Female legal partners-an industry rarity-can help women lawyers move closer to that goal through short mentoring sessions.

By Danelle Gagliardi

There are scores of books and studies on why only 22 percent of women lawyers reach the partner ranks in big law and other professional firms. Rather than continuing to reflect or read yet another article about this disappointingly low number, set out to make a tangible impact.

The first step? Speed Mentoring.

Earlier this year, I challenged female partners and associates to participate in a "Speed Mentoring" event. After a brief presentation, we divided the rest of our allotted hour into seven-minute segments. Associates rotated among the partners armed with questions such as "What is a goal you accomplished in your career and how?" and "What is an obstacle you encountered in your career and overcame?" When a bell rang at the end of each seven-minute round, associates would rotate to another partner.

Why did we choose seven minutes? The increments were long enough to begin a meaningful dialog but short enough to encourage follow-up conversations later. And that was the point. Both associates and partners made new acquaintances within the firm that will form the basis of lasting mentor-mentee relationships. We believe these relationships could lead to the retention of female talent and growth in leadership opportunities for women.

Young female lawyers often feel alone, without mentors to help them navigate personal and professional challenges, and eventually leave firms. We've found that it's not that women don't want to interact with other women at different points in their careers; it's that there are very few vehicles to ensure that women early on in their careers are interacting with female leaders, and vice versa.

Female partners who have overcome these challenges know how to deal with the obstacles that prevent many women from reaching their potential and were able to share their experiences with younger women during the speed mentoring event. The most-discussed topics were work-life balance and networking strategies, which in the end left young female lawyers armed with practical solutions for many of the unique challenges professional women face. More importantly, they met valuable mentors to come back to for advice in the future.

While I was a bit skeptical at first that seven minutes would do the trick, a number of women already have continued their conversations, and I've noticed a lot of enthusiasm over the possibilities the event raised. Our firm is now looking into how we can extend the event to other offices within our global footprint and throughout the community. I strongly encourage other companies or firms to put down the studies and books and take action in hosting a similar event.

Danelle M. Gagliardi is an associate at Squire Patton Boggs in Columbus.