Gayle Klein, Principal, McKool Smith
How long have you been working for your current company?
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
As the youngest woman to be elected litigation partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, I enjoyed an active caseload of complex commercial litigation for exceptional clients in the Dallas office. The firm decided to build a commercial litigation practice in Silicon Valley and I was selected to be part of the launch team. That practice grew successfully, and I moved to New York to marry my husband, who also is a partner at Weil. After our marriage, I left Weil. I joined McKool Smith - a firm that delivers best-in-class litigation when the stakes are high, not only to the client, but also to a broader industry.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Today, my proudest professional achievement is the pride that comes from building a thriving litigation practice at a firm like McKool Smith and delivering positive impact to clients and their industries through an exceptional trial practice.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
The business of law has changed as a result of the most recent recession. Providing exceptional value to clients on a billable hour basis is becoming increasingly challenging. To overcome this challenge, we frequently employ success-based fee engagements to more acutely align the clients’ interests to ours, and truly share in our clients’ risk.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
I am passionate about my work life and personal life. I reach a work-life balance by refusing to view those passions independently of one another. I have an active lifestyle, so my days are generally filled from 6:00am to 10:30pm. Outside of the office, I spend quality time with my husband and cultivate relationships with friends and clients. I am on the board of my condominium association. I am on the executive committee and trustee of one of New York City’s finest and historic parks. I also take time to exercise every morning (I have completed two marathons and am training for my third); it helps me clear my head and reduces stress.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
Ralph Miller has been both a mentor and a role model to me. He is the finest calibre attorney, and has provided me with significant professional opportunities. On top of that, he is simply a good person. Many years ago, when I was a fifth-year associate, Ralph sat behind me during a multi-day evidentiary injunction hearing, allowing me to be the first-chair lawyer. He instilled trust in the clients that I had the capability, despite my youth, to take the lead at this significant hearing, which is a lesson that I will never forget. Because of that, I strive to find opportunities for the members of my team to take on as much responsibility as they can effectively handle. Additionally, I remember many evenings as an associate when I was working late and Ralph would walk by my office, poke his head in, and simply thank me for being there. Because of that, I always remember that working evenings and weekends is a choice that comes with a price of sacrificing family or personal time, and I do my best to thank the people on my teams for giving some of that time to our clients.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
To me, diversity is not an initiative. It is inclusive leadership that extends beyond gender, race, and sexual orientation to a broader landscape of managing across differences. This leadership is grounded on valuing people on every level and using that diversity to optimize innovation and performance. Mentoring is the approach that I believe is most effective at training members of an organization to lead inclusively. As I mentioned above, a man, not a woman, stands out as a great mentor and role model in my career. That is because Ralph Miller was particularly adept at recognizing talent in the members of his team, no matter their background, and he always appreciated the different perspectives that they brought to solving complex problems.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
Being female has been both an advantage and disadvantage -- sometimes simultaneously. When I was a young associate, I once greeted opposing counsel, whom I had never met before, in a conference room. He immediately assumed I was not an attorney and asked me to get him a glass of water. I complied and brought him a glass of water. I then sat down across from him at the table, smiled, and asked if he was ready to begin. He was visibly shaken, and I certainly enjoyed the meeting more than he did. That experience taught me that it is important to keep your sense of humour and that it is possible to turn gender bias into an advantage.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
I think advancements in technology have led to the most significant changes for all lawyers, men and women. It allows attorneys to be more available (mobile phones and VPN) and deliver better faster, more cost effective results to clients. Technology has also assisted me in achieving work-life balance, since I can provide ongoing support to my clients when I am out of the office.