Cravath’s New Chief Could Represent Tipping Point For Female Leadership

Source: Law 360

By Aebra Coe

Cravath Swaine & Moore LLP is by no means the first BigLaw firm to elect a woman to lead the partnership, but experts say news that longtime partner Faiza J. Saeed has broken that final barrier of law firm hierarchy could hasten others to follow suit given the Wall Street firm's status as a trendsetter.The white shoe firm, which often sets the benchmark for BigLaw compensation, seems to have a knack for starting movements, last month prompting an arms race among its peers when it raised associate starting salaries to $180,000.

While Cravath is following in the footsteps of these firms, a move such by an "old-line" law firm to put a woman in charge could be the tipping point for its peers that have not yet made the leap, not only because of Cravath's status in the industry as a trendsetter but also because it could offer firms a competitive advantage, said Janet Markoff, a partner at legal consultancy Major, Lindsey & Africa.

Many white shoe firms like Cravath have begun to realize that, while pay may be paramount for recruitment and retaining talent, there are other intangibles that can give firms a leg up in the fierce lateral market — and one of those factors is diversity, Markoff said.

Having more women in leadership roles could lead to increased recruitment and retention of talented female lawyers who see more examples of women who have risen to the top, and realize there truly is room for advancement, Markoff said.

"We have to look at trailblazing women who have succeeded in the, if you will, 'male's world,' where there's cronyism," she said. "And if they've been able to build a business and be successful and become a leader of such an elite firm, I think that can help some of the younger associates say, 'She's done it, maybe there's a path for me, too.'"

Read more of this feature at Law360.

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