Lisa Demsky, Munger Tolles & Olson LLP

“I am a more strategic manager of my own career.”

Lisa Demsky was a junior litigation partner at Munger Tolles & Olson LLP when she went through the Academy in 2007. She immediately sensed that what the Academy offered was different from programs she’d previously attended. “This was smaller and more individualized. People felt comfortable sharing stories from their careers.” She discovered the women shared experiences in common — such as being mistaken for a court reporter or being underestimated by opposing counsel — and had valuable stories about how they had turned some of these situations into opportunities.

Lisa says she is more attuned now to subtle forces that shape the real-world workplace. “There were definitely some important takeaways for me on how to drive my career forward.”

Lisa had been focusing on client development, but the Academy emphasized that she needed to market herself inside her firm as well. She previously had leadership roles in her firm, having served as Co-Chair of the Hiring Committee and Chair of the Summer Associate Program; after the Academy, she moved into roles that would continue to shape the firm in positive ways, but would also create more visibility among other partners. Since participating in the Academy, Lisa has been selected for the Associate Review Committee and the Partner Compensation Committee.

Lisa also noted that women sometimes are hesitant to highlight their successes, but “the Academy taught us the importance of letting others know about our achievements and strengths and encouraged us to find ways of marketing ourselves that fit our personal styles.” She puts this lesson to work in her practice and emphasizes the advantages of being a woman in the profession: “I’m a trial lawyer. Half of all jurors are women, and I’m often the only female lawyer in the courtroom; there’s nothing wrong with pointing out the strategic benefit that provides to my clients.”

“The Academy reminded me that I need to think strategically about my career, the types of cases I handle, and the leadership positions I take,” Lisa said. “I’m a more strategic manager of my own career.”

Karen P. Kimmey, Farella Braun & Martel

“I left energized by new ideas of how to advance my own career and those of other women in the profession.”

Karen Kimmey was a young litigation partner who knew it was time to take her practice to the next level when she attended the Academy in 2008. “It was the right time to move into a more active role in managing my career,” she said. “My firm was very supportive in making it possible.”

Karen had been a partner for six years, and had taken some leadership roles at the firm, but none at the firm’s core. She was getting most of her work via referrals from other partners, and was beginning to develop her own practice.

“It was a great opportunity to interact with so many other impressive women,” she said. “ There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the group.”

Karen was particularly inspired by a talk by Mary Cranston, then chairwoman of Pillsbury Winthrop. “She talked about the need to envision what you want your career to be, and to take ownership of the direction your career is moving, rather than just doing good work, being loyal to the firm, and expecting everything to fall into place.”

It led Karen to view her own career differently. “I decided to envision a model of the type of attorney I wanted to be, and gauge each commitment I make as to whether it would likely forward that goal.”

One of her goals was to become a top trial lawyer. So Karen has said yes to cases that are likely to go to trial, cases that might not have been as appealing on other levels. “And I started saying no to speaking opportunities that were not in areas I really wanted to focus on,” she said. She also became more selective in the administrative roles she chooses to perform within her firm.

Shortly after the Academy, Karen was asked to run for one of the five positions on the firm’s Advisory Board, which serves as its main policy body. “Initially I had some reservations; I thought I was too junior. But attending the Academy gave me the confidence to say yes. It pushed me in the right direction.”

Karen was elected and has just completed the first year of her four-year term, and has enjoyed the experience. She has also recommended the Academy to others. “It’s a great opportunity to meet with other women who are similarly situated, to learn from each other. It is a chance to think intentionally about the development of your career, and pick up a few pointers to give you the skills you need to reach your goals.”

The Academy left Karen feeling encouraged about the state of her law firm. “As I heard the stories of others, I was reminded how lucky I am to be where I am.”

Sonia Martin, Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal

“I certainly felt it was a value, and I think the firm felt it was a value. If you want female leaders in your law firm, the mechanism for developing those leaders is not simply within the law firm itself.”

Sonia Martin was a young partner transitioning into complex litigation work when she heard about the Academy from her firm’s diversity manager. “The former managing partner of our D.C. office, Amy Bess, was involved with PAR, and knew about the Academy.” Sonia was tapped to go.

She said she felt lucky to be asked. “There were some other business development programs that I had not been able to participate in. So I was flattered to be invited to the Academy. These opportunities aren’t given to everyone.” The invitation, she said, hinted of the promise her firm saw in her.

Still, she was a little skeptical going into the conference, particularly since she would miss the first sessions. “I’d been to other conferences, and if they are too large, or too passive, it’s hard to get things out of it.”

When she arrived the first day, she was struck by how friendly the group seemed. “There was obviously a bonding that had taken place,” she said. “No one was playing anything close to the vest. It was the most collegial atmosphere I may have ever experienced in the legal profession. People were very comfortable with each other, and very happy to be there.”

