Women’s History Month Roundtable: Roberta Liebenberg, Senior Partner

The Law Preview Lawyer Roundtable Series gives you a look into the minds of diverse lawyers from across the country. Get advice on everything from your 1L year to how to leverage a mentorship opportunity in law school, and throughout your legal career.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting three accomplished female lawyers in this month’s edition of the Law Preview Lawyer Roundtable Series. Check out the interview below!

Roberta Liebenberg
Fine Kaplan and Black, Senior Partner
Attended Columbus School of Law, Catholic University

Tell Us Little Bit About Yourself

I decided to go to law school after teaching in a high school in rural Maryland where I observed first-hand the many economic inequalities my students faced.  I recognized that, for me, the best way to effectuate meaningful social change was to become a lawyer.  When I began my career in the mid-1970’s, women were just entering the profession in larger numbers.  We faced both explicit and implicit biases with respect to hiring, assignments, compensation and promotion.  There were very few women to whom we could look to role models and from whom we could seek advice or mentorships.

After a clerkship on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, I joined a large firm which was looking for a young lawyer to work in its newly-expanded Antitrust Department.  Although I had never taken antitrust in law school, I sought out this opportunity and read cases and treatises at night to gain knowledge about this complex area of law.  Taking this risk was one of the best decisions I made as a young lawyer.  Although antitrust was and still is a very male-dominated field, it was an intellectually challenging area of law that I truly enjoyed.  By concentrating in this niche, I was able to gain expertise and, because there were so few women, I was able to develop a profile among prospective clients and other attorneys who made referrals to me.

Over the course of my career, I have also devoted a substantial amount of my time and efforts to make the legal profession more diverse and inclusive and to create the level playing field that all women and attorneys of color deserve.  Through my involvement in the ABA as well as the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Bar Associations, and numerous other organizations, I have led the development and implementation of various initiatives to provide concrete and specific best practices, strategies and model policies to create parity for women and help them advance and succeed in their careers.

In addition, I have sponsored and mentored women attorneys from around the country.  I have always believed that it is important for those of us who have achieved success in the profession to pay it forward so that younger women lawyers can also climb the ladder of success.

Knowing what you know now about the legal profession, what advice would you give to students (particularly young women) who are about to begin their 1L year?

First, it is important to perfect your legal skills and to become a top-notch lawyer.  Speak up in class and become involved early in organizations or pro bono work.  Not only will this bring you personal satisfaction but, by doing so, you will also increase your profile and visibility within your law school and your community.  When you join an organization, don’t just show up.  Volunteer for projects; meet deadlines; and follow through and aspire to become a leader in the organization.

The best advice I can give is to not to be afraid to take risks in your career.  This may entail venturing into new practice areas or even leaving a job if you are dissatisfied or stymied in your practice.  I have always found that change, although daunting, can be a very good thing, and often your career unfolds in positive ways that you could not have foreseen.  By being flexible, pro-active and receptive to change, you can create new opportunities to advance and succeed on your own terms.

Finding the right mentor is often instrumental to achieving success.  The key is to find a mentor who can help you to develop your legal skills, ensure that you are exposed to a broad spectrum of work assignments, introduce you to clients, and provide guidance and insight on the culture and politics of your workplace.  Most importantly, a good mentor will advocate on your behalf as you work towards your goals – – whether it be partnership or other forms of advancement.  To fill those different roles, you may need to seek out several mentors, both male and female, and both within and outside your employer.

Also, it is never too early to give other women a hand and to champion them.  You should tout the success of the women lawyers with whom you work; recommend a woman lawyer to be a speaker or write an article; and work with women to help them gain leadership positions in bar associations or other organizations.  We should leverage our collective power to create a profession in which all of us will have an equal opportunity to realize our goals and aspirations and achieve both personal and professional fulfillment.

List one show you “binge-watched” during the past 12 months what was it about the show that so captivated your attention?

I love to watch the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as it demonstrates that even after suffering adversity, that grit, resilience, courage and optimism can enable someone to find happiness and meaning in life.

Name one song you listened to “on repeat” in the past 12 months and provide some insights about why couldn’t you get enough of it?

The soundtrack of Hamilton. Not only did I enjoy watching the play and learning more about Hamilton, each time I listen to the soundtrack and the amazing lyrics, I am astounded by Lin Manuel Miranda’s genius and creativity.

What was your social media “guilty pleasure” — who/what do you follow on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook that you find fascinating, and why?

I love to follow Rachel Maddow. There is no one better at political commentary and synthesizing the disparate and often chaotic events that take place each day.

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