Women’s History Month 2022

March is Women’s History Month and this year’s theme is “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope” to both honor the efforts of caregivers and frontline workers during the pandemic and recognize the ways in which women across the world have provided healing and hope throughout history. Overall, the practice of celebrating women’s history month is to honor the contributions of women to history, culture, and society.

We are honored to use this month to highlight our female attorneys, paralegals, administrators, and staff and celebrate their efforts today and every day. In doing so, we spoke with women across the firm to learn more about their experiences as females in the legal world and how they have built and learned from the community of women amongst whom they work. We are sharing some of those stories here and will continue to build on them each week of Women’s History Month.

Rachel Adams, Associate

Attorney Rachel Adams

How have you felt support from other females in the legal world?

RA: I have been extremely fortunate to work alongside successful and kind female attorneys who have taken the time to not only teach me the practice of law, but to mentor me in areas of business development and professional/personal life balance. Mentorship can come in the form of formal programs through bar associations and professional organizations, such as the Metro Richmond Women’s Bar Association, and through more organic relationships with senior women attorneys in the legal community. I have been fortunate to experience support from female attorneys in both contexts. Most recently, I formed a great relationship with female co-counsel on a litigation matter. After my argument on a dispositive motion, she took the time to reach out and provide me helpful feedback.

What do you most attribute to your success?

RA: My success in my career thus far can be attributed primarily to working alongside leaders that foster a culture of collegiality, professionalism, and teamwork, above all else. Since joining ThompsonMcMullan approximately a year and a half ago, I have grown immensely not only as a lawyer, but also as a professional, in large part due to the emphasis our firm puts on relationship and coalition-building, both within and outside of our firm.

What do/did you feel was the greatest adversity you faced in the legal field?

RA: Young lawyers typically learn the practice of law from the examples set by senior attorneys in their community. When developing my own oratory style as a litigator, there were times when I felt like I had to imitate styles that were not genuine to my personality, such as coming across particularly aggressive in a deposition. For example, when I am the only female in the room, it can be challenging to stay true to my authentic tone and approach to oral argument, without feeling the insecurity to replicate others. Over time, and through the example set by more experienced litigators, both male and female, I have gained the confidence to let my own personality shine through.

Jeanna Day, Office and Human Resources Coordinator

Empowering Women in the Workplace

Don’t project your own visions or bias of what you think female empowerment looks like. Recognize you have biases, rather than ignore or justify them. Acknowledging bias exists, while opening yourself up to others’ thoughts and opinions, will create a more supportive, understanding, and inclusive perspective.

Keep lines of communication open. Involve other women by asking questions, actively listening, and taking suggestions or comments into serious consideration. You never know what you may gain by opening yourself up to learning from their knowledge and expertise.

Celebrate the highs and support the lows. Be there for one another not just through the good, but through the bad as well. A strong support system will honor your highs and will help take power away from the lows.

Embrace each other’s individuality. Our differences are what make us stronger as individuals and as an organization to drive both growth and innovation. Celebrating these differences fosters collaboration, giving everyone the opportunity to bring their strengths forward.

Cliona M. Robb, Director, Energy & Telecommunications

Cliona Robb, Energy Law, ThompsonMcMullan

How have you felt support from other females in the legal world?

CMR: As an associate and a young partner, I never had a female colleague as a supervisor or a partner. All the senior attorneys I worked with were men, and when I became partner at my previous firm, I was the only female. The support I got came from female colleagues in other departments or outside the firm; they were the ones who told me the stories I needed to hear as I contemplated motherhood. One of my good friends worked as a female associate on a transaction with two male colleagues. The business contact with the client was a female banker who gave birth a month or so before the transaction closed. That client contact was replaced with a male banker who wasn’t nearly as competent as his predecessor. Instead of recognizing the replacement banker’s shortcomings, the two male attorney leads faulted the new mother for taking maternity leave before the closing occurred. It took a female associate to point out that without the employment of the female banker, the transaction would never have been handled competently at the start. In this situation, it was worth noting that the problem was not a pregnant female, but rather, an incompetent banker. Stories like this gave me the courage, when I joined my new firm in August of 1994, to give birth to my first child in October 1995.

What do you most attribute to your success?

CMR: I attribute my success to lawyers who are great teachers. I left my first firm after two years, seriously wondering if I had what it takes to be a good lawyer. Upon leaving, female friends at that firm had to point out that the department I was in could never hold onto associates: the problem was the department, not the associates. When I landed at my second firm, I marked up an asset purchase agreement for a senior partner, who then came down to my office and went over the agreement in detail as to what I had done right and what I needed to improve. This visit was a bit of a shock to me, because at my first firm, the senior partner would have handed the agreement to his secretary, never bothering to make it a learning experience. The same thing happened when I moved, as senior associate, from the corporate department to the regulatory department at that same firm. I went from being able to run a transaction by myself to knowing less than the paralegal. Again, the senior attorneys took the extra time to make my first assignments a learning experience.

What do/did you feel was the greatest adversity you faced in the legal field?

CMR: I think sometimes “family” issues are unfairly tagged as “female” issues. Earlier in my career, I was a bit at odds with spending time with my family and balancing work, as associate training sessions were scheduled on Saturday mornings. I finally got my courage up after one such training to say that, while I did appreciate the sessions, Saturday was the one day I had for uninterrupted time with my family. I know the male associates felt the same way, but somehow it had to be the female associate to call attention to this particular issue, resulting in the end of Saturday morning sessions. Similarly, I just asked for our firm’s parental leave policy to be updated. My male colleagues were gracious in agreeing to the update, but it took a female’s perspective to address the need for more family-friendly policies. I believe there’s room in today’s culture and society for men to better advocate on behalf of their female colleagues and their families, as everyone deserves strong work-life balance.