March 24, 2020
When women help each other at work they also help themselves, strengthening a culture that welcomes women as equals, not exceptions. There is evidence to back this up. One study done at the University of La Verne found that “women, mentoring relationships among each other, provide empowerment, instill confidence, and create career-path success by providing relatable experience and advice on navigating glass barriers.”
Especially for those early in their career, “mentoring helps women ideate about what they will become,” according to Forbes. As the saying goes, sometimes you just have to see it to believe it. Below, we’ve outlined a few examples of women mentoring women in the firm.
Litigation attorneys in Big Law can face immense pressure and long hours juggling high-stakes cases and for women, often under extra pressure to balance family and a career, even more so. Miami attorneys Erin Kolmansberger, Kimberly Freedman, Melissa Gomberg, and Daniela Ferro back each other up in litigation and in life, each bringing unique assets to the rotation that make the team shine.
“We’re sort of a wolf pack,” Melissa told the American Lawyer in an article profiling their team. The Miami-based quad typically tackles one large case and several smaller cases at any given time, and “play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” they told the magazine. But the support they offer to each other extends beyond the courtroom. They stay in touch in a group chat where they share professional stories, cover each other during emergencies, and give emotional support in moments of doubt and weakness. “At no point have I ever felt my job is at risk,” Erin said. “I know they have my back.”
Of the 29 attorneys elected to Nelson Mullins’ partnership in 2020, 14 were women. Of those, many attribute career success to mentorship from other women and hope to pay it forward. “I had the opportunity to work with a couple of very successful women partners early in my career, and they were terrific role models,” said Boston partner Susan Davis.
Looking at this from the other side, New York partner Gillian Deutch is excited to enact this type of mentorship herself: “Making partner has made me feel empowered — empowered to create business, to seek speaking and writing opportunities, and to encourage other women to keep advancing in their careers.”
Atlanta associate Amy B. Cheng considers herself lucky to work with a diverse team — including partners (men and women), paralegals, and staff — who have helped her grow exponentially since she joined the firm in mid-2018. In the past year, Amy has collaborated with lead female partners Nekia Hackworth Jones and Michelle W. Johnson to handle a complex internal investigation for an Atlanta-based client.
Amy says that Michelle and Nekia’s personal and professional successes motivate her to push herself. Personally, these two women have successfully juggled the roles of being a spouse and mother. Professionally, Michelle and Nekia are both successful, well-known practitioners in their respective fields. “Their path and continued belief and support in me that I, too, can succeed inspires me to strive to be the best version of myself every day.”
Although they practice a few states away from each other, Shawtina Lewis and Anita Wallace Thomas have a mentorship connection through the firm’s High Potentials Program (HPP). “Anita was among the first to welcome me when I joined Nelson Mullins. I could not ask for a better sponsor in the High Potentials Program,” Shawtina says.
Like many of her HPP peers, Shawtina will work closely with her sponsor, an internal marketing coach, and an external executive leadership coach to affirm her personal brand and interaction style, raise her internal and external profile, develop client opportunities, and expand her knack for leadership. She’s grateful for a sponsor like Anita, whose passion for mentorship goes back to her early days at Nelson Mullins. “Anita is a very accomplished first chair trial lawyer who has also made a significant commitment to the success of women and attorneys of color at the firm,” Shawtina says.
Aside from the HPP, Shawtina has also developed connections with Baltimore partner Deborah St. Lawrence Thompson and Los Angeles partner Lisa Gibson who, like her and Anita, share a gift for litigation. “In this business, mentorship and sponsorship are invaluable,” she says. “I am lucky to work side by side with two incredibly talented, dynamic, successful litigators.”
Of course mentoring relationships among women in the workplace aren’t the only ingredients for an inclusive and diverse company culture. That also depends on a tiered commitment from all company members to willfully act on equity and fairness. But when women stretch out their hands to one another, good things follow.
These materials have been prepared for informational purposes only and are not legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.