Female First-Chairs: Firm’s Founders Chip Away at Male Litigation Domination

It’s common to find great litigators who are partner-level but finding experienced trial lawyers at big firms is a lot less common; and very few are women according to the American Bar Foundation and the ABA commission on Women in the Profession.

Beth Wilkinson, experienced litigation attorney in Washington DC and former partner with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison formed her own for firm with Alexandra Walsh another partner at the firm. They were joined by Sean Eskovitz, formerly a shareholder at Munger, Tolles & Olsen in Los Angeles. Now they’re focused on building a team of talented trial lawyers. Half of the partners in their firm are women.

Both attorneys have impressive legal resumes and they met through their work with Merrick Garland. Walsh clerked for him and Wilkinson worked for him at the Justice Department.

There are fewer women with first-chair experience so it can be more difficult for them to get the experience needed to take on those cases.

Walsh had little first-hand experience in trial; most of her work was behind-the-scenes in litigation. Wilkinson took a chance on Walsh by asking for her help a second chair on a trial Wilkinson lead. That’s when Walsh took the leap, calling on experts and cross-examining for the trial on a case they won for their client. It was a great transition for them both. Walsh had been thinking about doing more trial time after a recent win in a criminal defense case.

Although the ABF and ABA report shows bias where more men are making trial appearance and benefiting from the financial rewards, women like Wilkinson and Walsh are making a conscious effort to change the tide. And over the last few years the numbers have started to increase.

Roberta D. Liebenberg and Stephanie A. Scharf, who authored the study, find that drawing attention to the issue is improving the results. They are encouraging more women to become trial lawyers, suggesting law firms focus on training for female litigators, and asking clients to track women who successfully argued cases in their fields.

Wilkinson suggests associates advocate for their trial time, and that partners advocate on their behalf. For Wilkinson and Walsh their experience is paying off. Their unique firm in DC, which values their lawyers through excellent pay and flexible work environment, is outgrowing their current space and expanding their practice.