Law360 (March 22, 2021, 8:26 PM EDT) — At Texas-based Munck Wilson Mandala LLP, a single hire in 2018 acted as a catalyst for doubling the firm’s number of female partners and its percentage of female hires in less than three years, creating a more diverse, supportive and lucrative workplace.
Jenny Martinez, co-chair of the firm’s litigation practice in Dallas, is the driving force behind those changes, attorneys say. Since joining the firm in October 2018, she has pushed to create a better maternity and paternity leave policy, normalize flexible work hours, emphasize the importance of family and raise female associates to leadership positions.
She says creating a supportive environment that provides and promotes female role models is key to keeping women in the workplace.
“You don’t want to go in and be the only one,” she says. “You want to see people like you that are successful and having career satisfaction.”
With Martinez’s leadership, Munck Wilson has increased the number of female partners from five out of 30 to 11 out of 35, making its leadership roughly 31% female, which is above the national average of 25%, according to data collected for Law360’s 2020 Glass Ceiling Report. The law firm has also almost doubled its percentage of female hires from 27% in 2018 to 50% in 2020.
Female attorneys at the firm told Law360 that, because of the changes implemented by Martinez and firm leaders, Munck Wilson overshadowed other law firms during the recruitment process and has since spurred a fierce sense of loyalty to the firm.
Tasha Schwikert, an associate who joined the firm’s corporate practice in summer 2019, says she vividly remembers her first impression of the law firm when she visited for her interview.
“I walked into the law firm and in the interview room was multiple female partners and associates, and right then I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is the place for me,'” she says.
Martinez joined Munck Wilson as a partner after several years of managing partner Bill Munck’s recruitment efforts.
She participated in the S.H.E. Summit Bacardi, a conference aimed at celebrating and cultivating women leaders that the firm hosted in 2018, and remembers thinking that no firm would hold the conference unless they really cared about diversity and inclusion and had a good workplace culture.
But before leaving what is now Godwin Bowman PC — where she spent 12 years and became a name partner — Martinez had a “very candid” talk with Munck about her experience juggling being a mother to four children and a full-time partner at a law firm.
“It’s a very delicate balance,” she says. “It’s very easy to throw in the towel when things get hard, and if you don’t have a supportive work environment.”
She wanted to make sure female attorneys at Munck Wilson didn’t face the same obstacles and hardships she had, and Munck agreed.
In the years before Martinez joined the firm, Munck and other firm leaders had noticed a trend of female lawyers quitting soon after getting married or having children, a phenomenon he described as “hitting the wall.” The lawyers that left either found in-house counsel jobs or ended their legal careers entirely.
Firm leaders made a conscious decision to curb that phenomenon and develop “true female leadership in the firm.” Hiring Martinez was the first step in the firm’s plan, Munck says.
“We made a pact that she was coming over and we were going to change who we were,” Munck says. “We were going to have true leadership, it was all going to be earned, and we were going to create an inclusive environment.”
Munck and his partners expected it would take a few years to change the firm’s core makeup and achieve their diversity goals, but Martinez made it happen in only one year.
The firm, guided by Martinez, changed its maternity and paternity leave plan to have more flexibility. Attorneys now dictate when they will start the leave period and end it, with the option of easing back into the working environment by coming back part-time for a few weeks.
Amanda Greenspon, a partner in the firm’s technology and intellectual property law group, says Munck Wilson’s maternity and paternity leave policy is a complete shift from her previous firm, where she was effectively pushed out once she had a baby. She said she had to constantly remind partners there that she still wanted to work during motherhood.
Meanwhile, Munck Wilson keeps in contact with attorneys on maternity and paternity leave and encourages them to work on business development when opportunities arise.
Schwikert, who was recently on maternity leave, said name partners still helped her foster those opportunities when she had time, and in a way that worked best for her. She says several of those meetings have turned into clients.
The firm has also embraced flexibility. Munck says “family lives come first” at the firm, because he understands the importance of having a balanced family and work life.
“If you don’t have people with a properly balanced personal life, you’re never going to get their best practice as lawyers,” he says.
Martinez says it’s important for the firm to move away from the eight-to-five mindset and allow attorneys to work flexible schedules without knocking them off the partner path.
There’s also flexibility in where you work, as Greenspon found out when she and her family moved to Florida for her husband’s work. She figured she would continue to work at Munck Wilson for a few months while the firm found her replacement, so she was surprised when Munck suggested she instead open the firm’s Florida office.
“That kind of support is just ridiculous in the legal community,” Greenspon says.
Munck Wilson gave her time off to move and then sent an information technology expert down to Florida to set up her at-home office. Since her move, her hundred-thousand dollar practice has morphed into a multimillion dollar practice, she says.
Greenspon said she has developed a strong loyalty to Munck Wilson because of its commitment to her law practice and its flexibility to work with her as her family life changed.
“I get recruited a lot, but I’m very loyal to the firm because it gave me a level of flexibility,” Greenspon says. “Knowing that I have that commitment means I’m always going to be more loyal to them.”
Alison Battiste, one of Martinez’s first recruits who recently became partner in the firm’s complex litigation and dispute resolution group, says the firm’s commitment to its employees starts at the associate level.
When she was being recruited, Munck told her the firm had a mentorship program that matched associates with partners who would provide resources and tips to further their careers. She says that mentorship has continued even now that she’s a partner, and that Martinez acts as a role model for the firm’s female attorneys.
“She is an example of how all of us women can properly conduct ourselves, manage our lives and provide superior work product,” she says.
–Editing by Nicole Bleier.