Andrew Cowie /AFP/Getty Images
Andrew Cowie /AFP/Getty Images

Weil Lawyer: Best Ideas for Gender Parity are Simple

Weil Gotshal & Manges partner Anne Cappella is one of the 54 lawyers who took part in last summer’s Women in Law Hackathon, an event organized by Diversity Lab to develop ideas to increase gender parity in Big Law. Now, the patent litigator is joining many of those firms to pilot the new ideas they came up with, including the Mansfield Rule, which would require firms to interview a certain number of qualified women for leadership positions.

To learn more about the project, Big Law Business caught up with Cappella, who is the Silicon Valley office leader of Women@Weil, a group at the firm dedicated to training and advancing women, and a formal mentor to several senior women associates. The following interview was edited for length and clarity.

 

Big Law Business: You were on the team that submitted the Mansfield rule to the Hackathon judges. How did you and your teammates develop the idea?

Cappella: The team discussed a number of options for our project. One of the ideas that has always struck me is one that a friend and client had implemented in her Silicon Valley tech company to increase diversity. I was struck by the simplicity of the plan and, after hearing about the effectiveness, it left me wondering if it could also be applied to the legal field. That project required that there were at least two minorities who must be considered for each job listing, requiring a search through the candidate pool for additional minority resumes if the minimum had not been met — simple. It actually reminded me of Mitt Romney’s controversial comment about receiving “binders full of women” after noticing that the applicants he first received for his cabinet were primarily men… showing that qualified candidates are there if you look in the right places.

I thought this idea was worth submitting to the team. Not being a sports fan, I did not know that this was similar to the Rooney Rule for football where a minority candidate must be considered for assistant coaching positions (and now that is expanding to women). We changed the name for the Hackathon to honor the first woman attorney.

[Editor’s note: The rule is named after Arabella Mansfield, who became the first female lawyer in the United States when she passed the Iowa bar in 1869.]

 

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Big Law Business: Which ideas will Weil be implementing in the coming year, and why those?

Cappella: We are working with the Hackathon consultants and looking at a few of the ideas that came out of the Hackathon, including the Mansfield Rule. We are looking at taking the best aspects of the different proposals.

 

Big Law Business: Any aspects in particular?

We’re definitely looking at mentorship and sponsorship. A lot of the [Hackathon] proposals involve apps and tracking, and they’re more complicated. The Mansfield Rule is nice because it’s easy to implement and it’s straightforward. We want the things that will be easy but effective.

 

Big Law Business: What do you and the firm hope to gain through the Women in Law Hackathon initiative?

Cappella: A major benefit of the Hackathon was the educational aspect. We received and exchanged studies and literature on the subject of the retention and advancement of women. We also exchanged our own experiences on what worked in our firms. The teams were made up of consultants, male and female representatives from firms across the nation, and students — all providing a unique perspective. There were many creative ideas coming at the issues from different angles, which will allow firms to pick and choose what may work best for them.

 

Big Law Business: How did you collaborate with your teammates during the Hackathon?

Cappella: We had regularly scheduled phone calls with an agenda and materials that were circulated beforehand. The first couple calls were really talking about the information and some of the research that had been circulated, what it meant, what things were going to be effective, and what things had been tried in the past, to really be innovative. We were encouraged to really think outside the box, to really try to hit things that you would think might be impossible.

I think the consultants were really helpful with their guidance on things they had seen before, and what things might get resistance given law firm structures. Not everyone has diversity or women’s programs.

Our team still talks to each other, about if we signed up, how we’re going to implement this, etc… A lot of our team was pretty bullish about at least the Mansfield rule being easy to roll out. I’m eager to see if it does make a difference.

 

Big Law Business: Do you think initiatives like the Women in Law Hackathon are necessary to make real progress in the legal industry?

Cappella: I think so. It does take exposure and thinking outside the box to really understand what’s going on and solve it, because we haven’t reached it yet.

One thing I thought was really important was the high number of male participants in the Hackathon. When they asked for people to participate, they put a couple of criteria on there to maybe include people who weren’t involved in day-to-day women’s initiatives. That helped because it gave the men exposure to see things they don’t normally see. For a lot of them it was really eye opening to see what goes on and to see statistics and then bring those back into their own organizations.

 

Big Law Business: Diversity Lab just announced that it will be hosting another Hackathon in 2018. Do you or your colleagues plan to participate?

Cappella: Oh, definitely. We’ve signed up already. It’s not going to be me, but we are looking to see who that participant is going to be. I’m working with our diversity chairman who will help pick out a number of people to go to see if they’ll participate.

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