Courtney Capute, partner in charge in Venable’s Baltimore office, has spent her entire career at the firm. She started in the real estate practice group and found a home there. Transactional law fit her skill set and personality, particularly after she came to appreciate how real property and zoning issues could drive the development of a neighborhood when she and her husband purchased a rowhouse in Baltimore’s Fells Point. She became a nonequity partner in 1996 and converted to equity partner shortly thereafter. Her practice is multifaceted; she represents hotel brands and other businesses in the acquisition and sale of hotel properties and in the negotiation of their hotel management agreements. She also represents CMBS special services lenders in loan restructurings and defaults. She is a member of the Venable Expansion Committee and co-chairs Venable’s Hospitality Industry Sector Initiative.
Who helped you the most on your career path?
Jim Wright, my former practice group chair, helped me most. Working with someone of his experience, caliber and character was invaluable to me. Jim showed me the importance of valuing and respecting everyone’s contributions. He was skilled at taking the long view and putting each member of our team in a position to succeed, and as a result, Jim generated loyalty and inspired people to do their best work. His philosophy had nothing to do with gender; it was about respecting people for what they brought to the table. As a result, Jim created a collaborative atmosphere.
Were there any moments early in your career that surprised you in terms of how you were treated? What struggles did you encounter and how did you overcome those roadblocks in your career?
I’ve been fortunate in my career; I have not been confronted with gender-related roadblocks, and I don’t think the challenges I’ve faced were different from those encountered by any working parent, man or woman. Everyone has responsibilities to other people in their lives and those responsibilities place demands on one’s time. I’m fortunate to have a very supportive spouse who celebrates my successes. Needless to say, law is a demanding career, and beyond that, the challenges can be self-imposed. You’ve got to take ownership and figure out how you are going to accomplish your objectives. Being self-aware is important because it will help you to better understand your strengths and overcome your weaknesses. Throughout my career, I have been given opportunities to serve on committees and to prove myself. Moments that surprised me had more to do with the level of responsibility I was given, which was both empowering and, at times, terrifying, but it taught me a lot. One of the challenges of a large law firm is making sure we recognize the skills as well as the weaknesses of our young lawyers so we tap into their tremendous potential and put them in a position to succeed. The percentage of lifers at Venable really speaks to that; my own experience at this firm has always been positive.
What has been your greatest challenge as the partner in charge of the Baltimore office?
My greatest challenge as the partner in charge of Venable’s Baltimore office is to find ways to encourage greater community engagement and to actively promote our office and our capabilities while still maintaining my practice. What’s been nice for me is that at this point in my career, this leadership position draws on a different skill set. It presents a whole new set of challenges that are different from representing clients. I am always trying to figure out ways to encourage greater engagement between our young attorneys in the legal community and the community at large. We actively encourage nonprofit board participation and currently have Baltimore attorneys who are on more than 120 boards in the community. My personal participation on boards has been incredibly satisfying. For example, my work with Turn Around Inc., an organization that counsels survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, has been very gratifying. My experience has been that with almost any nonprofit work, you feel great about the difference you are making and walk away with skills you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
How important is it to Venable to have women in leadership?
Very important. Whether it is gender or ethnic diversity, everyone brings a different perspective to the table, which is critical to any organization. You can create a better outcome if you have more perspectives in the mix to get you there. And the importance of having role models should not be underestimated. Because the advancement of women in leadership positions is of great importance to Venable, we formed an affinity group called WAVe (Women Attorneys at Venable), which is a diverse group of women attorneys and firm professionals whose mission is to improve the rate of retention, promotion and advancement of women attorneys within the firm and to increase the number and strength of women attorney applicants. What’s more, since 2015, Venable has been a member of the prestigious Women in Law Empowerment Forum, a national group “dedicated to assisting women in law to assume leadership roles within the NLJ 250 and Fortune 1000 legal departments and within their respective communities.”
How do you or your organization help women advance in the workplace and the legal profession?
First, I respect the individual, whether man or woman. I try to be attentive to what’s going on and make sure everyone is treated fairly and that skill sets aren’t being overlooked—I strive to match skill sets with tasks. And where people do not have an advocate, I try to be one. Second, within the organization, our WAVe program is terrific, and I enthusiastically support the group’s efforts. It’s valuable for women in the organization and helps them navigate situations by heightened self-awareness.
What advice would you give to young lawyers who desire to become a partner in a law firm?
Grab every opportunity that comes your way. You still have to set priorities and stick with them, but it’s really about taking advantage of prospects that are put before you or that you’ve created for yourself. Understand from the outset what it takes to succeed as a lawyer; figure out what it takes to be a partner and pursue that goal.