Patti Santelle was appointed managing partner of White and Williams LLP in December 2013, the first female managing partner in the 118-year history of the firm. Patti joined the firm in 1990, was elected to the partnership in 1995 and served as chair of the Commercial Litigation Department until 2013. She is entering her fifth year as managing partner, while maintaining her insurance coverage practice and managing relationships with some of the firm’s largest and longest-standing clients.
Andrea Malone (AM): What career path would you have pursued if you weren’t a lawyer?
Patti Santelle (PS): In college, I had a double major in economics and music (piano performance). I took both the GMATs and the LSATs, because I was considering business school and perhaps a career in music management. I decided to go to law school and ultimately ended up in management in the field of law.
AM: Name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader. Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
PS: My mentor both in the practice of law and law firm management was a guy named Guy—Guy Cellucci, the former managing partner of White and Williams, who passed away in 2013. I was hired to work for him in 1990, and he taught me to be a front-line/recognized leader in our field of practice, and ultimately also taught me to be a leader within the firm. Guy brought passion, creativity and an incomparable skill for bringing people together and solving problems to both the practice of law and management of the firm, and I continue to emulate those skills today.
AM: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
PS: The best advice I ever received was to be myself—don’t try to be something I am not. Early on in my career, I was complimented for being a naturally positive person who always had a smile on my face and I became completely comfortable with that. It is important as a leader to have a positive attitude.
AM: What advice would you give a new managing partner?
PS: Surround yourself with a solid team, from a firm management and client management perspective. To advance the firm and achieve your goals, you need a group of influential partners and strong administrators who understand the direction of the firm and who will provide you with sage advice. And don’t be afraid to ask for that advice. With your new role, you’ll be meeting more of the firm’s clients, but you likely won’t be doing as much work for the clients you have represented in your practice or spending as much time with them. Take the time to transition client relationships to the appropriate team so client service doesn’t suffer. Your clients will understand and have great respect for you.
AM: What does the legal profession need to do to improve opportunities for diverse lawyers?
This is a critical issue facing many industries, particularly the legal profession. Clients are requiring diverse teams and if we want to maintain those client relationships, we need to respond. That said, whatever actions we take to improve diversity shouldn’t just be because clients are requiring it. Having a diverse work environment is better for everyone. Firms need to look at how they recruit, hire, train and promote to ensure they are being inclusive. We need to make sure we are offering the same opportunities to all lawyers. Unconscious bias training, mentoring programs and other educational programs can help promote an inclusive work environment. I think it’s also important for law firms to participate in diversity recruiting fairs and affinity bar associations. At White and Williams, we are active in a number of programs, including the Philadelphia Diversity Law Program, a non-profit which consists of both law firms and corporate legal departments. The firm’s commitment to diversity in hiring and retention is not limited to Philadelphia though we certainly try to set the model in our largest office.
About the Author
Andrea Malone is the marketing and business development manager at White and Williams LLP. She is currently editor-in-chief of Law Practice Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @andrea_malone.