Insights on Leadership

Pat Gillette Receives Distinguished 2015 Golden Hammer Award

The ABA Law Practice Division Diversity & Inclusion Committee and the ABA Women Rainmakers have awarded this year’s Golden Hammer Award to Pat Gillette. The Golden Hammer Award recognizes the work of individuals and entities who have helped promote diversity in the ABA and the legal profession.

Pat received this extraordinary honor at the recent ABA Midyear Meeting in Houston. Below, she shares some of her insights on leadership and the steps we can all take to overcome barriers.


What does it take to become a woman leader?
I believe most women have innate qualities that make them effective leaders. So, for those of us who fit into the stereotype, we are good collaborators, consensus builders, and listeners. We are problem solvers and have high EQ. We are emphatic and intuitive. Studies have shown that women score higher than men in 12 of the 16 competencies of good leaders and we are better than men at showing initiative and driving results. Good female leaders have to have thick skins, not take things personally, and embrace men as allies. We have to not be afraid to share our opinions, take risks on presenting new and innovative ideas, and speak up. Studies also show that law firms and organizations that have more leaders are more successful financially, show more social responsibility, and have better retention rates.

That is why it is a shame that women are still not equally represented in the leadership ranks of most law firms. Think of how that could impact the success of our firms.

What are we doing well in the legal profession?
The legal profession has lagged far behind corporations in moving the dial forward for diversity. We have not significantly changed the percentage of equity partners who are women and minorities. We have not increased diversity in our institutional leadership positions or in economic power of women and minorities. We have not responded to the changing demographics of the workforce, including the values of the millennial generation.

Having said that, the legal industry is slowly beginning to move toward a better model--being led by firms like Orrick where we have reexamined the way work gets done, we measure our associates by competencies rather than year out of law school, we have modified the importance of the billable hour by recognizing and rewarding productivity and quality of work, we offer flexible options for our associates, moving away from the one way up ladder approach and toward a more realistic lattice approach to career development. And we have injected greater transparency into many of the engines that define success: compensation practices, partnership promotion, and business development opportunities.  Of course, there is more to do.

As for women in particular, we need to stop talking about work/life balance and start talking about the business of the firm. We need to be focused on developing our practices by doing what women do best – building relationships. We need to get men to truly join our conversations and be part of our efforts to move more women into positions of leadership and influence in the firm. We need to learn to self-promote effectively and ask for opportunities that will advance our careers and the firm. We need to stay in the profession.

What advice do you give women who are looking for a future in the law?
Being a lawyer is hard and I make sure that women who are entering the profession understand that. It is incredibly rewarding because of the intellectual challenges, the camaraderie and the impact. But, you have to be your own advocate. You have to be willing to take risks, to challenge and stretch yourself, to want to be successful. I believe law firms will look very different in the future -- because they have to. I encourage young women entering the profession to share your ideas about how we can keep the profession responsive to your generation. I also tell young women to need to think about business development from day one – first looking to partners and senior associates as “clients,” establishing a great reputation and then, soon thereafter, looking outside the firm for friends, contacts and colleagues who can help them develop business.

How do you achieve work/life balance?
Balance has to be defined by each person. And you have to think of it in a way that will make you feel good about what you are doing and how you are doing it. Everyone – and I mean everyone – feels guilty more than not. We either feel that we aren’t devoting enough time to our work life or to our personal lives. Recognize that and then take steps to minimize the guilt by forcing yourself to be in the moment. Set parameters and personal limits for what is important for you. For example, I love to cook, and being home at dinner time with my kids was important to me. So I made sure that I was home in time to cook dinner and sit down with my kids and husband for dinner each night. Sure there were times when that didn’t work, but for the most part that was a high priority for me and I made it happen. Of course, we ate at 7:30 p.m., and the kids when to bed later than some of their friends, but you know what? That worked out just fine because you define normal for your kids. (When my kids found out other people ate at 5:30, they were shocked and thought those people were weird.) So you make choices that are consistent with your values and your idea of balance and you don’t feel guilty about them.

My point is that you have to figure out what balance means for you and your family and then make choices that are consistent with that. Don’t assume that the firm can’t flex for you and what is important to you, because plenty of colleagues are willing to do that. But in return, you have to be willing to work hard and return the loyalty shown by your colleagues and the firm.

Can you tell us about a favorite mentor or mentee who has shaped your perspective?
Most of my mentors have been men. Vic Schachter from the boutique firm I worked at taught me most everything I know about business development. Barry Levin taught me a lot about leadership. These two men shaped my career and gave me opportunities that helped me be successful.

What other women leaders do you admire and why?
The woman leader I admire the most with respect to the legal profession is Roberta Liebenberg. Bobbie, as she is known to most of us, is a highly effective change agent who has helped raise the level of discussion on many of the issues that are most challenging for women in the legal profession. She does so graciously but is emphatic in her approach and dogged in her resolve. She willingly shares the spotlight with other women. Unlike many women in positions of power and influence, she always puts the mission first and herself second. While Bobbie is best known in the world of women who are trying to make change, her influence on our profession is widespread and impactful. She is my inspiration and my hope for the future of our profession.