Colleen P. Mahoney, Partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
How long have you been working for your current company?
I've been a partner at Skadden for more than 13 years — since late 1998.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I joined Skadden as a partner after spending 15 years at the Securities and Exchange Commission where I held various positions, including deputy director of enforcement and acting general counsel.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
My proudest professional achievement has been practicing law as part of this institution. Skadden is a truly exceptional law firm. My cases are challenging, I have outstanding colleagues, and I genuinely enjoy the clients with whom I work.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
The greatest challenge in my current role is to find enough hours in the day not only to manage my practice but devote the time to training and mentoring young lawyers. I was the beneficiary of good training by many. I would like to find more time to give back.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
Almost everyone today struggles to establish and maintain a healthy work-life balance. I don't think there is a single sure-fire way to succeed. What is most important for me is to focus on at least getting closer to achieving balance, and if I can string together a series of days during which I accomplish that goal I am making progress.
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?
While I didn't have a single mentor, I have been fortunate to learn and benefit from examples set by many colleagues in my legal career, including SEC officials and Skadden colleagues. My image of the perfect lawyer is a composite of the best qualities from a number of individuals with whom I've worked, and I try to incorporate those qualities in my own practice.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
Corporate diversity initiatives are important, particularly as goal-setting programs, and can be very effective. That said, I think all of us would agree that results to date at both law firms and public companies have been mixed. As with attempting to achieve a work-life balance, it's important to focus on an ongoing basis on reaching your goals.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
Many sophisticated clients like the idea of hiring a well-qualified female attorney, which can make being a woman today an advantage. The challenge is to convince the client that you are the right person to handle a difficult legal matter and, once you have the assignment, to instill the kind of confidence that results in the client listening to and following your advice. That's a challenge for any lawyer, regardless of gender.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
The most significant change — and it's an extremely positive one for women in the legal profession — is that they're now being judged based on how effective they are as lawyers, not just as "women lawyers." We’ve made a lot of progress, but there is still a long way to go.