The rising number of women in the U.S. workforce represents significant progress for the U.S. economy and professional occupations, as well. In fact, there are presently more than 400,000 women lawyers who make up just over one in three (38 percent) lawyers in the United States. Here, Attorney Marcia DePaula, a member of Steptoe & Johnson, PLLC’s Southpointe, Pennsylvania office near Canonsburg, talks about the representation of female attorneys across the country, as well as the opportunity and challenges of women in the workforce today.
You’ve been a practicing attorney since you graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, starting with the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General back in 1994. Tell us about your legal experience and what drew you to a legal career.
I became interested in the law from a very young age. Both of my parents were elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. My father served almost 10 years, and my mother served four years in the same district after my father passed away. It was a unique experience. I learned firsthand that the law affects people and businesses in different ways. It taught me to see both sides. When I graduated from law school, I wanted to serve the people, as my parents had done. The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General provided invaluable legal experience that helped shape my career in the private practice. It created an environment where women could rise to leadership positions. In a similar way, Steptoe & Johnson has created an environment where women can rise to leadership positions while still focusing on their legal career. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to focus on a career that I enjoy while creating lifelong friendships with my colleagues and my clients.
Tell us about your current firm, Steptoe & Johnson, its footprint and areas of specialization.
Steptoe & Johnson has 14 offices in six states. We have two offices in Pennsylvania, one at Southpointe (located in Canonsburg) and the other in Meadville. Our attorneys practice in more than 40 areas of law with recognized strengths in energy, business, labor and employment, and litigation. Additionally, our firm has been nationally ranked in energy law for the past four years by the authors of The Best Lawyers in America. Our Southpointe office opened in 2010 and has become the fourth largest office. There are 31 attorneys practicing there, focused on meeting the needs of clients in many industries, including energy, manufacturing, construction and health care.
What progress have you seen in the representation of female attorneys since you began practicing law?
It has been exciting to see women rise to positions of leadership and influence in the legal profession. The legal profession has changed and increasingly recognizes the important contributions that women and members of other diverse populations bring to the practice of law.
At Steptoe & Johnson, women hold many of the top leadership positions in the firm, including CEO. Women serve as chair to three of our four departments including Energy and Natural Resources, Labor & Employment, and Business. Women also have major leadership positions within the firm, including seats on the Executive Committee, office managing members and practice group leaders.
What opportunities and challenges do you see for women in the legal profession and broader workforce today?
Gender specific roles that used to be the norm are now slowly disappearing. I believe this trend will continue both in the legal profession and the workforce at large. I believe that the door is open for women to take on greater roles within law firms and to make progress toward having a hand in decisions that affect the future of the firm. To take full advantage of future opportunities for leadership, individuals must find the pathway that works for them.
It is essential that the individual have a clear understanding of the time commitments required for many of these leadership positions and the effect these time commitments will have on their personal lives. Work-life balance is a challenge for working women inside and outside of the legal profession. While law firms have made strides toward easing the burdens faced by working mothers, there is always more to do.
What is your advice to the next generation of women leaders?
Take on projects and tasks that will challenge you and stretch your abilities. Find a mentor who will guide you and inspire you while giving you the honest feedback you need to grow. When the time comes, be a mentor for someone who needs your guidance.
For more information about Steptoe & Johnson, visit www.steptoe-johnson.com.