In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked New York shareholder Diana Nehro, the newest member of the firm’s board of directors and chair of Ogletree Deakins’ Cross-Border Practice Group, a few questions about her experiences as a prominent and respected woman in the legal profession. Below are some of her reflections as a practicing attorney, a practice group leader, and a member of firm leadership. Part one of this two-part series focuses on Diana’s cross-border practice and the evolving role of women in the legal profession. Please stay tuned for part two of our spotlight in honor of Women’s History Month, which will cover Diana’s path to firm leadership and her thoughts on mentoring.
Q. As the chair of Ogletree’s Cross-Border Practice Group, what do you think are the hot-button issues for global employers, particularly those facing employment and labor law issues in an international context?
A. Even after three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, cross-border remote work is still an issue I see every day. Employees who feel that they performed well remotely during the pandemic tend to expect that they may continue to do so wherever they’d like, including outside the United States. Unfortunately, cross-border remote work can create significant areas of risk for employers, including with regard to immigration, employment law, payroll tax, corporate tax, and ownership of intellectual property.
As such, it may be helpful for employers to analyze concerns well before approving a cross-border remote-work arrangement. In addition, employers that are inconsistent with their approvals of such arrangements run the risk of incurring a U.S. employment discrimination claim. For these reasons, it may be practical for global employers to implement cross-border remote-work policies and apply them consistently across the board.
Q. As a woman working in the global practice of law, what are some of the nuances that attorneys practicing domestic law may not experience?
A. Ogletree Deakins’ Cross-Border Practice Group has assisted clients in more than 170 countries since we started our practice at the firm more than 11 years ago. In addition to the multitude of labor and employment laws, that is more than 170 different cultures impacting the workplace that we’ve learned about—and, as importantly—from. This is particularly the case with respect to the societal role of women, which varies greatly from culture to culture.
In some countries, the level of equality is similar to what we see in the United States—getting better but definitely still room for improvement. In other countries, it can be even more egalitarian, at least based on my experience working for the New York subsidiary of an Israeli bank. In other countries, there is far less equality for women. In those countries, we have seen a lot of groundswell from the younger generations of women fighting for real change. Witnessing such engagement and compassion is a helpful reminder to me not to become complacent, and to ensure I am continuing to do my part help make the world a fair and equitable place for my three daughters.
Q. Can you reflect on the role of women in the legal profession and how it has changed from when you started practicing law—in terms of relationships with both colleagues and adversaries?
A. When I started practicing, there were far fewer women in leadership than we see now. After my clerkship with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, I worked for the labor and employment practice group of a corporate firm in Boston. There were three partners in that group, and all were men. When I moved to New York City and worked as a white-collar criminal defense attorney in the financial crimes space, all of the giants of the criminal trial bar were men. In that role, I was advocating for my clients on the other side of the table from prosecutors at all levels—federal, state, and municipal—and nearly every one of them was male. All of my clients were men. And, at the firm I worked for—save one woman—every other partner was male, and nearly all the associates were female. At the time, that seemed totally normal to me. I absolutely loved working at that firm, and I never really gave the lack of female leadership a second thought.
The first time I became aware of female leaders in the law was when I went in-house to work for a wholly owned New York–based subsidiary of an Israeli bank. The general counsel who hired me was a woman, and the general counsel of the Israeli parent company was also a woman. Seeing such strong female leaders in action definitely made me realize that I didn’t need to assume that I would always be in a subordinate role. There could be leadership opportunities for me in my future.