Franci Neely Talks About Women Overcoming Barriers In Big Law

Franci Neely is a well-known retired corporate attorney and philanthropist. While she acquired a lot of success throughout her law career, one of her main achievements was being among the first six lawyers ever recruited into the law firm now known as Susman Godfrey LLP.

This is a Houston-based law firm popularly known for the pretrial settlement of the defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting System against Fox News. Franci Neely says she was the first woman attorney in the firm and later became the first woman partner. She got the first position in 1979 and remained in the firm until she retired as an attorney.

One of her most memorable cases was the F-18 fighter plane foreign sales rights case between McDonnell Douglas and Northrop. She was also among the lead lawyers in the oil spill case presented by Exxon Valdez in Harris County.

Shortly after Neely joined the firm, Susman hired Jo Wilson, the second female lawyer. He trusted the lawyers so much that he offered the first-chair experiences earlier in their careers and compensated them well.

She says that she got her job because Steve Susman, the law firm’s founder, was dedicated to hiring the brightest and best lawyers regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or color.

She, however, says that she was lucky not to have experienced the same level of gender bias other female lawyers experienced, especially in the 1980s. However, that does not mean it is now easy for women to break the glass ceiling in the law sector.

Challenges Female Attorneys Face

According to Franci Neely, big law is stressful, especially litigation. That is because lawyers don’t control their schedules. They usually follow the schedules established by the court system or individual judges, which are typically idiosyncratic and changeable.

She gave an example when a trial jury had been going through evidence for nearly two weeks, only for the judge to recess the trial for a week because they wanted to attend their child’s scouting trip.

While Neely appreciates people who put family first, she said that schedule change is inconvenient. That is because stopping trials is costly for litigators and puts the jurors on hold for longer. While male and female lawyers experience these challenges, it is harder for female lawyers to mark their space in the field.

She applauds Steve Susman’s dedication to having a fair recruitment process, but he was not the only man in power in the firm. Therefore although unspoken, there was still a different treatment towards women, especially regarding compensation.

The idea was that women, especially single ones, did not need as much compensation as their male colleagues, especially those with families. Franci Neely notes that she was among the most outspoken employees and always stood up for what was right. However, she was scared of speaking up about the compensation differences, which she wishes she had.

While Neely says the unfair treatment is in most law firms, she believes it varies depending on the firm’s personality. She adds that she hopes strong women are more assertive in fighting for equal treatment and compensation because they are the only ones who can change the dynamics.

Related Articles

Back to top button