Here’s a milestone for me: the first three partners I placed this year have all been women. And they all had portable practices. While it’s been a long time coming and there’s still a long way to go, I thought it might be interesting to poll some of the most successful women attorneys in Arizona and see how they have been able to achieve success.
Where are they? Initially, and still in large part, they are working in-house and in many cases insisting that women are not only part of the team working on their matters, but are given credit for the role they have played on behalf of the client. The contribution of female general counsel, often the source of referrals, has been recognized as a great influence in the advancement of women in law firms.
The women I spoke with almost all cited a particular mentor and at least started in an environment where they felt encouraged or where someone greatly influenced them. Early great mentors were John P. Frank, a partner with Lewis & Roca who could count among his many successful mentees, Mary Schroeder, now a senior judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and former Gov. Janet Napolitano, who advanced to a successful career in politics. Interestingly, former Arizona Chief Justice Charles “Bud” Jones, was cited by both Roxana “Roxie” Bacon, now retired after a successful career as an immigration attorney and Nicole Stanton, currently managing partner at Quarles & Brady for influencing the direction of their careers.
Patricia “Trish” Refo, a partner with Snell & Wilmer and in line to be president of the ABA, was encouraged early in her career by a senior partner to join the ABA and then mentored through the process of becoming active in the association. “The ABA has been my gateway to meeting lawyers and potential clients from across the country, and has been a substantial source of business for me over the years.”
Stephanie Quincy, a partner with Quarles & Brady, also gave credit for her early development to the law firm of Snell & Wilmer and its commitment to developing young associates. “The firm took great pride in its long-term relationships with clients, and worked hard to make sure that young attorneys were not trying to be a ‘flash in the pan’ by taking on clients that they shouldn’t. It was a wonderful place to learn how not just to practice law, but to build a career.”
Rebecca Burnham, a partner with Greenberg Traurig, thought that selecting Phoenix as the place to begin practicing law was the “seminal event” for her career. “In my era, women were still in the minority in law school and ‘the path’ was anything but clear. My focus was on identifying a geographic locale where talent and a strong work ethic would likely be the principal determinants of success. Not only did Arizona have a history of allowing women to succeed but, in the late 1970s, Phoenix appeared to be poised to ‘blow off the map’ growth-wise which I figured would give rise to good professional opportunities. Fortunately, that turned out to be the case and, along with many others, I was able to ride that wave to an interesting and successful career.”
Another characteristic of these successful women is that they all work in a practice area that they enjoy and find meaningful. Stephanie Quincy felt that she was fortunate to know early in her career that she wanted to practice employment law. “It takes time and work to build a practice, and it really helps to have a passion for what you are doing.”
Roxie Bacon felt her passion for immigration law came directly from her earlier experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chile. “I cannot imagine being successful in my career if I had not found an area of law that I believe in heart, mind and soul.”
Passion and enthusiasm for their law practices has enabled these successful women to work hard at their practices and stay focused on their careers. “Our profession is for marathoners, not sprinters, and unless you care deeply about what you do, you won’t be able to sustain your energy, focus or motivation over the decades it takes to be successful” says Roxie Bacon.
What advice would they offer to younger women looking to build a practice? Trish Refo said, “Don’t wait for someone to offer you an opportunity. Make opportunities happen for yourself – even if you are turned down sometimes.”
“Keep your eyes on the goal, don’t sweat the small stuff and be willing to take risks,” says Rebecca Burnham.
Roxie Bacon offered, “When you do something, do it at your highest standard. The quality of your work in the broadest sense is critical.”
“Take charge of your career from the very first day,” says Trish Refo. “No one will ever care as much about your success as you do.”