BOSTON – In 2022, women account for more than 51% of lawyers in the United States, and female law students continue to outnumber their male counterparts. Based on these statistics, it would seem to make sense that women have also gained a significant foothold in the corporate mergers and acquisition departments at law firms. However, that is not the case. Female attorneys continue to be underrepresented as lead advisors on mergers and acquisitions at major law firms.
According to a recent article in the University of California, Irvine Law Review by Afra Afsharipour, a professor at the University of California, Davis School of Law, data suggest that while the number of women in the legal profession is on par with men, a persistent gender gap in lead legal advisors in M&A transactions persists. Analyzing a dataset of 700 transactions between 2014 and 2020, Afsharipour’s study finds that “gender disparities in leadership on large M&A transactions exceeds disparities in law firm leadership. For instance, while women make up 20% of equity partners at elite law firms, on large M&A deals women account for approximately 10.5% of lead counsel positions for buyers.”
At Rubin and Rudman, women are almost always at the table as valued legal advisors to their clients, including closely-held middle market companies, multi-generational family-owned businesses, start-ups (including biotechnology, pharmaceutical and tech companies), and international clients as well.
Rubin and Rudman’s corporate department includes over 20 talented attorneys who provide a wide range of corporate and transactional services for its clients. Approximately 10 of those attorneys dedicate a substantial amount of their practice to working on sophisticated M&A transactions, and nearly half of them are women. This group of female M&A attorneys is led by Christine (“Chris”) N. Parise who serves as Co-Chair of the firm’s corporate department, and this group also includes Meghan L. Tufts, Ariadna Caulfield and Sara B. Huddleston.
The firm has a lot of institutional pride in the fact that it has disproportionately more female M&A attorneys than its competitors. Parise notes, “while we regularly have M&A transactions staffed with only female attorneys, we seldom are negotiating those deals with females as our counterparts.” Parise further acknowledges, “We have a thing here, and it is working really well.” If you ask any of the attorneys in this group – male or female – they will tell you that “collaboration” is the reason it works so well. Prof. Afsharipour writes, “In M&A, a practice which tends to be more confrontational than other areas of transactional law, women often report being judged more harshly if they are perceived as aggressive or combative, but they also report expectations that M&A attorneys will act aggressively.” This is especially true when dealing with family-owned businesses where multiple family members are involved and things can often escalate and become emotion-filled and contentious. Women and men handle these situations differently and stereotypical aggressive tactics is not always the best approach.
According to Parise, “In general, women tend not only to focus on their clients’ needs, but also on the concerns of the other side. So the goal becomes finding a solution everyone can be satisfied with, not just winning. That’s why it’s called ‘deal making’.”
Tufts agrees, “Women have a more conversational approach which I find goes a long way in getting a deal done. I get to know my clients on a personal level; I am interested in their individual stories. People typically gravitate to people they like and can relate to, so even after a deal is done, many of my clients remain friends and often end up referring me additional work.”
Parise, Tufts, Caulfield and Huddleston may have one thing in common – being women – still, they are all very different in how they came to practice law at Rubin and Rudman. The real common denominator may be the firm’s support of lifestyle choices and respect for work-life balance.
Tufts, who stepped away from the practice of law for ten years to raise her young family, says that life experience provided her with a unique perspective when she joined the firm almost two years ago on a reduced schedule. More recently, she has returned to full-time work, as her children have grown.
Parise joined Rubin and Rudman in 2008. She was living in the Pacific Northwest at the time and lives there still. She has been working remotely for 14+ years, before the pandemic made it widespread and popular. Asked if that ever posed a problem for clients, Neal Splaine, Co-Chair of the firm’s corporate department said, “Never, not once. When you have a lawyer the quality of Chris, her physical location in the digital age is irrelevant, and clients figure that out immediately upon interacting with her.”
Earlier in her career, Ariadna Caulfield spent five years as in-house counsel at the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic in Santo Domingo, D.R. Caulfield, who is fluent in Spanish and French, brings that in-house perspective to the department, a perspective that she refers to as holistic. Caulfield says it is not common to find a Latin woman in Boston in the M&A community. “It’s a void,” said Caulfield, “opposing counsel are usually male and are often surprised to find a young, female Latin woman on the other side of the negotiating table.” Caulfield, continued, “Our team is doing really sophisticated deals, and our clients are happy.”
Rounding out the team of M&A women attorneys at Rubin and Rudman is Sara Huddleston, who joined the firm’s corporate department this past spring. Huddleston, who is also fully-remote, recounts, “I was thrilled to be interviewed by so many women on the corporate team and it factored greatly into my decision to join the firm”.
While the world of M&A attorneys may not be the “boy’s club” it once was, it is still not commonplace to see so many women on a deal. Rubin and Rudman is proud to be a notable exception