Morgan Lewis & Bockius partner and funds specialist Alice Huang, who's based in Hong Kong, discusses her experiences in Asia and the United States and explains how the firm has been working hard to ensure improve diversity and inclusion within the business


What obstacles have you had to contend with during your legal career that related to your gender?

Being a minority female professional, during my career I’ve always felt that I had to work harder to demonstrate my professional skills to be viewed as equal. I have been very fortunate to have good female mentors early on in my career who would share with me how they had coped with the various challenges at work (one career driven female senior associate once told me that she had to hide the fact that she was pregnant for the initial few months so that it would not affect her assignment as she wanted to make sure she would not miss the opportunities to be staffed on good projects due to her pregnancy. There were too many occasions when I was an associate that I felt I had to put work before family matters to show my dedication to my career so that I would be evaluated fairly for career advancement opportunities.

Do you feel the legal profession within the jurisdiction where you are based treats women and men equally? If there are inconsistencies where are these most noticeable?

Although I began my legal career in the US, I’ve worked in a few Asian jurisdictions in the past few years and my observation is that in Asia, there are also cultural factors that come into play. A number of Asian jurisdictions are still very male dominant, and the legal profession is no exception. It certainly helps to be in an international law firm where the firm’s global policy applies to all local offices and places high importance on diversity and inclusion matters. Usually the home office would provide mandatory trainings to local offices to reinforce awareness on a regular basis. But when senior management of the clients are mostly male, arranging business development and social activities with clients may also add some complexity to the equation.

What initiatives do you have in place at your firm to promote gender equality?

While so much profound change derives from our firm’s culture, Morgan Lewis has committed to concrete, accountable actions that drive an increase in the number of women being promoted to equity partner. The efforts described below have contributed to our success in having the highest score of any Am Law 100 firm on the 2020 Female Equity Partner Scorecard, as well as being named a 2020 Ceiling Smasher by Law360 for ranking among the top law firms with the highest percentage of women equity partners.

Each year, we select women partners to attend this four-day program designed to advance career and organizational goals, and facilitate networking .

Our firm partners yearly with Ellevate Network, a global professional community focused on helping companies succeed in supporting the development of female leaders, providing our women lawyers access to Ellevate's community of 90,000 women and career resources.

Our ML Women initiative embodies our commitment to ensuring that women are involved in client relationships. Led by female partners reporting directly to Firm Chair Jami McKeon, ML Women harnesses the strength of our women by creating opportunities to strengthen relationships, collaborate, and come together with clients. ML Women also hosts bimonthly business development sessions.

Our firm put out a quarterly newsletter in 2020 dedicated solely to celebrating the accomplishments, accolades, and contributions of our women lawyers, as well as to welcome new female partners to the firm.

As one of the very few women leading a major law firm, Chair Jami McKeon understands that attracting, championing, and promoting our women lawyers is vital to lasting and visible gender equality. This earnest focus on advancing women has led to recognizable changes in the makeup of our partner and leadership ranks.

Our Parent Lawyer Network continues to be a foundational pillar in helping our women lawyers advance while meeting parental and client needs. In 2020, the Parent Lawyer Network supported Morgan Lewis parents and their families during COVID-19 through active involvement in family fitness session offerings, online activities, and discussions on how parents and children can cope with the stressors of COVID-19.

Many of our most successful women partners have also availed themselves of the below programs, and a number have been promoted to partner while working on flexible schedules. Although all of our programs are gender neutral, they were inaugurated by women with a focus on women, and are used most heavily by our women lawyers.

Acknowledging the challenges of ramping down for primary caregiver and other extended leave, and ramping up upon return, we provide billable hours credit to associates before and after leave. Participants also are matched with partners who serve as a resource and assist with client or practice reentry issues. 167 female lawyers have participated in this program.

The Remote Working Program has helped many of our female associates pursue advancement while balancing family or personal needs and ensuring high-quality results for our clients. 192 female associates participated in our Remote Working Program, pre-pandemic.

We hold ourselves accountable in part by maintaining standards set by external women’s and diversity organizations. For example, Morgan Lewis was one of the first law firms to adopt the Mansfield Rule measuring whether law firms have affirmatively considered women and other diverse lawyers—at least 30% of the candidate pool—for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, and lateral positions.

  • We achieved Mansfield Certification Plus for the second consecutive year in 2020.
  • We have met the Women in Law Empowerment Forum's Gold Standard in 2020 and every year since 2015.

We appreciate that moving the needle on gender equality requires purposeful effort. When Jami McKeon first arrived at Morgan Lewis in 1981, there was no formal maternity leave, so she negotiated with the managing partner to come up with a three-month policy. These many years later, under Jami’s tenure as Chair since 2014, the firm has appointed women to leadership positions at an unrivalled pace:

  • 72 of the relationship attorneys (RAs) for the firm's top 100 clients are women versus 35 in 2014—a 106% increase.
  • 219 partners who hold attorney-in-charge (AIC) roles for the firm's top 100 clients are women versus 133 in 2014—a 65% jump.
  • From 2014 to 2020, we saw a 73%+ increase in the number of women lawyers who serve in RA and AIC roles for our top 100 clients.
  • 52% of the 2020 partnership class are women
  • 50% of our Advisory Board members are women
  • 33%+ of firmwide practice leaders are women
  • 38%+ of office managing partners are women
  • 45% of industry team leaders are women
  • 29%+ of the firm’s equity partners are women

What do you feel are the biggest obstacles for women in your jurisdiction joining the legal profession now?

My observation is that burn out rate and pressure from the family (or perhaps society) would be high on the list. While increasing female leaders within the law firms will still take time to accomplish, with more conscious efforts being put into diversity and inclusion programs, female attorneys would not be as shy to communicate their desire for career advancement while still having their personal lives. I think part of it is education and mentorship. The traditional way of career path being a straight upward path may need some re-thinking. Everyone has unique situations, and there are more than one approach to become successful. There is a saying that taking a break is to enable you to go further and I personally took several detours in my professional career. I think it is important to understand what is important to you at a given point in life and prioritise that.