Managing partner of Akin Gump in Moscow, Natalia Baratiants, discusses her opinion on and experiences with gender equality in the legal profession in Russia and how her firm encourages diversity

 


What obstacles have you had to contend with during your legal career that related to your gender?

I have spent much of the last 25 years advising major energy companies in relation to their cross-border acquisitions and securities transactions, both within Russia and internationally. I have also regularly supported these very significant companies in forging strategic alliances and joint ventures. In that time, I think it is fair to say that the majority of those I have advised and worked with have been men. It has almost always been the case that my advice has been listened to, appreciated and followed. It really doesn’t worry me or add any pressure - from my own, personal perspective - if there are more men than women in that environment.

I have been the managing partner of Akin Gump in Moscow for many years and I have worked very closely with my partners focused on advising energy companies. So as far as my experience goes, I have only really been limited really by my own goals.

From a professional perspective, I am a great supporter of more women entering the legal profession both on the private practice and client side, as this offers a different perspective and balance which can be helpful to clients in getting their deals done.

 

From the perspective of gender equality how does the environment which you work in now compare to the one you began your career in?

Gender equality in the legal environment has changed so much both globally and domestically (in Russia) over the last 15-20 years. Now the opportunities available to men and women, whether setting out, established or being considered for partner, are broadly even, while historically this was not the case.

I genuinely feel that law is an equal opportunities profession, in particular for those pursuing this path/career today.

 

In general do you feel the legal profession within your jurisdiction treats women and men equally?

I think it is fair to say that in the legal departments of the big corporates there are still fewer women, but that is more for historical reasons, rather than current inequalities. As women work their way up the ranks within corporate legal departments in Russia we will ultimately see gender parity, but that will take a bit more time.
Within private practice we are seeing gender to be much less of an issue. Akin Gump in Moscow has two female and two male partners, and numerous female lawyers coming up through the ranks. That may not always be the case for smaller domestic Russian firms, of course.

 

Are there any initiatives to promote gender equality in the legal profession in your jurisdiction?

Working for a large international firm, led by Chairperson Kim Koopersmith, we have strong, diverse leadership with a broad outlook. In Moscow, we therefore enjoy the same initiatives, standards and policies as all the offices in our firm’s network, and this is a really attractive quality for our firm and for those looking for an employer providing equal opportunities. Is that the same for all law firms in Moscow? In the same way that isn’t always the case in New York or London - there is a huge range. But it is available for those who are looking for it and our firm is a great advocate for gender equality as well as diversity and inclusion, generally.

 

If you could introduce one policy related to gender equality in the legal profession what would it be?

I would ensure that leadership committees and management boards have multiple female members to allow for a breadth of mindset in strategic decision making.

 

Do you feel women are well represented at partner level and in management positions in firms within the country where you are based?

As I said, at Akin Gump we operate on an even playing field and, more generally, it is better than it was. I suspect there is more work to be done as more women move towards, or become, partner and the genders balance out more, but there is nothing stopping the full representation of women in management at law firms in Russia.

 

What initiatives do you have in place at your firm to promote gender equality?

Numerous: Akin Gump provides mentoring, training and professional development programmes to support all its lawyers across every office in building and expanding networks. We have vibrant diversity and inclusion committees operating firmwide and locally, which contribute to hiring initiatives. The firm provides a truly inclusive working environment.

 

Do you think your firm compares well to others in your market when considering gender equality?

With Kim Koopersmith’s committed leadership from the US, I suspect Akin Gump may be seen as something of a leader in this field. In addition, I don’t encounter many other female managing partners when I meet with my competitor colleagues at other law firms in Moscow. Hopefully that will start to change.

 

What advice would you give to women in junior positions to encourage them to work towards attaining senior positions?

Our firm has policies in place because it genuinely values diversity, and these are designed to provide a framework for standards and support.

Quality will always win – so, work hard, be the best lawyer you can, and you will get noticed for the right reasons. But do also get involved, be proactive and be visible with regards to activities and initiatives that are going on in the office, within the firm and outside it.

 

What do you feel are the biggest obstacles for women in your jurisdiction joining the legal profession now?

The legal profession in Russia has great potential. The work that is available is interesting, varied, and more international than it ever was. My advice is to think big and work hard.