Denise Broussal, Partner, Baker & McKenzie
How long have you been working for your current company?
I joined Baker in 1993.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
After completing law school in France (Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne) I returned to the United States where I completed a LLM degree at UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law in 1986.
After working in a law firm in San Francisco in 1986 - 1987 I returned to Paris and in 1988 joined Coudert Freres where I remained for 5 years before joining Baker & McKenzie in 1993 practicing general Commercial law and Mergers & Acquisitions. In approx. 1999, Christine Lagarde suggested that I join the Employment group. Since 2000 my entire practice has been devoted to Labor law.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Being elected Managing Partner of the Paris office in 2004 only 2 years after being elected Partner (2002).
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
I believe trying to achieve consensus is probably the greatest challenge.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
It is always difficult to attain a perfect work-life balance. However, I have always made sure my children (3) knew why I was working, explaining to them that it didn't mean I didn't love them or want to be with them more. Having a "stay-home" husband with a less stressful activity (artist) has of course helped me in this balance. It should be noted that today's electronic means of communication often hinders us from "turning off" completely from work once we leave the office. On the other hand, it allows young mothers to now work more freely from home.
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?
When I was studying law in Paris (which was already a challenge coming directly from the United States) I also worked during the day at Clifford Turner (now Clifford Chance) in the banking group headed by the now deceased John Trevor Brown. He was like a father to me in Paris and constantly pushed me beyond by comfort zone. When I needed time to study for my exams, he was always happy to give me the time off but would always say "but you have to pass those exams". I don't think I could have sustained the rhythm of both the university and my job at Clifford if it had not been for him.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
The day they are as effective in practice as they are impressive on paper will be a great day. I believe mentalities are changing even if slowly and hopefully it will be easier for our daughters in the years to come. Given the number of women in the legal profession things will ultimately need to change.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
The only real time I felt I was at a disadvantage was many years ago in negotiations during a deal. I was the only woman in the room. Consequently I was immediately perceived (with my lap top) as the assistant. When I was asked to serve the coffee, I did so. When negotiations started, the men around the table then all realised I was NOT the assistant. Their attitudes suddenly changed. The disadvantage can often be turned into an advantage.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
Probably the only change (but not only for women) is the electronic means of communication. Even though expectations in terms of responsiveness are much higher, that response can come from home.