McManis Faulkner Partner and leader of the firm’s employment law practice, Sharon Kirsch, was featured in Law360’s “Female Powerbrokers Q&A.” She addresses her career and excelling as a woman lawyer.
Female Powerbrokers Q&A: McManis' Sharon Kirsch
May 01, 2014
Sharon Kirsch is a partner in McManis Faulkner's San Jose, Calif., office. As the leader of the firm's employment law practice, she counsels on everything from day-to-day HR issues to employment litigation. Her clients range from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies in a wide variety of industries, and she handles all manner of employment litigation, including wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wage-and-hour cases, employee misconduct and theft of trade secrets.
Q: How did you break into what many consider to be an old boys’ network?
A: I have never considered employment law part of the “old boys’ network.” The range of clients and attorneys within the employment arena has always had diversity.
I am also fortunate to be at the right firm. McManis Faulkner has a majority of women attorneys, and there has never been a focus on the “old boys’ network.” It is important for women attorneys to find the right fit with a firm.
Q: What are the challenges of being a woman at a senior level within a law firm?
A: While progressing in my career, there were not a lot of senior-level women attorneys I could emulate. It is a challenge to do what I do as a woman but to see only men doing it. Because women need to manage differently to be successful, without a lot of female role models, I tried to be myself and put myself in the shoes of the people I was managing. I put forth extra effort to mentor younger women attorneys on how to manage their time while balancing their professional and family commitments.
Q: Describe a time you encountered sexism in your career and tell us how you handled it.
A: I was once involved in a mediation where my client was a female business owner, the mediator was a retired male judge and the opposing attorney was an older gentleman. During the mediation, the two exchanged war stories regarding people they knew, golf and sports. While they were acting like longtime friends, the client was feeling ignored and blamed it on the fact that we were women.
I spoke to the judge in private, relaying that my client was feeling marginalized and asked for his help. I did not tell him that her concern was gender-related. He took the request seriously, and when we returned to the mediation, he stopped jaw-boning with the opposing attorney and focused on getting the case settled.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring female attorney?
A: My advice is to treat yourself as a law firm and the senior attorneys as your clients. Focus on your assignments and complete them the best you can and on time. Ask for help when you need it, ask for new opportunities and never complain about the work. You will begin to build trust, and the senior attorneys will know that your work product is at a high-level. Once they know they can count on you, they will then know that you will treat their clients with that same quality and dedication. Your assignments will grow, helping you progress in your career.
Q: What advice would you give to a law firm looking to increase the number of women in its partner ranks?
A: Law firms need to be flexible. The schedules of both modern men and women require flexibility, but this is typically truer for women. In accommodating schedules, law firms will be able to attract a more diverse range of talent.
Diversity creates a more well-rounded firm by allowing different backgrounds and experiences to inform a wider range of solutions to the issues at hand. As such, law firms also need to seek out and recruit women. That is how I came to McManis Faulkner. The firm specifically recruited me.
Q: Outside your firm, name an attorney you admire and tell us why.
A: Georgia Van Zanten, who I worked with at Pillsbury Madison & Sutro, now Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, served as my mentor early in my career. She took the time to offer constructive criticism and taught me how to be a better attorney. Georgia also gave me the opportunity to try cases early on, giving me valuable experience.
Georgia was also an excellent legal writer. She has a very direct style and wanted all briefs to be concise. Georgia would charge me a penny for every word she deleted from my briefs. It was a great visual reinforcement of the number of words we could eliminate. Of course, when she added a word, she did not feel that she had to pay back a penny. I gave her a lot of pennies in the beginning!