reduced-workload policy, which allows lawyers to work on a flexible schedule.
Koopersmith has also worked to broaden the pipeline of women and minority lawyers at the firm, and told Bloomberg Law that the firm has worked even harder to recruit attorneys from diverse backgrounds during the pandemic.
Lisa Mayhew, co-chair of Brian Cave Leighton Paisner
As managing partner of St. Louis-headquartered Berwin Leighton Paisner, Mayhew helped steer her firm’s 2018 merger with London-based Brian Cave, where she is now co-chair. She’s an employment lawyer who has defended employers in lucrative executive hire and severance matters, discrimination proceedings, whistleblowing cases, and major corporate transformation initiatives.
Ellen Fleishhacker, co-managing partner of Arnold & Porter
Fleishhacker, who co-heads Arnold & Porter’s investment management practice and is a member of the firm’s management and policy committees, was appointed co-managing partner of the firm on January 1. In her practice, she works with investors to structure and negotiate potential investments.
Marie-Aimée de Dampierre, Hogan Lovells’s incoming chair
Hogan Lovells appointed de Dampierre as its next chair in February, and she will take over in May. A partner in the global firm’s Paris office, she had an At-Large seat on the firm’s board in 2015 and later joined Hogan Lovells’s international management committee as a regional managing partner for continental Europe in 2018 and regional managing partner of the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region in 2020. She also formerly chaired the firm’s global diversity and inclusion committee.
Barbara Becker, incoming chair and managing partner of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
Becker was elected as Gibson Dunn’s chair and managing partner in early March and will take over the top leadership roles in May. A corporate partner well known for her M&A expertise, she’s been co-chair of the firm’s 400-lawyers M&A practice group for more than a decade and is also a member of Gibson Dunn’s executive committee. She also created and is in charge of the firm’s diversity committee.