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Equity Project Q&A: Nicole D. Galli

October 11, 2019

Nicole D. Galli is the Founder and Managing Partner of the Law Offices of N.D. Galli, a business litigation and intellectual property law firm with offices in Philadelphia and New York. She is also the Founder and President of Women Owned Law, the first national networking organization for women entrepreneurs in the law. In 2019, Nicole was awarded the 2019 Tory Burch Foundation Fellowship for women entrepreneurs. 

Since 2018, Nicole has been a Champion of The Equity Project. Below, she shares her perspective on the gender gap in law and discusses the role The Equity Project can play by providing an economic incentive for change.

Congratulations on being named a 2019 Tory Burch Foundation Fellow—a prestigious program for women entrepreneurs. What inspired you to establish your own firm?

I started my firm because I wanted control over my practice and my business. I worked with terrific people and enjoyed many aspects of my work in other firms, but while I was 100% responsible for bringing in business and growing my practice, I had very little say or control over many aspects of the firm that affected my ability to do that. Looking back on my experience four years later, it was an untenable dynamic that I had neither the patience nor the temperament to navigate. Therefore, I ultimately felt that I needed to be able to run my own firm and lay the path for myself. Entrepreneurship runs in my family, so it’s not a surprise that I was meant to be an entrepreneur but it took me years to realize and accept that. It has been a wonderful journey and I’ve been able to work with a wide variety of clients, including not only the large companies with whom I have always worked, but also many individuals and start-ups like mine. I love helping others—especially women—build and protect their most valuable business assets.

A recent report by Major, Lindsey & Africa revealed that the stubbornly persistent gender pay gap in law is actually getting worse. Based on your over two decades of experience in both AmLaw 100 firms and smaller boutiques, what do you think is the main obstacle to women in law?

It’s difficult to hone in on one as there are so many obstacles women in law face. I’ve referred to it as “death by a thousand papercuts” and it really is. For some, being a practicing female attorney at a law firm can be one of those horrendous mazes you get caught in and can’t find your way out of. The entire system is not set up for women—or even men who value a life outside of work—to succeed. First, you have the billable hour, which incentivizes working more rather than working efficiently. Next, there is implicit (and explicit) bias, which has been well documented and affects the opportunities, promotions, compensation and status of women in law firms. There’s also blatant sexism and rampant #MeToo issues. In addition, women who bear children are doing so during prime years for building their careers. Even if women don’t take much time off, the sheer physical exhaustion that accompanies pregnancy and having young children is inherently at odds with billing long hours at law firms. On top of that, it is well documented that women bear more of the burden at home—both in terms of physical housework and childcare, and also in terms of the mental labor of keeping the family and household together and on track. Therefore, gender inequity in the law is a complex problem that requires complex solutions. I don’t have the answer which is part of why I ultimately chose a different path.

What advice would you have for women lawyers looking to break into equity partnership levels at firms or even considering founding their own law firm?

After running my own firm for four years, I am more convinced than ever that entrepreneurship is key for women to ultimately achieve parity and equity in law. I urge women to consider founding their own firms or at least joining women-owned firms. If you ever had the thought of doing so, talk to those of us who have and, if it seems like it might be a fit for you, go for it! Starting and running your own firm is not rocket science, and the benefits of doing so are huge. For folks coming out of firms who already have books of business, the transition should be fairly easy, but even if you do not, it can be done and there are many of us out there who are willing to help (like the networking organization I founded, Women Owned Law). Many women firm owners I know end up doing better financially in their own firms than they ever did in a majority-owned firm. However, one disclaimer for starting your own firm is that it will not increase your personal time (but it will increase your flexibility!). Since I am still in start-up growth mode, I probably work more now than I ever did in any of my prior firms, but I also have more control over my work and I hope that the time intensity will level off eventually. Anyone who says that women start law firms for work-life balance doesn’t spend much time around women law firm owners.

What was it about The Equity Project that motivated you to become a Champion and how do you foresee economic incentives like this helping to turn the needle for women lawyers?

Ultimately, economic power is the great equalizer. It is harder to marginalize women lawyers who have their own books of business and easier for those lawyers with books to start their own firms if they chose to do so. Economic incentives like The Equity Project can help more women be rainmakers. It also encourages majority-run firms to funnel opportunities to women when they might not otherwise have done so.

To what extent are your clients aware of litigation finance as a tool to help mitigate risk and cost—and what is the most common question you get asked about it?

Most of my smaller clients have not been aware of it and need education on the entire process. Larger clients are aware of the option but have not expressed much interest in it yet, although some in-house counsel I know are interested in pursuing the option and learning about the benefits. Although awareness is increasing, there is a lot of education that still needs to be done, even at the most basic levels. For my clients who are interested, I think the biggest question is around cost—what the revenue shares look like—and whether their matter is viable for funding.