Meet Linda Kornfeld. She’s an insurance recovery partner at Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman and, despite having worked at three different law firms over the past six years, one thing has remained consistent: a referral network she established in 2009 with six other women at competitor firms.
Call it a law firm among law firms.
Dancing Queens, as the women have called the group, meets twice a year at the Michigan household of Andrea Kramer, who is a partner and former management committee member at McDermott Will & Emery. There, they discuss law firm and corporate politics and marketing ideas, as well as confide in each other about personal matters like breakups, weddings and parents deaths.
“We just said, ‘There are so many women spending so much energy trying to talk with the in-house counsel,” said Kornfeld, “We should instead focus on each other, develop a network and do what the guys do — women don’t do such a great job of that.'”
Despite years of talk about gender parity, women remain underrepresented in Big Law partnerships. A 2015 report by the National Association for Law Placement said that women make up 17 percent of equity partners at large law firms. As we previously reported, though, some women leaders in Big Law are finding new ways to network, as illustrated by a group of female law firm chairs who meet regularly for dinner.
In the eat-what-you-kill environment in which lawyers operate, the small group is combining forces to help each other succeed. Aside from exchanging industry information, the group members also refers business to one another, and each of the members brings her own specialty and geographic center, making up somewhat of a small, full-service group.
“As a senior woman partner, it’s hard to find peers — true peers — and this group of women really are peers,” said Kornfeld. “At all levels they are able to provide advice to each other based on our own experiences and it’s completely confidential.”
The group consists of nine members:
• Marianne Carroll, an oil and gas attorney with Husch Blackwell
• Hilary Clarke, a Canadian litigator who left McMillan two years ago to start her own practice
• Mary Gill, a securities litigator in Atlanta who is the only female member of Alston & Bird’s executive committee
• Barbara Kolsun, a New York law professor who is co-director of the fashion, arts, media and entertainment law program at Cardozo Law School
• Kornfeld, a Los Angeles insurance recovery lawyer with Kasowitz
• Andrea Kramer, who heads McDermott Will & Emery’s financial products trading and derivatives group from Chicago
• Andrea Tecce, a managing director of Navigant’s disputes, forensics and legal technology segment
• Marie Woodbury, a practice leader of Shook Hardy & Bacon’s pharmaceutical and medical device litigation group in Kansas City
• Gail Zirkelbach, a government contracts attorney of Crowell & Moring’s Los Angeles offices
Kornfeld said the group refers litigation cases to one another, although declined to specifically name any clients. She also said that the group has intentionally remained small, at around eight or nine lawyers throughout its seven-year existence. Sometimes, the group will include a “guest” at one of their bi-annual meetings at Andrea’s tucked-away Galien, Michigan home (outside Chicago), but rarely will any outside lawyers be invited to join the group.
“We were specific to identify practice areas that did not overlap, and in regions that didn’t overlap geographically… from that perspective, we formed a group that would maximize opportunity that would refer work to each other and help each other create business successes.”
The group got started in 2009, during a Navigant Consulting women’s networking event in Florida. Kornfeld recalled that the founding group of eight had participated at a Navigant-held dancing event at the Miami Ritz Carlton, where the women let loose on the hotel’s ballroom floor.
“That’s why we call ourselves the Dancing Queens,” she said. “That name seemed somewhat silly at first, but it stuck.”
(CORRECTED: This post has been corrected to show that Andrea Kramer is a former management committee member of McDermott Will & Emery and that Gail Zirkelbach is based in Los Angeles)