For the third year, InsideCounsel celebrated the empowerment of women in the legal community at the annual Transformative Leadership Awards. The annual awards dinner, which honors general counsel and law firm partners who have demonstrated a commitment to diversity and advancing women in corporate law, took place at Chicago’s Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel. Hundreds of in-house counsel, law firm lawyers, legal consultants and other members of the legal community attended.
The packed room honored the six Transformative Leadership Awards winners at this year’s event. Attendees from legal departments, law firms and other related endeavors were on hand to recognize the achievements of the general counsel and women law firm partners who have excelled both in mentoring and promoting women to new levels of success, and working to increase the economic empowerment of women in law.
Many of the award winners were humbled and touched by the honor. They spoke glowingly about the people who helped them in their careers to get to the point where they are today, and put them in a position to pay the favor forward. Additionally, almost all of the winners made a point to note that this cause is so meaningful to them that it’s practically second nature.
“It’s difficult to receive an award for doing something you love doing so much,” said Anastasia D. Kelly Award recipient Janet Langford Kelly, senior vice president, legal, general counsel and corporate secretary of ConocoPhillips.
At the end of the evening, there was a special tribute to Transformative Leadership Awards Co-chair and Allstate Insurance Co. EVP, GC & Chief Legal Officer Michele Coleman Mayes, who will no longer emcee the event.
Mayes was praised by SNR Denton Partner Kara Baysinger and Adrienne Logan, associate general counsel of Godiva Chocolatier Inc., who said Mayes “challenged me to think bigger and see things in a much more bold way.”
“If you didn’t get the memo, nobody lives forever,” Mayes said, “so make sure you leave behind a path that’s worth following.”
On the following pages, InsideCounsel shares highlights from the 3rd Annual Transformative Leadership Awards. For all the stuff we couldn't squeeze into the magazine, check out our online coverage here.
Anastasia D. Kelly Award
Winner: Janet Langford Kelly, senior vice president, legal, general counsel and corporate secretary of ConocoPhillips Co.
Honors a woman GC who is committed to advancing female leadership
Winner: Lawrie Demorest, partner at Alston & Bird
Recognizes a woman partner who manages more than $2.5 million of business
Pamela L. Carter Award
Winner: Vicki O’Meara, executive vice president and president of Pitney Bowes Services Solutions
Given to a former woman GC who currently heads a major business unit or public agency
Economic Empowerment Firm-wide Policies Award
Winner: SNR Denton
Given to a law firm that has made significant strides in advancing women
Mary Ann Hynes Pioneer Award
Winner: Christine Edwards, partner at Winston & Strawn
Given to a woman in law who is a catalyst for change and has transformed the status quo
Thomas A. Mars Pathmaker Award
Winner: Thomas Sabatino, executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Walgreen Co.
Presented to a law firm or in-house leader who has paved the way for the empowerment of women and minority attorneys
Q&A with TLA winner Janet Langford Kelly
During her 30-year legal career, Janet Langford Kelly has been in top legal and compliance positions at some of the nation’s largest corporations: Sara Lee Corp., Kellogg Co. and Kmart Corp. She joined ConocoPhillips Co. in 2006, where she currently is senior vice president, legal, general counsel and corporate secretary.
At the 2012 Transformative Leadership Awards dinner, she was honored with the Anastasia D. Kelly Award for her pathmaking role as a woman in the corporate legal world. In an interview with InsideCounsel, she talked about the value of mentoring and the challenges women in law continue to face.
In the course of your career, did you have mentors who helped you along the way?
Oh, definitely. They are my mentors today. Two senior partners at my first law firm [Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in New York] took a deep interest in me and my career. I left the law firm when I got married and moved to Chicago. But they stayed in touch, continued to offer advice and continued to keep me in mind for things. A good mentor is absolutely valuable.
What do you feel is your role as a mentor to other women in law?
A mentor, like a good coach, is fully in your corner but demands excellence of you. All of us have days that are less than our best days, and for people to know that I am going to be honest about shortcomings and offer to help them overcome those issues and not ignore them is a big part of my role as a mentor. It’s like the goal of being a mother: It’s not to have children; it’s to have adults when they grow up. It’s the same being a mentor: You want people to ultimately graduate from needing you but not from liking you.
What are some specific ways you mentor young women lawyers?
I have taken young women aside and said, “You just don’t dress like that” because it was inappropriate and a variance from the way they wanted to be seen. I have told people they should go to a writing class. But I also have been amazed at the incredibly creative and intelligent things that people do, and I am quick to tell them that, too. Part of a mentor’s role is also putting people forward, so when assignments are being discussed at a senior level, their names comes up. Everyone brings their favorites into a room in terms of who should get assignments, and a mentor brings the people they are working with into the room.
Is there still a ways to go in terms of women being accepted in the legal world?
Oh, yes. I think it is hardest for young women. People have so many different reactions to them that are not just about their competence and what they can bring to the legal situation at hand. They do and maybe will always struggle a little more to be taken seriously at the outset.
What is needed to continue the progress women have made in law, particularly in-house?
What needs to happen is an increase in density. There were studies at Harvard showing that 15 percent is the tipping point. If you have less than 15 percent women in a situation, their distinct view as women doesn’t come up. If you get more than 15 percent, they are comfortable enough to act like women.
One of the issues for women in law is balancing family and career. What are your thoughts on that?
I worry about how we get law firms to increase the number of senior women because it is so tough to have order in your life in a law firm. In a corporation, your hours may not be less, but they are more predictable. When I went in-house [at Sara Lee], my kids were young, and predictability of hours was something I highly valued. It is in the best interest of corporate America and law firm America to figure out ways to get women through those years when their children are young because those years don’t last very long. You have a highly trained professional who just needs a little flexibility for a while.