Mark F. Bernstein ’89

The day will come, perhaps soon, when the elevation of a woman to be head of a major American law firm is not a big deal. But that day has not yet arrived, so the election of Lorie Almon ’94 to be the next chair and managing partner of Seyfarth Shaw, which has nearly 900 lawyers across 17 offices worldwide, still merits attention.

Almon, an employment litigator, gets that. According to a 2021 report by Law360, only about 23% of equity partners at U.S. law firms are women, even though women make up more than 55% of U.S. law students. Similarly, a 2017 study by McKinsey & Co. found that women held only about a quarter of law firm board of director seats, and a similar percentage served as managing partner.

At Seyfarth, Almon proudly noted, more than 40% of the firm’s executive committee and practice group heads are women. That was just one factor that led to name the firm to its annual “Best Law Firms for Women” list last year. Almon credited Seyfarth’s culture, which she believes encourages all their lawyers to be their “authentic selves.” As a young partner, Almon deliberately brought her son to the office and let others in the firm know she planned to attend a kid’s school recital or ballgame. The point, she explained, was “not making parenthood something that seemed inconsistent with being a good lawyer.”

There are certain constants to life in Big Law — there is no escaping the fact it is hard work to handle complex problems for some of the world’s most prestigious companies. “This is a client service business, and that means being readily available, working hard and providing nuanced and sophisticated advice,” she said. “But it’s not an all-or-nothing choice, and we can normalize the idea that you can have both a successful professional and personal life.”

When young lawyers, especially women, recognize that, “you see a real change. They feel the firm is a place where they can succeed, and they become even more passionate in their commitment to their careers.”

After earning her undergraduate degree with honors at the University of Vermont, Almon said she decided to attend UVA because it offered both a top-tier legal education and a collaborative environment. While on campus, she “learned an enormous amount about leadership and integrity” — and incidentally, met her future husband, Mitchell Bompey ’94, in their small-section Contracts class. Outside of class, she chaired the Student Funded Fellowships Program and initially thought that public service would be her mission going forward. Upon graduation, the faculty awarded Almon the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Public Service.

“I have always had a passion, which I maintain today, about giving back to the community,” Almon said. “UVA supported my commitment to public service.”

A Student Funded Fellowship enabled her to take a job as an assistant corporation counsel for the New York City law department, where she spent 3½ years handling complex and high-profile litigation. Two years out of law school, she recalled, she was already handling jury trials and speaking to the media about high-profile constitutional cases.

“The great thing about going straight into government is that you get so much experience,” Almon said.

In February 1998, she moved to Seyfarth, expecting to stay for only a few years. Twenty-five years later, of course, she is still there.

Almon made partner in 2003 and has co-managed the firm’s New York office since 2005. Seven years ago, she was first elected to the firm’s seven-member executive committee, which she will chair come September.

Almon will be the second UVA Law grad to hold the top spot at Seyfarth. Stephen Poor ’80, who was Seyfarth’s chair from 2001-2016, was a key mentor for Almon as she rose through the firm’s ranks. In fact, Poor interviewed Almon as an associate candidate, greeting her with “Wahoowa.”

“To my great surprise, I found I really loved working in a law firm!” she laughed. “I found that Seyfarth offered me the opportunity to handle complex work in a team-based, innovative environment. As my leadership responsibilities grow, I hope to continue to drive a high-performance culture that leads the market in innovation and collaboration, both within the firm and with our clients.”

But that doesn’t mean she has forgotten her commitment to public service. For nearly 20 years, Almon has served on the board of directors of Jumpstart, a nonprofit organization that recruits and trains thousands of college students to work in pre-K programs around the country, helping under-resourced children enter kindergarten with the pre-literacy and learning skills to succeed.

“It’s just remarkable the difference it makes,” Almon said of Jumpstart’s work. “A young child’s participation in a Jumpstart program can be a life-changing course correction. I’m very proud to be associated with the organization.”

Perhaps eventually, one of the children helped by the nonprofit will be featured in a story like this one. Almon would like that to be the case, though she recognizes that just naming a woman to head a major American law firm is still a step forward.

“I hope that one day when women get appointed to these roles, their gender is not one of the key features of the story, but it is today,” she acknowledged. “Still, it’s exciting for all of us when we see women move into key leadership roles. And I’m enormously proud to be part of a firm that has created an environment where that can happen.”

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