The pullout section of the N.L.J, Vol. 29, May 28, 2007 at S1, highlights 50 women lawyers “who have had a national impact in their fields and beyond during the last five years.” Ten women who are not partners in law firms made the list. Of that group, two are deputy assistant general counsels in the Department of Justice, one heads the National Chamber of Commerce’s Litigation Center, two are academics, and one is a retired Federal Court of Appeals judge.
The remaining four are general counsel, two with very large law departments: Stasia Kelly of American International Group (more than 300 lawyers) and Louise Sams of Turner Broadcasting (leading about 80 lawyers). The other two are with much smaller law departments, Rachel Robbins of NYSE Euronext (who has been there six months) and Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (a not-for-profit).
With only four percent of the profiled women being general counsel of a major corporation, the message seems to be overwhelmingly that partners in law firms have influence, not general counsel of companies. To the strong contrary, I believe that a general counsel of a large company has much more influence on the law than a partner in a law firm. She picks the firms, chooses the partners and staff, makes the key legal decisions on strategy, persuades and advises fellow executives, manages budgets in the scores of millions of dollars.
What about Louise Parent of American Express or Ellen Oran Kaden of Campbell Soup, who have led major companies’ law departments for years? Where is Diane Schumacher of Abbott Laboratories or Sheila Davidson of NY Life, or Charlene Ripley at Anadarko (See my post of March 1, 2007 regarding WellPoint’s general counsel who was just recently promoted to be its CEO.)?