Was There, Now Here

Debra Dandeneau, Baker & McKenzie

On joining her new firm and thriving in the male-dominated bankruptcy world

Oct 19, 2016, By Jennifer King

Let’s face it: women are still too often held to a different standard than men, and judged on more than the quality of their work. It’s not enough to be a great lawyer. Many feel they must also be nice, but not too nice; assertive but not too assertive.

Just ask Debra A. Dandeneau. The veteran bankruptcy attorney spent about 30 years at Weil, Gotshal & Manges before moving this summer to Baker & McKenzie. Both firms, she says, are true meritocracies, but that didn’t shield her from the realities of the world and the ways that women lawyers are treated differently. She got her exposure through interactions with clients, opposing counsel and the courts.

“Within only the past 10 years I had a debtor case where we were struggling to get the company out of bankruptcy. I took on this very complicated case, and by being incredibly well-organized and smart, and negotiating with everyone, got the restructuring done on time,” she says. “We went to the closing dinner, where the CEO compared me to the nuns in Catholic school and another executive described me as a schoolmarm. If a male lawyer accomplished what I did, no one would describe him the way they described me.”

But, she says, sometimes women lawyers have to accept these gender differences and use them to their advantage.

“When I was younger, I’d walk into a room and be the only woman,” she says. “I learned to think of it as a good thing. I knew that if I’m the only one who looks different, people would pay attention to me.”

Dandeneau embraced those differences while rising to prominence in the sometimes rough-and-tumble world of bankruptcy law. When joining Baker & McKenzie in July, she added another accomplishment to her resume: Being named co-chair of the firm’s global restructuring and insolvency group and chair of its North America restructuring and insolvency group.

She credits her success, in part, with a set of guiding principles that are as relevant today as they were when she graduated law school in the mid-1980s:

  • Develop a personal brand.
  • Don’t overlook the importance of networking with other lawyers at your law firm.
  • Actively participate on firm, bar association and industry committees.
  • Promote yourself to your clients and don’t be scared to ask for their business.
  • Treat everyone you meet as important and treat them with respect. If you view everyone as a source of potential business, you may find that new clients come from unexpected places.
  • Have confidence, and don’t come across as a jerk, which is often a sign of insecurity.

It takes a lot to woo a partner away from the law firm where she spent the first 30 years of her career, but Dandeneau says that Baker & McKenzie’s culture resonated with her. The firm has been frequently recognized for its diversity and female-friendly environment. Earlier this year, Working Mother magazine named it one of the top law firms for women. And 17 years ago, the firm made worldwide headlines when Paris-based Christine Lagarde was named as Baker & McKenzie’s first female chairwoman.

“Baker & McKenzie promotes a culture of friendship and culture of meritocracy,” Dandeneau says. “And when you have that kind of culture, you create opportunities for women and minorities to succeed.”

In other lateral news:

KL Gates has recruited Mary E. Atkinson, Olivia S. Byrne, Pam Kohli Jacobson, Linda C. Odom and Judith Rinearson to the firm as partners. Atkinson and Jacobson join the firm’s Seattle office from Betts, Patterson & Mines. Both are members of the intellectual property practice, which Jacobson chaired at Betts, Patterson. Byrne, who is resident in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office, joins KL Gates’s real estate investment, development, and finance practice from Reed Smith. Odom and Rinearson are partners in the firm’s fintech and consumer financial services practices from Bryan Cave. Odom is based in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office while Rinearson is resident in the New York and London offices.

Akerman has hired Ellen Berkowitz and Lisa B. Kolieb as partners in its real estate practice. Based in the firm’s Los Angeles office, the women were previously at Gresham Savage Nolan & Tilden.

Debra A. Dandeneau and Denmon Sigler have joined Baker & McKenzie as partners. Dandeneau, who joins from Weil, Gotshal & Manges, is resident in the New York office. She co-heads the firm’s global restructuring and insolvency group and chairs the North American restructuring and insolvency group. Sigler joins the firm from Winston & Strawn. Based in the Houston office, she is a partner in the firm’s North American banking, finance and major projects and North America oil and gas practices.

Baker Botts has hired Sarah Guske as a partner in the firm’s intellectual property group. Based in San Francisco, Guske joins the firm from Cooley.

Adriana Kostencki has joined Berger Singerman, Miami, as a partner in the government and regulatory group, where she will be leading the firm’s new business immigration law practice. She was previously a shareholder at Moreno Kostencki.

Clifford Chance has recruited Janet Whittaker from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. A partner in the firm’s international arbitration practice, Whittaker is resident in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office.

Andrea Chambers has joined DLA Piper’s finance practice as a partner. Based in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office, Chambers was previously at Ballard Spahr.

Greenberg Traurig has hired Bernadette M. Rappold as a shareholder in its Washington, D.C., office. Previously a partner at McGuireWoods, Rappold is a member of the firm’s environmental, litigation, and energy and natural resources practices. She also previously served as director of the Special Litigation and Projects Division in the Office of Civil Enforcement at the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

Maritime and energy lawyer Julia Palmer has joined Holland & Knight as a partner in the firm’s Houston office. She was formerly a shareholder with Gray Reed & McGraw.

Jennifer A. Schwartz has re-joined Jackson Lewis, Miami, as a principal. A member of the firm’s general employment litigation, and wage and hour practices, she was previously at Littler Mendelson.

Kirkland & Ellis has hired Shannon O’Sullivan as a partner in its corporate and investment funds practices. Based in the New York office, O’Sullivan was previously counsel at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

Intellectual Property lawyer Mansi H. Shah has joined Merchant & Gould’s newly opened San Jose office as a partner. Shah previously was a partner at Valorem Law Group.

Kristin Bohl has joined Ober Kaler in Baltimore as a principal in the firm’s health law group. She was previously at LeClair Ryan.

Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler has recruited Michelle M. Bufano as a partner in the firm’s litigation department. Previously a director at Gibbons, she is resident in the firm’s New York office.

Melanie K. Curtice has joined Perkins Coie’s tax benefits and compensation group as a partner in the Seattle office. Previously she was a partner at Stoel Rives.

White collar litigator Kathleen M. Hamann has joined Pierce Atwood in Washington, D.C. as a partner. She hails from White & Case and also previously worked as a trial lawyer at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Amanda Persaud has left Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz to join Ropes & Gray as a partner in the firm’s private investment funds practice. Previously she chaired the private investment funds practice at Wachtell.

Sedgwick has hired litigator and mediator Kathryn N. Richter as a partner in the firm’s San Francisco office. Prior to Sedgwick, Richter was a partner at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis.

Bonita L. Hatchett has joined Strasburger & Price in Houston as a partner. Hatchett, who serves as outside ERISA and benefits counsel to clients, was previously founder of Trest Benefit Solutions.

Troutman Sanders has recruited Cindy Hanson to join the firm’s Atlanta office as a partner. With a practice that focuses on the defense of class action lawsuits, Hanson was previously a partner at Kilpatrick Stockton.

Intellectual property lawyer Jennifer Chen has joined Vinson & Elkins as a partner in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office. Chen was previously founding partner of Fuisz Chen.

Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis has hired Amanda Jester from McDermott, Will & Emery. A partner in the firm’s Austin office, Jester is a member the national healthcare practice.

Marjorie J. Burchett has joined Withers Bergman as a partner in its San Diego office. Previously at Dentons, Burchett is a member of the firm’s real estate and real estate development practices.

Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice has hired Laura Kees as a trademark and copyright lawyer in the firm’s Atlanta office. She was previously at Alston & Bird.