Prominent Women Lawyers Call Out Their Mentors — Who’s Yours?

March 8, 2016, 10:23 PM

It’s International Women’s Day and Big Law Business decided to ask U.S. law firm leaders and general counsel about the mentors behind their professional advancement.

International Women’s Day happens on March 8 every year and is intended to celebrate women for their economic, political and social achievements.

Below are responses from the women we have contacted. We will update this post if we hear back from others.

Stacey Friedman, General Counsel, JPMorgan Chase

Steve Cutler. Many of us in the legal industry know him as, in the words of Jamie Dimon, “the consummate lawyer and General Counsel, handling all that has come before him with great judgment, integrity and professionalism, all with a relentless focus on doing what’s best for the firm.” I am lucky to know Steve as something more — a sponsor and a mentor. He has not only opened up career opportunities for me — he has, and remains, a great advisor to me and to the entire firm.

Elisa Garcia, Executive Vice President & Chief Legal Officer, Office Depot

I do not recall having any women mentors. From my early days as an energy analyst, my time as a young associate and my years in the corporate sector, all of my mentors have been enlightened men. They were many mentors, advocates and sponsors — all male. If I have to narrow it down to one mentor, I have to say that David Brandon, former CEO of Domino’s Pizza (currently CEO of Toys R Us) was the one that stretched me beyond being just a lawyer.

He insisted that I bring 100 percent of myself to every challenge that we had as a management team and that meant tapping into all of my experiences as a women, a mother, a wife, a Latina, a consumer, a New Yorker, etc., as well as an attorney. He said that he could hire a lawyer by the hour (not something that I would advocate since I am a strong proponent of value billing), and that he needed everything that I was, every day in my job.

Faith Gay, Co-Chair of National Trial Practice and Co-Chair of New York White Collar Practice, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan

I graduated from law school in 1986. I had important mentors in private practice — particularly Nate Eimer at Sidley & Austin — but I never worked with a truly powerful female partner when I was an associate. I’m not sure there were any in the litigation world back then — certainly none that I knew. Having real significance as a female litigator in the major firms is a relatively new phenomenon. There were early leaders such as Sheila Birnbaum and Mary Jo White, but you could count them on one hand, and I’m not sure they came into the business forefront during my associate years. There aren’t enough of us now, but there has been a material upward movement.

There were, however, tremendous female role models in government such as Judge Valerie Caproni, now on the Southern District bench. She was my boss in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and I will never forget the example she set in rigorous analysis, dogged investigation, absolute candor, fabulous (and humorous) courtroom advocacy, and relentless modesty as to her enormous gifts.

As to private practice, I would be more than thrilled if you would give a shout out to my unbelievably gifted female colleagues. For so many years in private practice, I felt totally alone as a female partner attempting to develop a substantial book of business. Contrast that with the pure joy of now practicing shoulder to shoulder with Sheila Birnbaum, Kathleen Sullivan, Susan Estrich, Jenny Durkan, Sue Prevezer and a host of others. We have a cast of business all-stars who happen to be female, and having that critical mass of powerful women has made all the difference. There is simply no question that we have enhanced each other’s careers and lives.

Jami Wintz McKeon, Chair, Morgan Lewis & Bockius

I’ve been blessed in my career with way too many mentors to list them all — although none of them was formally assigned as a mentor, and I think I didn’t even realize (sometimes until years later) the mentoring role some of them played at the time. If I had to select one, I would identify Art Littleton - the first partner I ever worked for at Morgan Lewis. Despite being cut out of old school cloth, he welcomed me as a very young woman into the profession and made me believe that I could do this job and that I was good at it. He also indoctrinated me in the Morgan Lewis philosophy, which was coined by our former chair and his father, Arthur Littleton, that there is no limit to what we can achieve together as long as no one is focused on who gets the credit. Those two contributions of his — supporting my own development and impressing upon me the firm culture — set me on the course that has led me through my wonderful 35 years at Morgan Lewis.

Lee Schreter, Chair, Littler Mendelson

Fortunately, I had a number of mentors who took an interest in my professional development. There are two who stand out — Elise Bloom and Steve Munger [both worked at Jackson Lewis, where Schreter spent her first 15 years as a lawyer]. Elise taught me the importance of client development and gave me a number of opportunities to work with her clients. In the employment law space, Elise was an early pioneer in developing work through other women lawyers and networking by connecting in-house lawyers at different companies with each other.

Steve taught me about the art of litigation. Steve is retired now but he was an accomplished litigator. I had the good fortune to start my legal career at a time when associates could still accompany partners to hearings and depositions. Steve was a master at locating and exploiting weaknesses in his opponents’ cases. He was there when I took my first deposition, argued my first appeal and cross examined my first witness at trial. He was my sounding board, counselor and advocate and I am a better lawyer today because of the time and energy he invested in my career.

Kelly Mahon Tullier, General Counsel, Visa, Inc.

Larry Thompson, who was the PepsiCo GC. As my boss, he made sure that I had every opportunity to take on stretch assignments and was fully empowered in those assignments, yet was always there to coach me through the tough spots along the way. I still replay his words of wisdom in my head when I grapple with challenging issues.

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