She quickly found interactive activities that directly addressed issues she was grappling with. “I was facing challenges mentoring associates and giving feedback,” she says. The Academy offered both practical and strategic advice. The women role-played difficult conversations.

She was also won over by the range of professionals that addressed the group, including a general counsel, senior women partners, and even a doctor, who offered tips on easing the stress of balancing work/life responsibilities and how to make their lives easier. “It was a very eclectic mix,” Sonia said.

One seminar stuck with Sonia. “We had a discussion about whether you want to be a leader. Some people just assume that everyone wants to progress into management. I don’t know whether people who are put into leadership take the time to consider whether it’s really worth it. You give something up by doing it.”

The session helped Sonia see, though, that it was something she really wanted. “I hadn’t really thought it out, but it was crystallized for me in that session. I can’t say I left with a game plan, but I certainly left with the feeling that I liked the idea of being a leader. And I left knowing I liked being a partner at a big law firm.”

Now, still in her first decade of being a partner, she is managing partner of her firm’s San Francisco office, having been handpicked by her predecessor. “I didn’t ever believe I would be a managing partner at age 36,” she says. “But when the opportunity presented itself, I knew that I wanted to do it.”

She is still growing into her job of leading a 60-lawyer office, while keeping up her own practice. “I don’t think you can be trained for this. But I do go back and think about what I learned at the Academy. It helped me get to a place in my own mind that I realized this was something I wanted, and I realized I could do it. I was capable of doing it.”

Janet Mueller, Dannis Woliver Kelley

“I discovered we were ahead of the game… I now have a greater perspective on what most or many female partners face in law firms.”

Janet Mueller was already an equity partner and practice group leader when she attended the Leadership Academy in 2008. She knew she was likely to be tapped for broader firm leadership, and was hoping to learn skills that would make her a better leader — how to motivate people, lead teams, and successfully resolve conflict.

What she learned was that she had a much easier road to leadership and success than many of her peers. Dannis Woliver Kelley had moved in and out of women-owned status for many years and currently is one of the largest women-owned law firms in the country, with 35 attorneys in three offices.

”I discovered we were ahead of the game. It was good for me to know and share that information with other shareholders, and have a better feel for the context in which we operate,” Mueller said. ”I now have a greater perspective on what most or many female partners face in law firms.”

”It was fascinating to hear how other firms were structured, what they were doing, what opportunities people had, what frustrations these people needed to overcome” to meet their personal goals, she said. ”I think there was a really good energy among the participants. It was a very nonthreatening environment in which to share stories and frustrations.”

Mueller realized while attending the Leadership Academy that her firm was doing many things right, but sometimes accidentally. ”We were doing things because they felt right, but without a lot of structure or consistency. We became much more intentional about our policies” following the Leadership Academy, she said. What she learned, for instance, sparked the firm to adopt a formal alternative work arrangements policy. Though the firm had previously had attorneys on reduced hours schedules and work-at-home arrangements, the arrangements were ad hoc. Now it has a firmwide set of standards that can be applied consistently and makes decision-making easier.

Mueller said the Leadership Academy was also a chance to think more intentionally about leadership, particularly succession issues, which are always paramount in a small firm. ”Our firm is very focused on ‘going with people’s gifts,’” she said, and playing to their strengths. The shareholders consider seriously whether it makes sense to have the firm’s biggest business generators serve as practice group leaders, for example. ”Sometimes other attorneys make the best managers, those who take an interest in the more relational aspect of the law, and take an interest in their peers’ personal growth,” she said.

Mueller takes over this July as firmwide managing shareholder. Her time at the Leadership Academy has prepared her mentally for the rigors of management, particularly learning how other firms approach different issues and learning from their challenges and approaches. ”I do feel much more fortunate than many women attorneys. Overall, we are doing things well. Let’s use that as a selling point.”

Dana Peterson, Seyfarth Shaw

“I certainly felt it was a value, and I think the firm felt it was a value. If you want female leaders in your law firm, the mechanism for developing those leaders is not simply within the law firm itself.”

Women attend the Leadership Academy for many reasons. Likewise, the results of the program vary according to each woman’s career goals. For Dana Peterson, of Seyfarth Shaw, what she learned at the Academy helped her maintain her visibility while on two maternity leaves in three years. She learned how to communicate her enthusiasm for her practice, and she strengthened her internal network, resulting in a rise in referral work and a slot on a firm committee.

Dana was a junior income partner when she attended the Academy in 2007. “I saw it as an opportunity to start developing good habits, and begin thinking early in my career as a partner where I wanted to be in five, ten, or fifteen years.”

“I really enjoyed the program,” she said, especially its small size. “I was pleasantly surprised. We sat around a table, and the program was much more interactive, the energy level was much higher” than other programs. “Joan and Ida were fabulous, and the content was spot-on.”

