Briggs And Morgan: Women At The Table

Briggs and Morgan
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Ranking among The National Law Journal 500 as one of the nation’s largest law firms, Briggs and Morgan P.A. has been a prominent name in business law and litigation services for 135 years. Its size and reputation for robust legal representation, however, is no deterrent to the firm’s progressive culture and spirit of inclusion.

Women are welcomed, integrated and developed here. Since roughly 50 percent of law graduates are women, there is a concerted effort to hire, retain and promote women lawyers throughout the firm. Briggs and Morgan is exceeding national averages, with 35 percent women partners, versus the average 21.5 percent published by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, and 38 percent women equity shareholders, versus the average 18 percent.

Briggs and Morgan consistently attracts and retains some of the finest talent in the legal profession. A few of the firm’s extraordinary women voiced their thoughts about what makes Briggs’ culture so exceptional.

Nancy C. Aiken is vice president, director and shareholder at Briggs with more than 25 years of practice experience in the areas of mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures; general corporate and business counseling; financing, securities and private equity; and Hart-Scott-Rodino filings and pre-merger clearance. Aiken describes herself as a “boomerang,” who first joined Briggs as a summer associate, later spent five years as senior counsel for Koch Industries Inc. then returned to the firm as a shareholder in 2000.

“Lots of opportunities have been made available to me here,” she said. “I don’t think it’s because I’m a woman. It’s been because they felt I could do the job. Over the years, my role has changed a lot. People mentor you and then at some point you look around and you’re the most senior person in the room. Now I’m involved in a lot of committees and recruiting, training and mentoring young men and women. It’s really fulfilling, and I am surrounded by colleagues here who are also my friends.”

Kari S. Berman is an influential litigator and counselor whose 20-plus years of practice encompasses a broad range of business issues, including all types of contractual disputes, environmental issues, employment law, ERISA, SEC litigation, products liability, tort claims and appellate representation. She spent the first decade of her career practicing in a boutique litigation firm she founded and associated with her father’s well-known practice, then joined Briggs in 2005. She is a shareholder and member of the business litigation section.

“As a woman litigator with an aggressive personality, I have been supported here for who I am, and my practice has thrived,” Berman said. “It speaks well of Briggs that they are not only willing to accept someone who is unconventional, but also willing to cultivate her practice. No one is afraid to put women in charge and say, ‘Go for it!’ The women with the power are open to teaching others and genuinely want their colleagues to do well.”

Kristine Boylan is a shareholder and an intellectual property attorney with nearly 20 years of experience in the law. She practices principally in the areas of trademark, trade dress, licensing, intellectual property litigation, copyrights, trade secrets, patents and related matters. Since 1998, Boylan has appeared in courts, in mediations and in arbitrations to enforce and defend her clients’ needs. She is a qualified neutral under Minnesota Practice Rule 114, and an appointed neutral on the International Trademark Association Panel of Neutrals. She has a practical and bottom-line approach, specifically in handling concerns with trademark infringement (online and in social media).

“Briggs and Morgan has a great breadth and depth, and a sustainable practice model where I can meet a variety of different client needs. It’s been really fun for me. The women before me at Briggs have paved the path for me and others. My experience so far has been great.”

Anissa M. Mediger came to Briggs just last year from a firm of 30 attorneys. She is a shareholder who practices locally and nationally primarily in the areas of products liability, mass toxic torts, environmental litigation, insurance defense, and construction defect litigation. She is a frequent speaker about toxic torts and has spoken as a panelist at the ABA toxic tort and environmental law seminars, DRI and EECMA, including presenting on evidentiary requirements of product and material testing.

“When I first came to Briggs, I interviewed with Nancy, who assured me there was a place at the table here for strong women,” Mediger shared. “I was a bit concerned that I was going to be lost in a sea of 150 attorneys, but that has been far from the case. The firm has done everything to promote my practice, through marketing efforts, speaking engagements and traveling nationally to promote our business. My impression is that there is a conscious effort to get women out there. They see the value in having women at the table.”

