Women are no longer just joining firms, but instead are owning their own.
Attorneys Karen L. Giffen and Kerin Lyn Kaminski became pioneers of sorts this year. They joined a growing trend of women law firm owners when they opened Giffen & Kaminski, LLC, and their focus is in an area into which few women venture — business litigation.
Although successful in their careers at the Cleveland firm Cavitch Familo Durkin & Frutkin Co., they researched opening their own firm after a large client “opened their eyes.” Specifically, the client was looking for a diverse law firm to represent the face of its diverse work force better.
“Years ago, it used to be enough to say you were taking your business to a woman or any minority at a law firm,” Ms. Kaminski said. “Now in corporate America it’s no longer considered enough. It has to be a business owned by a woman or minority.”
Barbara Friedman Yaksic, chairwoman of the Ohio State Bar Association section on Women in the Profession, said female law firms are becoming more prevalent because more women are practicing law.
She also said the trend might be attributed to women growing dissatisfied with their progress at traditional firms.
According to the 2001 “Women in Law: Making the Case” study, although women make up more than 40% of law school students since 1985, they still comprise less than 16% of law partners nationally and 14% of Fortune 500 general counsel.
The study, conducted by the nonprofit research organization Catalyst, found the main barriers to advancement identified by women were family and personal responsibilities, lack of client development / general management experience, lack of mentoring opportunities, and exclusion from informal internal networks.
Women-owned firms sometimes receive business from shareholders at companies who want their legal counsel to reflect themselves, women and minorities, Ms. Kaminski said.
“It’s also driven by businesses themselves to go out in the market, encompassing and embracing all avenues of life because there’s business to be gotten,” she said. “Fifty percent of startup businesses are owned by women. It’s smart business.”
Ms. Giffen added that bringing more “voices” to the table brings about more “interesting and innovative results.”
Mary Ann Rabin opened her solo bankruptcy law practice 21 years ago. When her daughter, Julie, joined her in 1981 they were the first mother-daughter practice in Cleveland. Over the years, Mrs. Rabin said she’s seen more women attorneys hang out their own shingles and thrive.
“When I started practicing law, I was 44 years old,” she said. “I joined a law firm, but after five years it really became apparent I needed to get out on my own. I was too old to take orders from anybody.”
Mrs. Rabin said a lot of clients come to her female law firm, Rabin & Rabin Co., LPA, because they respect the women’s skills. But many also come because they think women will be more empathetic, adding that a telephone book advertisement picturing the mother-daughter team generates a lot of response.
Ms. Yaksic said people leave law firms all the time, but a lack of training and mentoring for women is more pronounced. She said larger firms are “used to doing business the way they’re used to doing business.” For example, she mentioned the practice of entertaining clients at venues where women normally wouldn’t feel comfortable or be accepted.
“It’s a business development avenue. As a female attorney, do you go someplace you really don’t want to go or do you step back from that because you don’t want to go to a strip club or exclusionary country club? Ms. Yaksic said.
There also aren’t a lot of women in management positions at law firms who could contribute a different outlook on doing business.
“It’s not so much (firms) don’t want to help women as they don’t realize a need to do things differently,” Ms. Yaksic said. “They’re used to doing it one way that worked for them.”
Ms. Giffen, who was chairwoman of Cavitch’s litigation department, said the challenges female attorneys face are the same challenges women face in all business — juggling home life, work life and family life.
As female attorneys in management positions at a medium-size Cleveland law firm, Ms. Giffen and Ms. Kaminski, a former Cavitch board of directors member, said they are trying to be leaders in the community by branching out on their own in an area very few women practice.
Displayed with Permission of Crain’s Cleveland Business.
Copyright Crain Communications Inc. 2004.