Q&A With Wolf Greenfield's Helen Lockhart

Helen Lockhart was interviewed by IPLaw360 regarding her role as a female powerbroker.

Q: How did you break into what many consider to be an old boys’ network?

A: As a patent practitioner, I have embraced being a minority in a field of men. Hard work and the determination to overcome challenges are the qualities that have brought success, built relationships, and inspired trust among colleagues and clients. My confidence and competence has helped me earn credibility and respect with my clients and other lawyers.

I was fortunate to have a great mentor who provided me with the skills that helped build a solid foundation for my practice. His dedication and commitment to fostering my development and growth as an attorney resulted in who I am today.

Q: What are the challenges of being a woman at a senior level within a law firm?

A: The greatest challenge is the lack of female role models and female contemporaries to turn to for support. I recognize that male and female lawyers think and interact differently — some might even say they are poles apart. Without going into the Mars vs. Venus analogy, it’s pretty clear that women approach problems differently, have distinctive communication skills and unique work habits. Bridging these differences between the genders is an important step in establishing a role for female attorneys in senior positions. As the number of female leaders increases, you can expect a better support network for more junior women developing their careers at the firm.

Q: Describe a time you encountered sexism in your career and tell us how you handled it.

A: I have been fortunate to work in an environment where I am not exposed to blatant sexism. There are subtle issues that we all face in everyday interactions because of gender differences. These differences relate to assumptions about success and communication styles. For example, some colleagues may assume a female has achieved success by virtue of being different or a minority rather than on merit. Also, most women have less aggressive communication styles than men, which may be perceived as a weakness. I have experienced male attorneys using aggressive and intimidating strategies during negotiations to assert dominance. However, in my experience, maintaining a calm demeanor will produce better results for the client in these situations.

Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring female attorney?

A: I would not differentiate the advice I give to a male attorney vs. a female attorney. All aspiring attorneys must produce high-quality work, be responsive, and network inside and outside the firm.

Be proactive about developing your career. Be confident and take credit for your achievements. Sometimes women will work diligently for senior attorneys for years, taking on all the challenges handed to them and believing their career is developing, but without outwardly taking credit for it. This is a skill that seems to come more naturally to men than women. It is critical to spend time developing your own business and learning management skills. These are the skills that will be expected of you as you become more senior.Q: What advice would you give to a law firm looking to increase the number of women in its partner ranks?

Q: What advice would you give to a law firm looking to increase the number of women in its partner ranks?

A: Management must recognize the significance of diversity and set goals to achieve it. People have a natural tendency to be drawn to those who are most similar to themselves and who think and behave like them. This makes it challenging to find and retain strong female lawyers.

Firm management should encourage lawyers to recognize that differences can be healthy for a firm. Instituting programs such as flexible work schedules, training on business development, leadership, and client management skills geared to women, and providing strong mentors can help female attorneys thrive in law firms. Firms that focus on these efforts can help build stronger groups of female lawyers who ultimately will become solid future leaders.

Q: Outside your firm, name an attorney you admire and tell us why.

A: I admire Karen Valentine, VP and general counsel of Agenus Inc. Karen is one of those unique individuals who can take a thorny issue and focus it down to basic key points. She is a strategic thinker that understands the business objectives behind the legal issues, leading her team to achieve business oriented results.