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September 24, 2018

Women Leaders

Calling the shots: GrayRobinson law firm gives Mayanne Downs full control

Amy Martinez | 9/28/2017

Highs and lows

Five years ago, Downs got a call from Marshall, who had been GrayRobinson’s president since the early 1990s. He was looking toward retirement and asked if she’d be interested in succeeding him.

In 2012, Downs left the boutique law firm where she had worked for 23 years to help launch a new complex litigation section at GrayRobinson. In June 2016, the firm’s board of directors unanimously voted to promote Downs to president and managing director.

“We didn’t hire her because she’s a woman. We hired her because she’s the most qualified person,” Marshall says. “But it’s a side benefit — we get some additional diversity in our leadership.”

In the same month she was elected head of the firm, Downs mourned the deaths of both of her parents and helped the city deal with the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The attack, in which 49 were killed, raised a host of legal issues for the city, including oversight of a memorial fund for the victims’ families. Downs took a leave of absence from GrayRobinson to dedicate herself full time to helping the city work through the issues.

“We received and distributed to victims and their families a little over $32 million,” she says. “This is a very generous, loving and inclusive community. People were remarkable in their willingness to help and do the right thing, but it was a very complicated time.” Figuring out “the right level of payment” for each of the survivors and families of the dead, as well as the tax deductibility of donations, proved tricky, she says. “We had some large donations from our corporate community partners, but also there were a lot of $10, $20, $50 and $100 donations from people all over the world.”

Last year, in a press release announcing her promotion, GrayRobinson noted that Downs is one of few women at the top of the largest 200 U.S. law firms. Downs says she hopes her appointment sends a message to other law firms.

“This profession has a long way to go before women are meaningfully in charge, notwithstanding what their business cards say,” she says.

Downs, for her part, has hired women at the firm and seeks to ensure those who are busy with child rearing can keep their careers moving forward, she says. “I want them to be at the table, not just have people say they’re at the table.”

She sees corporate clients increasingly pushing law firms to diversify their leadership. “Just as they seek to have their management be a more diverse representation” of their communities and industries, she says, “they want to see their vendors do the same thing.”

 

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