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Lessons from the ABA Women in Litigation Conference

Published: Feb 05, 2024

 Diversity       Education       Grad School       Law       
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Pictured above: Some of the MoloLamken team attending the conference: (from left) Lois Ahn, Lauren Weinstein, Jennifer Doran, Jenn Schubert, Catherine Martinez, Swara Saraiya, and Alex Eynon.

On the first day of November, my colleagues at MoloLamken LLP and I flew to San Diego. While a cross-country work trip might not sound particularly noteworthy (especially for a firm with a nationwide docket), this one stood out for at least two reasons. First, nearly every female lawyer at my firm—from partners with ten-year tenures to associates like me with just a few months under our belts—made the same trek. Second, our trip was not for a spree of depositions or a trial, but to attend the American Bar Association’s Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference. MoloLamken sponsored our attendance—as well as the conference—and encouraged all of us to attend.

Those of us fortunate enough to have attended this conference can attest to its value. Over the course of three days, I and hundreds of other litigators learned from experienced practitioners, judges, and professional mediators on a broad array of topics. The programs taught practical skills—like how to cinch a pitch or make a compelling opening statement to a jury. Speakers tailored their advice for the audience, sharing anecdotes or tips informed by their experiences litigating as women.  

One judge, for example, shared that she attributed her success as a trial lawyer to remaining mindful of how her audience likely perceived her, dressing for and playing the part the judge and jury expected. But, she cautioned, doing so does not require you to sacrifice your own sense of self. The key is authenticity, which comes with preparation and practice.

The conference also provided a special opportunity to bond with my colleagues. Although we connect through the chimes of Teams chats and the chatter of in-person and Zoom meetings that punctuate our practice, those connections grew deeper over the three days we spent together. We also built professional relationships with our assigned conference mentors and mentees as well as other attendees during networking sessions, dinners, and group explorations of San Diego. Weeks later, I find myself feeling even more grateful for those relationships.

Building Skills, Building a Network

A main focus of the conference was the progress of women in litigation. While strides have been made in recent years, leading legal publications report that, across the profession, women continue to fare worse on nearly every material metric—from in-court opportunities, to pay equity, to promotion to partnership or the bench. Facing those challenges effectively, I’ve learned, requires not only the support of your law firm, but also the understanding that you are in charge of your career. It is ultimately up to me to become the best lawyer I can be and have others know about my expertise. 

Speakers and my colleagues consistently said the best way to develop litigation skills is to simply litigate. That has been true for me: I learned more from taking my first deposition last year than from the dozen depositions I’ve second-chaired. My prior experiences helping other litigators were instructive, but they did not teach me how to control a witness or gain admissions on my own. 

Experiential programs are another avenue for skill development. MoloLamken provides every associate training through the National Institute for Trial Advocacy’s deposition and trial practice courses, which emphasize learning by doing. Our firm holds firmwide training summits where partners and senior associates lead practical sessions teaching an array of litigation skills—from Supreme Court brief writing to cross examination—that are informed by their own experiences. And this summer, MoloLamken will offer that same caliber of training to rising 3L law students who are selected to participate in our inaugural weeklong MoloLamken Advocacy Academy.

Having a solid skills foundation is crucial, but it’s not the only way to build a reputation. Speakers and others at the conference explained how they have developed their professional reputations by attending and speaking at conferences, joining professional organizations like the ABA, or publishing articles. Those things allow a lawyer to demonstrate expertise and can lead to business down the road. 

At our firm, we say we are advocates first and subject-matter specialists second. We believe having a broad practice promotes creativity, which often is the most valuable thing an advocate can bring to a matter. That said, we expect our attorneys to have an area of concentration to give us depth. Engagement in organizations like the ABA allows us to showcase our subject-matter expertise. But it also lets us build on that by exchanging ideas and sharing experiences with other people—men and women—who have similar interests in the law.

Awareness, Flexibility, and Support

Throughout the conference, lawyers shared stories about the importance of awareness, flexibility, and support. First, firms and other employers need to be aware of the challenges that women, and men, can face in balancing a career and family. Second, they need to be flexible in helping people address those challenges to get the most from their talent. Third, team members facing challenges must feel supported. It’s not enough that a firm may be willing to make accommodations. Team members need to know that it’s okay to take advantage of those accommodations, and that they will be supported in doing so.

Conference-goers also agreed that a key form of support is mentorship. In my experience, that has happened in equal measure through formal and informal relationships. My partner mentor, Sara Margolis, has helped strategize opportunities for stand-up experiences and recommended me for opportunities. 

Other partners I have worked for have been equally important mentors: Lucas Walker, for example, has spent hours providing feedback on my writing, making me a better advocate on the page. Even senior partners Steve Molo and Jeff Lamken have provided valuable guidance on my work product and business development efforts. I recognize that it’s my obligation to provide that same mentorship to those following me. 

It may not have been necessary to fly across the country to think about these issues. But hitting the pause button for a short while and gathering with a group of like-minded women certainly helped develop my perspective and, I believe, my career. I look forward to the opportunity to do so again.

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