Abbe F. Fletman, Shareholder, Flaster Greenberg P.C.
How long have you been working for your current company?
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I started in the Litigation Department of Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia in the fall of 1988. It’s a terrific firm and I got great training there. But by the time I was a fifth-year associate, I wanted more front-line experience and left for Klehr Harrison, a medium-sized firm with a reputation for aggressive litigation. I had gone to Klehr to work for a group of lawyers who had come from Wolf Block. While I was at Klehr, I made partner. A couple of years into my tenure at Klehr, the group that I worked with returned to Wolf, and they were running the firm. When my former colleagues came calling, I then moved over to Wolf Block.
After eight years at Wolf Block, and concerns about the direction of that firm (which sadly subsequently disbanded), I decided to look for a medium-sized firm with a democratic culture that had an intellectual property practice. After talking with lawyers at every medium-size firm in Philadelphia, I decided to join Flaster/Greenberg.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
In my first year at Flaster, I got three very high-profile cases that took my practice to the next level. First, I won a major trade dress case brought by a small sweetener manufacturer against McNeil Corporation, the maker of Splenda. Second, I led the team that won a highly publicized Title IX case in Western Pennsylvania. (Title IX is the federal law that assures equity in college varsity athletics.) Finally, I tried and won a Voting Rights Act case on behalf of the City of Philadelphia, becoming the only lawyer to win such a case against the United States Department of Justice since the law was passed in 1964. It is a great source of pride that I brought in all three of these cases, led each team and got great results for our clients.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
Living with the anxiety of where the next case will come from is my greatest challenge. Many of the matters I work on are one-off cases that come to me in idiosyncratic ways. I deal with this by constantly working on business development, having faith that satisfying work will continue to flow, and maintaining a rigorous and healthy running program to reduce stress.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
I fortunately have a high energy level and don’t view attaining work-life balance as an issue for me. There are peaks and valleys in litigating, and I’ve gotten better over the years at enjoying the down times when they come. I also made a practice early on of travelling individually with each of my children so I’ve always had one-on-one time with them.
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?
I have had so many mentors throughout my career, I could not do them justice in a short paragraph. Some mentors have helped me with legal skills, some with communications skills and some have introduced me to people who have become important in my life.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
The Philadelphia Diversity Law Group, an organization of law firms and corporate law departments, has made a real difference running a summer program that recruits minority and disadvantaged students who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to work at the best firms and corporations. Our program includes helping the participants with legal writing, juggling assignments and thriving in a law firm or corporate culture. In my opinion, the only diversity programs that have legs are those that include teaching skills and mentoring.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
There was a point about 15 years ago when a female associate and I were looking for a mass-tort meeting that was in a large conference room in the courthouse. We were the only women at the meeting. Indeed, the men seemed confused when we entered the room. I was the lead counsel on a major motion, and some of the men tried to get it reassigned because they didn’t think I could handle it. They also tried to micromanage my trial strategy. I fought to stay, stood firm on my strategy and won the motion. Winning was the best revenge.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
I think the profession is somewhat more understanding of women with young children, but overall not much has changed in the metrics since I started practicing law. As long as the National Association of Women Lawyers has been keeping track, the percentage of women equity partners at major law firms has not significantly improved and women lawyers still earn less than their male counterparts. There is still work to be done.
"Living with the anxiety of where the next case will come from is my greatest challenge.I deal with this by constantly working on business development, having faith that satisfying work will continue to flow, and maintaining a rigorous and healthy running program to reduce stress."
Abbe Fletman is a ranked lawyer in the Chambers USA Guide. More on her profile