Female Law Firm Leaders in Small Markets: Q&A with Angela Russell

Angela RussellThere are a growing number of managing partners or COOs of established Baltimore law firms and women leading solo or small firm practices. Angela Russell is one of them.

Angela Russell is an experienced trial lawyer with a 95% success rate. Her clients and colleagues agree that she is a confident, skilled advocate. Russell, a former marathon runner, has the perfect combination of grit, mental toughness, empathy and dynamism that contribute to her success. The regional managing attorney of the Baltimore office of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, LLP, Russell represents professionals, professional corporations and other commercial entities in claims that are filed against them. She is called upon to represent hospitals, physician groups, individual physicians, attorneys and other professionals in malpractice lawsuits. She also represents companies and individuals in construction claims and handles general commercial litigation.

The nearly 800-attorney law firm of Wilson Elser has 32 offices in the U.S. and another in London. Since its founding in 1978, the firm has been known as a go-to firm for defense litigation. The firm's growing Baltimore office has 11 lawyers in its prime downtown office location.

Q&A

How long have you been an attorney with Wilson Elser?

I began working with Wilson Elser as a non-equity partner in 2001. Before that, I worked with regional Minnesota and D.C. law firms. I joined Wilson Elser's D.C. office with a group of 10 lawyers from my prior firm. We were looking for a larger platform and chose Wilson Elser because the firm's business model was compatible with our practice. We saw a significant opportunity for growth in D.C. Metropolitan region and the opportunity to become part of the firm's expanding national footprint. After joining the D.C. office, the firm's McLean office was formed and the Baltimore office expanded.

What is special about your firm that has kept you there for 16 years?

Wilson Elser has provided me with real opportunities for professional development. The firm also encourages and supports the efforts of all partners to develop an individual business portfolio. This culture helps to foster continued growth of the firm as a whole. I recognized early on, particularly as a woman and a minority lawyer, that identifying and cultivating business opportunities is a critical factor to success. Over the years, I have worked to build my practice by developing strong relationships with colleagues, clients and industry professionals while using the tremendous resources that Wilson Elser has to offer. The firm's unwavering support enabled me to achieve equity partner status several years ago.

Wilson Elser has also given me increasing opportunities to have an impact from a leadership perspective. As of January 1, 2017, I am a member of the firm's Executive Committee. I also serve on the non-equity partner compensation committee. In about 2009, the firm asked me to become the managing partner of the Baltimore office. I was the first African American and the third woman partner in the firm to manage an office. At the time, I was one of only a few non-equity partners with such management responsibilities.

You are a leader in diversity at Wilson Elser. What initiatives have made a difference for the firm?

I became the chair of the firm's Diversity & Inclusion Committee in 2010. Through our various diversity initiatives, we have exposed the firm to new and different programs on a local and national level. We actively seek to expand opportunities for diverse and women lawyers. The journey toward an ever more diverse and inclusive firm is ongoing, but we are pleased to have commitment from the highest levels of leadership.

One of the firm's ongoing initiatives is Diversity & Inclusion Day, which happens in the fall of each year. Every office in the firm participates, and we have a national diversity and inclusion speaker whose message is telecast to all offices in the firm. Our speaker has spoken on topics such as implicit bias and generational diversity. For Diversity & Inclusion Day, each office is also asked to engage in activities to increase awareness diversity and inclusion issues. Lunch generally consists of dishes that reflect a variety of cultures or generations.

The firm has also formed a Diversity & Inclusion subcommittee named Women Attorneys Valued and Empowered Committee (WAVE). WAVE promotes a number of initiatives to attract, develop and promote women in the firm. The activities include a speaker series that addresses topics that are of concern to women (and other individuals in the firm). WAVE also has a mentorship program. Wilson Elser is recognized nationally as a top firm for women in BigLaw.

How has your work life changed since you became the managing partner of the firm's Baltimore office in 2010?

My responsibilities have increased significantly since I became managing partner of the Baltimore office. I am charged with developing and maintaining my own business while making sure that the other attorneys in the office are successful. I am responsible for ensuring that the professionals in the Baltimore office are productive, that they have appropriate support and that they maintain a high level of professionalism. I serve as a mentor to our newer colleagues and work with our lawyers on fulfilling their professional aspirations. The focus is on fostering an environment where learning is ongoing and succession is seamless – so that we are able to continue to offer excellent service to our clients.

What has been the greatest reward in your career?

Before I became managing partner of the Baltimore office, I was the hiring partner for the DC Metro region. It has been extremely gratifying to watch associates that I hired as law school graduates grow, develop and become leaders in the firm. Some of these individuals are managing their own books of business. Equally gratifying is the success I have had in representing my clients to achieve successful pre-suit and pre-trial resolution of cases and, when necessary, successfully defending them at trial.

How would you define your career in 5 words or less?

LEADERSHIP WITH PURPOSE AND COMPASSION. It's hard to define my career in 5 words or less, but I view it as an ongoing journey toward improvement as a business colleague, client advocate and leader.

What advice would you give to newer lawyers who desire to become a partner in a law firm?

Get out of your office. Meet new people. Accept challenges as they are presented to you. Build your brand from the minute you graduate. Extend yourself. Develop relationships with your peers in law and in business so that as you and your peers advance in your respective careers, you will be in a position to help each other. Remember: You may not master everything at once, so pace yourself and give yourself permission to be human.

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Randi Lewis, Law Firm RecruiterRandi S. Lewis is a Director at Major, Lindsey & Africa, based in Baltimore. Randi specializes in recruiting and placing law firm partners and associates in Maryland and Richmond, Virginia, and partners in Philadelphia.

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