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 August 1, 1999

Area beats national trend of more women becoming law partners

For the fourth year running, more women made partner in Denver-area law practices than anywhere else, according to a study by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

Nearly 20 percent of the partners in Denver-area law firms are women. This 1998 percentage is in line with other booming Western cities that provide more equity partnerships to women than those of the major markets of New York, Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles.

The Denver area also is besting the national trend. Nationwide, the proportion of female partners at the larger firms climbed steadily from 12.3 percent in 1993 to 14.5 percent in 1998, according to the NALP study. The study, which looked at 1,100 firms in 26 U.S. cities, is used to generate a directory of law-office employers for newly graduated law students.

The upward trend in female partnerships is evident at Holland & Hart. Among other locations, Denver’s largest firm has offices in Boulder, Colorado Springs and Aspen. In 1994, of 110 Holland & Hart partners, 16 were women (15 percent). In 1998, of 117 partners, 26 were women (22 percent).

Equity partnerships, where the attorney owns a portion of the company, are offered at Holland & Hart. Equity partnerships are distinguished from non-equity partnerships used at some law firms to reward good performers who may nonetheless be weak in areas such as client development.

Holland & Hart Managing Partner Mary Ellen Scanlan said partnership there is based on “a list of characteristics including rainmaking.” Scanlan, who graduated from law school in 1980, said rising to the top at Holland & Hart was never a problem based on gender. She noted, however, that the women partners at Holland & Hart have a different approach to their career than the men. The firm’s flex or reduced-time provision is used mostly by women, she said.

Davis, Graham & Stubbs, with offices in Denver and Boulder, have a rare family-friendly atmosphere. The 85-year-old firm’s liberal leave policy allows flex time and extended parental leave. Of 55 partners, 12 are women. Further, these women aren’t confined to administration and “family law.”

Jackie Studer is a partner and founding member of the technological group in the Boulder office of Davis, Graham & Stubbs. Married and a mother of two, she left behind her 12-hour-a-day jobs in New York City and Palo Alto, Calif. years ago. She said that within Davis, Graham & Stubbs’ approach to taking care of employees, things as simple as providing enough training and mentoring, is appealing and progressive. It’s also practically unheard of in the major markets.

“Here we have enough people to do difficult jobs so that one person doesn’t have to get worked to death,” she said. “I think one reason there aren’t more (female partners) in New York is that women won’t put up with the time commitment. I work hard, but the time I put in here would be considered the bare minimum in New York.” The culture there was responsible for drawing her away from the high-paying career in New York. “Here I work with people as a team that pitch in when I’m not around. In the competitive atmosphere of the large firms, people are less likely to help each other.”

As good as the women/partnership ratios are in this area, it’s still easy to bump into male-dominated practices of law.

“I haven’t seen more opportunities for securities law,´ said Cynthia King Sadick of Sadick & O’Brien, a new women-run firm in Boulder. “The women I know who compete have given up personal and family time to prove they are as committed as a man who doesn’t have the demands of a mother.”

In the late 1980s, Sadick pressed her employer with a sex discrimination lawsuit that resulted in a better position and better pay, but she ultimately quit the National Association of Security Dealers because it wasn’t family-friendly. Her partner, Fern O’Brien, quit her job at a fast-paced New York law firm for the same reason. O’Brien worked in the litigation department where staying late every night earned you a limo ride home. There were women partners in her department, two of them in fact, but both were childless and unmarried.

“You had to act like you didn’t have kids,” O’Brien said. “That’s why I left. It was unconducive to being both a mom and a lawyer, and I knew I could do both well. I feel there are opportunities to advance in Colorado. In Boulder having a balanced life is highly valued.”

For the fourth year running, more women made partner in Denver-area law practices than anywhere else, according to a study by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

Nearly 20 percent of the partners in Denver-area law firms are women. This 1998 percentage is in line with other booming Western cities that provide more equity partnerships to women than those of the major markets of New York, Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles.

The Denver area also is besting the national trend. Nationwide, the proportion of female partners at the larger firms…

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