When Mayer, Brown LLP’s Rebecca S. Eisner turned to a part-time schedule to raise her two children in 1996, she did not want her clients to find out.
And at the firm, she did not want the fact that she worked 60 to 80 percent of a full-time schedule for nearly a decade to overshadow her commitments to her clients and practice.
Successful on both fronts, now she is the next partner-in-charge of Mayer, Brown’s 365-lawyer Chicago office.
The firm becomes the largest local office led by a woman when she starts the new role on July 1. She succeeds Frederick B. Thomas, who has been in the role since 2007.
Now, she wants clients and colleagues alike to know that her management duties will not deplete her billable hours.
Eisner, 52, already serves on the 12-member global partnership board, which oversees the management committee. Since she was first approached about the Chicago position a few months ago, she has been asked if the new title means the end of her practice.
“That’s a definite, ‘no,’” Eisner said. “I’ll spend a significant amount of time managing, and I’ll spend also a significant amount of time continuing my practice. And I’m really happy to do both.”
Part of the firm’s business and technology sourcing practice, Eisner counsels clients on large transactions involving outsourcing of technology or other large business processes.
She also focuses on data and privacy issues, along with roughly 50 other lawyers firmwide.
“We expect that number to double in the next five years,” Eisner said.
Mayer, Brown announced last month that Rajesh De, general counsel of the National Security Agency for the past three years, will join the firm’s Washington, D.C., office in June and head its global privacy and security practice.
Eisner was asked to be partner-in-charge of the Chicago office by the management committee. In the role, she will focus on lateral partner hiring in her home market as well as increasing diversity. She has previously been actively involved in lateral recruiting, she said, but not necessarily focused on adding lawyers in Chicago.
Mayer, Brown’s Chicago office, like almost all major firms’ local lawyer counts, has dwindled since the recession. It sits at 365 lawyers, down from 425 in 2010, according to Chicago Lawyer magazine surveys.
Eisner is unsure if that number will grow in the near future. The firm makes headcount decisions, she said, based on client needs.
“We have clients who are Chicago-based or Midwest-based or national or global, and we draw on teams from across the firm,” she said. “So it is becoming a little less important, certainly for the multinational clients, where you are located and a little more important that you work together as a cohesive team.”
She added: “But certainly we want to continue to maintain a local strength and to serve local clients as well as global clients.”
On the diversity front, she said she would work with the firm’s diversity and inclusion director, Jeremiah A. DeBerry, to see how the firm finds talented diverse candidates. She said she would also try to recruit diverse lawyers “to up our game in that area.”
McDermott, Will & Emery LLP, with 284 lawyers in its Chicago office, is the only other office led by a woman among the city’s top 10, according to Chicago Lawyer magazine’s rankings.
Mayer, Brown Chairman Paul Theiss issued a statement saying that Eisner played “a key role” building the firm’s business and technology practice.
“Her thorough understanding of the Chicago market and its business community, combined with her leadership experience and her strong commitment to our core values of collegiality and teamwork, make Rebecca the ideal candidate to build on Fritz Thomas’ outstanding legacy,” Theiss said.
Deborah Epstein Henry, founder of law firm consultancy Flex-Time Lawyers LLC, said lawyers who work reduced hours are often shunted from equity partner tracks despite policies at many firms intended to help lawyers such as Eisner get back to a full-time schedule.
Henry, who’s based in Philadelphia, said she knew of one other managing partner who, like Eisner, is open about having previously worked reduced hours.
“Getting over the stigma of part time and getting people to recognize that those are also people who can be part of the pipeline to leadership someday is really the hurdle the profession needs to address,” Henry said.
Eisner joined the firm in 1989, left to work at Equifax Inc. for three years in the 1990s and has been back in the Chicago office ever since.
She became equity partner in 2000 while on a part-time schedule. She began working full-time around 2004.
Eisner said Debora de Hoyos, who led Mayer, Brown as its first female managing partner from 1991 until 2007, was an important figure to look up to. Now, Eisner wants to be a role model for lawyers wondering if they can have a top-notch career after a part-time stint.
“When I was part time, I always said I don’t want to be the poster child for part time here,” she said.
“Now that I’m in this role, I’m very comfortable speaking about my past in that regard because I think it’s very important for people to know there are alternative ways to achieve their goals if they are willing to work very hard and seek counsel and mentoring through this.
“So if I can help to inspire some people along the way to achieve their goals, I would be thrilled with that.”