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Female Powerbrokers Q&A: Kirkland's Anne McClain Sidrys

Anne McClain Sidrys is a litigation partner in the Chicago office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. She is a certified public accountant and, prior to law school, worked for five years as an auditor. Given her financial background, Sidrys focuses her practice on business and financial litigation. She is active in firm management and is the chairwoman of the Chicago office recruiting committee. She also co-founded Parenting Link, a program created to respond to questions and issues raised by parents at the firm. She has been recognized as a “local litigation star” by Benchmark Litigation, and as a “favorite litigator” and a “client service super all-star,” by BTI Consulting Group.

Q: How did you break into what many consider to be an old boys' network?

A: My experience and view of the profession is probably different than some other women partners because law is my second career. In the mid to late '80s, I worked as an auditor and, at that time, I felt that the accounting/auditing profession was much more of an old boys’ network. During my 20 years at Kirkland, I have always felt that the attorneys are rewarded for top-notch, quality performance — irrespective of gender. Interestingly, many of my clients have also been women, which has helped! That said, I’ve found that clients, male or female, respond no differently to men or women attorneys, so long as they believe they are getting quality work and the best client service.

Q: What are the challenges of being a woman at a senior level within a law firm?

A: All client-service professions are incredibly demanding for senior-level professionals, both men and women. Our clients count on us and that means we always need to be available to serve their needs. Without a doubt, it is hard working long hours and being “on call” for our clients, especially when juggling other aspects of life, whether that is family, friends, hobbies or health. I would say my biggest struggle has been setting limits (with clients, friends and family) and allowing myself to let go of work when it’s time to focus on my family or myself. I also came to the hard realization that I can’t do everything well, and that some things have to drop. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and almost impossible to do well without a very supportive network of people, both at work and outside of work.

Q: Describe a time you encountered sexism in your career and tell us how you handled it.

A: Fortunately, I have not experienced what I would consider sexism in my career, but there have been times when male colleagues have criticized me (or given suggestions) from a uniquely male perspective that wouldn’t necessarily work for me. For instance, when I was a junior associate, a senior male attorney questioned my style and suggested that I be less open and friendly with opposing counsel and clients. While normally I would take to heart suggestions from more experienced attorneys, this was one I rejected. It was important to me not to compromise who I was or to act like someone else. I have found that my style has worked well with my clients and with the courts because it’s genuine. I gain trust and credibility by acting in a way that comes naturally to me.

Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring female attorney?

A: Always do your best work. Always handle yourself in a confident, poised manner. From the get-go, work hard to gain credibility with your peers, clients, judges and anyone else you may encounter in your career. You also need to be willing to make mistakes and own them. Use them as learning opportunities. But, most importantly, never lose yourself. I think there is a misconception that for women attorneys to be successful they need to put on a front that they are tough as nails and have no life — meaning they shouldn’t talk about their families, kids or nonwork life. I disagree. It’s OK to talk about your family and your commitments outside of work. Everyone, man or woman, has them. Make it a part of yourself, and your peers, supervisors and clients will end up respecting you as a well-rounded person.

Q: What advice would you give to a law firm looking to increase the number of women in its partner ranks?

A: This is a challenge that Kirkland and all law firms (and other demanding professions) are constantly facing. The key is retention … how do we keep the quality women? There is no magic formula, but certainly it helps to offer part-time policies and to allow attorneys the flexibility to work from home.

More importantly, though, a law firm needs to help women attorneys succeed. That means directing challenging work their way and helping them to develop and expand client relationships. Senior women partners have a responsibility to mentor, support and guide the younger women. That takes time and energy, which most of us don’t have. I have four young children, and it can be difficult to find time to bring along the next generation when juggling a busy job and a busy household. But, it’s important and something I really try to do. In the long run, it’s not only helping the younger women, it also helps me to further develop as a lawyer and, without a doubt, betters the firm.

Q: Outside your firm, name an attorney you admire and tell us why.

A: I have been fortunate to have worked with many terrific lawyers throughout my career, but someone I particularly admire is Ed Miller, head of litigation and associate GC at Boehringer Ingelheim USA Inc. Ed is smart, ethical and principled. He invests time and energy in developing the careers of women, both internally and with outside counsel. Fantastic sponsors, both female and male, are key for women to continue gaining ground in the legal business, and I think Ed is a great example of someone doing just that.