Fostering the Next Generation of Leaders

The success and character of any organization starts at the top. Ann Rainhart, the firm’s executive director, joined Briggs a year ago after the managing partners concluded they needed leadership from a nonpracticing lawyer to help foster the next generation of leaders. Rainhart works with firm leadership on strategy and operations and oversees the firm’s administrative departments.

“I’m a lawyer, but I’ve spent my career in operations, partnering together with attorneys to run an effective and efficient business,” Rainhart explained. “I was thrilled to join Briggs and Morgan. I’ve spent my entire career learning how to effectively lead and manage the business of a law firm, and I bring an outside perspective. I think our managing partner, Greg Stenmoe, brings a fantastic perspective on what a healthy workplace looks like. He is a dynamic leader in both hiring and succession planning.”

From the time a new hire joins the firm, they receive help in charting a deliberate path to success. As a result, the firm enjoys excellent retention of its associates. “We understand the experience of coming from law school to develop a practice from associate to partnership to retirement. The dynamic mentorship that our associates receive develops good lawyers and sponsors them in making their next career move. We make sure that associates are known within the firm and have direct client relationships.”

Rainhart said there is surprisingly little hierarchy in the firm, and decision makers move nimbly to implement new ideas. “We look at each lawyer as an individual who knows their practice best. Management is here to support that. The way our management committee leads here, we are looking for good ideas. It’s not the person with the loudest voice we are listening for. We provide a space where everyone can bounce ideas around, then provide support for bringing the best ideas to life.”

“There have been so many negative things written about women in the legal profession,” she concluded. “But we have a different story here. I think we have a dynamic culture. We want our clients to know how thoughtful we are about these issues. We want new students out of law school to want to come here and stay here. We’re doing great work. My first priority is to clear the way so that people can do the work they love to do.”

Committed to Everyone’s Success

Lauren E. Lonergan is a shareholder at Briggs and head of the litigation department. She possesses the knowledge and poise that come with more than 30 years as a notable practitioner in the areas of insurance coverage litigation, employment and ERISA litigation, business litigation and food industry matters. Her colleagues respond to her leadership not only because they respect her expertise, but also because she inspires them with her downto- earth management style and genuine interest in everyone’s success.

“One of our priorities is to make sure that women have the opportunity to build their own practice, to get high quality work they can leverage into experience they can sell either as a rainmaker or as a highly skilled specialist.”

Lonergan came to Briggs early in her career after practicing at two boutique litigation firms. She reflected on the changes that have occurred over the last two decades, commenting that the opportunities available to women have evolved in a positive direction. “The firm has been very supportive of me over the years, but I’ve seen a change in the practice and how women may more easily succeed today than they could 20 years ago. As the firm has looked at strategic options for growth, we have come to realize that one of our greatest strengths is our very large group of successful women lawyers. These are not just a couple of successful senior women, but it runs the gamut from young women who are superstars in the making to our most senior shareholders. It really is different from other firms of our size in our market. Our women are uniformly strong and successful.”

She emphasized that the firm’s rigorous work ethic does not exclude flexibility. “We’re not very formulaic here, and we want people to be able to build a practice that fits their individual needs. If they want to leave at 4 p.m. to go to their kids’ soccer games, we want them to do that. We have the usual policies here, but we focus on what is right for the individual. The woman lawyer I work with the most is part time. She is so amazing. If she could only give me 10 hours a week, I’d be happy having her help.”

In a merit-based culture, gender and seniority cease to dictate case assignments, eligibility for promotion or rate of pay. “We care that you’re a very good lawyer and can do what needs to get done. You can go as far as you want to go. And we try hard to pay based on merit and productivity rather than seniority. As a result, we are attracting a lot of laterals who are underappreciated and underpaid in other firms.” Lonergan gives credit to her male colleagues who are enthusiastic mentors of young attorneys in the firm. “Many of our mentoring relationships are not formal, but through strength and willingness, strong relationships have developed. If you can deliver service to our clients, they will help you.”

Ultimately, Lonergan said that her job is to help everyone in her group succeed. “One of our priorities is to make sure that women have the opportunity to build their own practice, to get high quality work they can leverage into experience they can sell either as a rainmaker or as a highly skilled specialist. You really need one of those niches to have better control over your life to be with your kids or do whatever it is you need to do. I think this firm is ahead of the curve.”

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