That created a dynamic Peterson found lacking in other professional development programs. “People were very engaged. We heard what was working and wasn’t working for other similarly situated partners. I had the chance to network with other female partners in the same boat, and hear from those senior to me what had worked for them, or what they wished they had done differently.”

Those war stories from women in leadership had a real impact. “That was really inspiring. You left there feeling it can be done. Women have done it. We all have the same challenges, but it is doable.”

Dana said she really valued the personal coaching. “One coach asked how much time I spent solving clients’ problems. She said, ‘If you took a half hour a day and worked on solutions to your career, imagine the rewards you would reap.’ I think about that a lot. If I find I haven’t taken the time this week to improve myself or build my practice or expand my network, I know I need to take that half hour and do that now.”

What she learned at the Academy helped Dana stay on track during her maternity leaves. “What I learned has given me the ability to maintain my status at the firm. It’s shown me how important it is to stay connected, and be vocal. I knew that while I was on leave, I needed to let people know I was still here, still very interested in what my clients were doing, and what everyone else at the firm was doing.”

One key takeaway for Dana was learning the art of self-promotion. “Women tend to be less vocal about their successes, and that’s a mistake. Men tend to be better at doing that than women, and are better at taking credit for things. All lawyers tend to be highly motivated, successful people. They are probably already Type A, with good skills. So to differentiate yourself from the pack, you need to be vocal about your success, and not just assume people will know the great work you did on a case.”

“I was able to immediately take and use that. I have been able to maintain a nice steady flow of business despite my two back-to-back maternity leaves, and I’m getting referral work from partners in other offices, just from being vocal, and being my own advocate. I tell people ‘This is what I can do, this is my area of specialty, and this is how I see myself adding value to clients here in California.”’

When Dana returned to work after her maternity leaves, she did a lot of internal networking. “’Hey, I’m back.’ And the firm has really responded to my energy level,” she said. “’Wow, Dana is really serious, let’s give her a shot.’” She was recently nominated to serve on the firm’s lawyer development committee, and she’s excited about her role at the firm.

“Just because I now have to leave at 5 PM on some days to pick up kids from day care does not mean I cannot play a stellar, integral role in this business.”

Linda Wadler, Finnegan

“The program gave me the motivation to do the practical things necessary to achieve my career goals. I needed to translate my success at substantive patent litigation into the type of professional recognition within the firm that results in leadership positions.”

Linda Wadler was a mid-level partner handling multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical patent litigation at the 400 lawyer intellectual property firm Finnegan when she attended the Academy two years ago. She previously had served as recruiting partner at Finnegan, and was eager to concentrate on her own career progression. “I saw the program as a good way for me to carve out time to focus on my personal career goals, instead of client problems or firm management issues.”

From the first day, Wadler said, the group began learning from each other. “Here I was in an environment of peers, women from all different sizes of firms, types of practices, and areas of the country. It was enlightening and useful to hear how other firms handled similar issues in different ways. A particular solution may not fit your firm’s culture, or your own practice, but it’s valuable to gain perspective on alternative approaches to common issues facing all law firms.”

Linda came away with important personal insights as well. “I had already recognized that one significant hurdle for women rising to leadership positions is that women are not as good as men at self-promotion, and are not as comfortable in the spotlight, so it’s harder for them to get recognition. The program caused me to examine the impact of this reality on my own career and leadership goals. ”

More importantly, the program encouraged the women, including Wadler, to become more comfortable tooting their own horn “by effectively communicating professional successes both within and outside of the firm. The speakers had some good tips for how to make people aware of your strengths in ways perceived as socially appropriate for women.”

The sessions zeroed in on leadership: what it means, what roles within firms are respected, and what paths lead to firm management. “We talked about whether leadership was truly for everyone. We learned to focus on our strengths, rather than trying to improve on our weaknesses, to increase both personal satisfaction and effectiveness. Some people enjoy doing marketing, while others prefer firm management.”

The exercises helped Wadler see how others perceive her strengths. “I had a fair idea of my strengths before the program. But in preparation for the first meeting, we did this exercise in which we had to ask people with whom we had worked — staff, those senior to you, those junior to you, clients — to detail their impressions of our individual strengths. I remember being very uncomfortable asking for that information. But the feedback I received was both surprising and informative. I heard things that made me more comfortable reaching for leadership challenges and being in the spotlight.

The strengths she identified and promotional skills she learned quickly translated into increased leadership roles at her firm. When Linda returned from the program, she not only expressed appreciation for Finnegan’s investment in her personal development , but made it known she wanted to be considered for leadership positions. Since the Academy, Linda has served as litigation section leader and has joined the firm’s management committee. “By expressing interest in the Academy, my desire to get involved in firm leadership was made clear,” she said.

For Linda, the Academy provided a unique learning environment. “If we had hired the exact same people to do this program internally, and not had the exposure to how other firms are handling a variety of issues in different ways, it would not have been the same experience. I thought that was really worthwhile.”