Promising Practice Women’s Leadership Academy

Latham & Watkins

Latham & Watkins LLP

Industry: Legal

Principle II: Work Life Balance and Career Development

2014 Challenge Submission

The Women’s Leadership Academy (WLA) supports the retention, development, and progression of women at Latham & Watkins, with the ultimate goal of increasing the number of women who are its partners and leaders. The WLA was created in recognition of the unique challenges facing women in the legal industry at large and, in particular, the stagnant numbers of women in the partnership ranks and leadership positions at large law firms.

“I’ve been pleased to serve as a faculty member for both our 2013 and 2014 Academies…The goal of the Academy is empowerment, so our discussions are focused on concrete strategies for success. I value the opportunity to share, listen to, and brainstorm with our senior associates, and judge the Academy successful, not because of the number of participants, but because our associates – as well as our faculty – leave feeling empowered, uplifted, and motivated to take on the next chapter of their challenging careers.”
Ora Fisher,
Partner & Vice Chair, Silicon Valley

The firm also seeks to increase the number of women in leadership positions in the broader legal industry. To that end, the WLA provides professional development training tailored to support the advancement of women attorneys with a focus on leadership, self-promotion (both internal and external to the firm), communication, and business development skills. An important theme of the WLA is to inspire women to stay engaged in their professional development and advancement at a critical juncture in their careers where women may otherwise opt out of fast-paced careers or out of the workforce entirely.

The WLA demonstrates a significant investment in the professional development of female attorneys and engages partners and the highest levels of firm management in mentoring and training future leaders. A global program like the WLA makes a strong statement to the entire firm about its commitment to the success of all its attorneys, including female attorneys.

The program was initially created for senior associates and first launched in Spring of 2013. It has become an annual event and was held again in Spring of 2014. It has been so successful a modified version was created for women partners on a separate occasion in 2014. Attendees and faculty travel in from across offices worldwide to attend the academy together in person.

How does this model practice work?

The WLA is a two-day, in-person meeting, to which all attorneys at a specified level of seniority (based on number of years as a practicing attorney) are invited. Design and implementation of the meeting are the primary responsibility of the firm’s Diversity Leadership Committee and Training and Career Enhancement Committee with input provided by the firm’s Executive Committee.

The training sessions are led by a combination of Latham partners and outside speakers who are experts in their respective fields. Some past topics covered a) How to identify one’s strengths and develop an “authentic” leadership style to b) How to keep people’s attention in the digital age and improve one’s presentation skills. Sessions are interactive, to enhance the quality of learning and also to provide opportunities for attorneys to learn from both their peers and from more senior attorneys in attendance.

In addition to the designated speakers at the WLA, a number of other partners and firm leaders attend the meetings. Firm leaders include representatives from the highest levels of management, including Executive Committee members, Office Managing Partners, department and practice group leaders, and global chairs of various firm committees. The active involvement of the firm’s successful leaders demonstrates the firm’s commitment to the advancement of women and also provides women attorneys with direct access to firm leadership, offering valuable insight and role models. In addition, the WLA provides an opportunity to build a sense of community among women lawyers across the vast firm landscape and enables valuable mentoring relationships.

Formal surveys are distributed at the end of the meeting to collect extensive feedback from the attendees on the program. The results are used to revise the agenda for the next program to maximize its efficacy.

How can I adopt this model practice in my workplace?

“Attending an academy like this would’ve absolutely influenced my decision about my career path, so I am thrilled to help provide such a valuable opportunity to our current female associates.”
Lauren Clairicia,
Director of Global Attorney Diversity and Training

The WLA can be duplicated by other businesses and tailored to their particular needs. A number of sessions focus on building skills that would translate outside a law firm setting to any type of business, and the ability to empower and inspire women is relevant to every business. Critical components of planning include the following:

• Obtain buy-in and visible support from management at the outset.

• Line up a small working group (made up of a combination of those in leadership positions and the target audience, all of whom are passionate about the success of women and understand the unique challenges faced by women in the particular organization and industry).

• Set specific goals for the meeting and use those goals to plan the entire agenda. One key goal is to ensure that the tone for the agenda is one of inspiration, positivity and empowerment, and not an airing of gripes or grievances.

• For organizations that have multiple offices or locations, identify a central location for the meeting. In order to be effective, the program must be held in-person, rather than participating via video conference or other remote formats.

• Ensure that leaders and role models attend and actively participate throughout the meetings.

• Social and team-building activities should be included in the schedule, and leaders and role models should attend and actively participate in those activities as well.

• Incorporate interactive discussions into skill-building sessions. Focus discussions on specific, practical, and actionable strategies for success.

• Collect detailed feedback after the meeting to determine whether the goals were met, and to identify concrete ways to improve the program in the future.

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