September 2016 Bar Bulletin
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September 2016 Bar Bulletin

“Ladder Down” Program for Women Lawyers
Launches Second Year in Seattle in 2017

By Robin Schachter


The Mother Attorneys Mentoring Association of Seattle (“MAMA Seattle”) is set to launch its second class of the “Ladder Down” program in January. Ladder Down is a leadership and business development program that provides women lawyers support and training to achieve parity in compensation, gain access to advancement at all levels of executive leadership in the law, and lay a strong foundation for self-determination in their careers.

Several years ago, two determined and visionary lawyers in Phoenix decided to tackle the “leaky pipeline” problem of women attorneys leaving the profession before they attained senior positions in law firms, legal departments or government agencies. Alison Christian of Christian, Dichta & Sluga, P.C., and Beth Fitch of Righi Fitch Law Group worked with communications expert and businesswoman Lynn Moran and business development coach Marianne Trost to craft a curriculum of business development and leadership training sessions targeted at the most entrenched obstacles facing women attorneys.1

They called the program “Ladder Down” to instill in participants the notion that to develop a culture and critical mass for achievement, successful women lawyers should “hold the ladder down” for those who come after them. Since its launch in 2013, the program has succeeded beyond its founders’ wildest dreams, spreading from Phoenix to Seattle, Boston, New York and beyond.2 In fact, the founders are now partnering with the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel (FDCC) to roll the program out on a national platform, starting with San Francisco in 2017.3

MAMA Seattle was honored to sponsor and organize Ladder Down in Seattle in 2015–16; Perkins Coie graciously hosted the program last year. MAMA Seattle is pleased to announce that the second Seattle “Ladder Down” program will commence in January. Applications for the 2017 Ladder Down class will be available to all interested women lawyers soon, on the MAMA Seattle website.4 The program is limited to 24–28 participants, to allow for deep connections among the lawyers, increased accountability and meaningful opportunities for cross referrals.

Integrating structured training with connected, straight talk from the “real world” is a core element of Ladder Down. Participants meet monthly in large group sessions for three-hour blocks and shorter “small group” follow-up sessions, spread out through nearly a full year. The program starts with a leadership training module, taught by Moran, of the Arizona Coaching and Consulting Center, followed by a business development “boot camp” led by Trost of The Women Lawyers Coach. Additional curriculum sessions focus on mentoring and also include interactive panel discussions with clients, judges and local law firm leaders.

The unique program structure features:

• Monthly, large group, interactive sessions;

• Action items to cement skills;

• Small group “accountability” sessions;

• Practical opportunities to implement and refine skills; and

• Individual commitment to attend sessions in person.

MAMA Seattle gratefully acknowledges the contributions and candor of the many members of the Seattle legal and business community who volunteered their time on various panel discussions to help hold the ladder down for women attorneys. Members of the “Client Panel” — Ellen Blanchard, senior corporate counsel for e-discovery at T-Mobile; Kendall Cammermeyer, assistant general counsel of Puget Sound Energy; and Emily Schlesinger, senior attorney for privacy in regulatory affairs at Microsoft — shared thoughts on how women lawyers can best obtain and retain business from in-house clients.

On a panel offering the “Male Perspective,” Brian Free of Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson, Jason Dennett of Tousley Brain Stephens, and John Cooper, mediator with WAMS, spurred a frank discussion of how they view women as equals. They offered some insight into their views of the power structure within which they work to enable the Ladder Down participants to more effectively navigate and implement change.

The final session of the 2015–16 Ladder Down program featured a candid “View from the Bench” with Judge Sharon Armstrong (ret.) and Judge Deborah Fleck (ret.) (both of whom are now with JAMS), Judge Veronica Galvan of the King County Superior Court, and Judge Molly Powell, administrative judge of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They each shared challenges they faced in their careers and their various paths to the bench, and offered pointed (and often poignant) observations and reminders to the attorneys on the tremendous honor and rewards of public service.

The feedback from the Seattle inaugural class was enthusiastic. One of last year’s Seattle Ladder Down class members reported the program was “a great, concrete way to get me thinking about my business development and leadership skills, and work on them consistently.” Another stated, “The program was amazing. I am beyond grateful for all the information provided and guidance. I met some impressive women that I do not know I would have otherwise met.”

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