Jill Felkins on Forward Together – Advancing Women’s Initiatives in the Legal Field

Jill Felkins

Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with Jill Felkins, the managing shareholder of the Segal McCambridge Chicago Office to discuss Forward Together, the firm’s women’s initiative. In addition to founding Forward Together, Felkins is a member of the firm’s executive committee and its diversity, equity & inclusion committee.

AALM: Tell us about Forward Together.

JF: Forward Together is our firm’s women’s initiative. I started the program in 2020 after attending a conference that featured a panel about women’s initiatives in law firms of all sizes. Forward Together aims to support our female attorneys in their personal and professional development through mentorship, networking, and educational programming. The initiative is important because it provides a platform for our female attorneys to build a community of support and address the unique challenges of being a woman in the legal profession.

AALM: Since starting Forward Together, what improvements have you seen in your firm?

JF: Our Forward Together programming has received great feedback from our female attorneys. Since the program’s inception, four female attorneys have been elevated to shareholder status, and two female attorneys have been elevated to senior shareholder status. Five lateral female shareholders have joined the firm as well. For the first time in the firm’s history, two female attorneys serve on the firm’s executive committee.

AALM: Are there other industry initiatives that have been impactful?

JF: One impactful and meaningful industry initiative is the Mansfield Rule. The program is designed to increase inclusivity, diversity, and access to leadership in law firms. Segal McCambridge is in the midst of the Mansfield Certification process and plans to be certified in 2024.

AALM: How are you measuring change in your organization and the industry as a whole?

JF: Within our firm, we are measuring change in conjunction with the Mansfield Certification process by tracking those considered for hiring, elevation to shareholder status, and leadership positions within the firm. Our diversity equity & inclusion committee stays abreast of change within the industry and has a direct pipeline to the firm’s executive committee to inform them about awareness and make recommendations.

AALM: Are you optimistic that more work can be accomplished regarding gender parity in the legal industry?

JF: Yes! Law firms are taking diversity initiatives seriously. Just as importantly, so are our clients. With both firms and clients pushing for gender parity, I am optimistic that the legal community can succeed in achieving diversity that is reflective of the communities we serve.

AALM: Describe some of the mentorship opportunities you offer. Do you have any great success stories to share?

JF: Segal McCambridge has a firmwide mentorship program as well as the Forward Together mentorship program. The firmwide program pairs associates and shareholders from across our 14 offices. The Forward Together mentorship program offers an additional mentoring opportunity for our female associates, who each get paired with a female shareholder. A success story I am most proud of is my own mentorship of current shareholder Mandy Kolodkin. I mentored Mandy since she was a first-year associate—first on the substance of law and becoming a skilled attorney, and then on the business of law and how to develop her brand inside and outside of Segal McCambridge. Mandy was identified early on as a rising star at Segal McCambridge. She opened the firm’s Indianapolis office in 2021 and became a shareholder this year. Her success is a true testament to what can be achieved when a law firm invests in an attorney’s growth—and that attorney, in turn, invests in the future of the law firm.

AALM: What kind of initiatives and goals are discussed in leadership workshops?

JF: Forward Together programming spans a wide range of topics that are of interest to the women participating in the initiative. Career development programs include business development workshops and presentations on paving a path to partnership. Forward Together also recognizes the impact that an attorney’s personal growth has on her professional development. To that end, Forward Together has also offered programming on nutrition, work-life balance, financial planning, and even yoga classes!

AALM: Who were some of the women who inspired you to want to achieve great things?

JF: All of the female shareholders at Segal McCambridge that came before me inspired me. They provided proof that a path to success and leadership was attainable at Segal McCambridge. My mother also inspired me from a very young age. She is my biggest cheerleader and has always made me believe there is no ceiling to my accomplishments.

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