Voice of Experience: Mary Patrice Brown, Partner, O’Melveny & Myers

Mary Patrice BrownBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Mary Pat Brown, Partner in the DC office of O’Melveny & Myers and member of its White Collar Defense and Corporate Investigations Practice, says one of the most important things for a young woman to learn early in her career is confidence.

Brown, a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, said she shared this advice as a panelist at a career presentation. “While there are many things I wish I had known when I was younger, one was that I was not the dumbest person in the room after all.”

When you’re young and lacking in experience, she explained, there’s a natural tendency to feel that your insight isn’t as valuable as everyone else’s. But that’s not true – and in fact most people have these same insecurities. “When you’re young and you go into a room, you sometimes assume that you are not the smartest. The truth is, everyone else is feeling the same thing you are.”

By remembering that everyone is subject to doubts like these, women can better cultivate the confidence they need to advance.

Career Path in Law

“I’m a native Washingtonian,” Brown began. “I went to Georgetown for undergrad and for law school. I knew I wanted to be a litigator, and I started at a firm. Then I heard about an opening at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., which was also the local D.A. Twenty-three years went by before going back to private practice!”

Brown began her career handling federal and local crime cases and moved into supervisory roles before becoming the Chief of the Criminal Division at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Next, the Attorney General asked her to become head of the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, and then she became Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division.

“Besides being a good trial lawyer and appellate lawyer, what I’m most proud of, is the work I did at the Department of Justice, helping people who were victims of crime, and helping people who found themselves in uncertain circumstances,” Brown explained. Nevertheless, this year, she was ready for a new challenge.

She explained, “My dear friend Steve Bunnell, the Managing Partner of O’Melveny’s Washington office, reached out to me. He said, ‘People here at O’Melveny are your kind of lawyers – smart, friendly, ethical… and they grab a beer together after work!’ I thought, now that my only child is heading off to college, perhaps I’m ready for a change.”

She jumped at the opportunity. “They welcomed me with open arms, and what he promised was true. I’ve been focusing on criminal law ever since. Currently my job involves all aspects of white collar crime – going to court and arguing cases. I’m helping people who have found themselves in some sort of legal mess. I’m helping them navigate those problems with good results.”

Women in Law

Brown shared three pieces of advice for young lawyers. “I would say work really hard and always keep a sense of humor. But the most important thing is always to preserve your personal integrity. Is it going to hurt sometimes? Yes, but that’s what you need to do.”

She believes the legal profession has changed significantly over the years – but there are still some challenges that remain for women in law. She explained, “The D.C. Circuit Historical Society held a panel of women lawyers who had practiced in the U.S. District Court or Court of Appeals.

The speakers were women such as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, former Chief Judge Patricia Wald, Senior Judge Gladys Kessler, and a few others. They talked about what it was like in the ’60s and ’70s. I lived through some of that in the ’80s, but it was nothing like what they went through.”

“I think, still, one of the challenges that remains is communication. There’s a male-dominated business model in the law firm profession, and there is still a barrier in how women and men communicate. Sometimes I joke that if they keep using sports analogies, I’m going to start talking about my Ferragamo shoes,” Brown said with a laugh.

“There’s still a little bit of that going on – we need to make our communication a little more neutral.”

Brown says she is excited about O’Melveny’s emphasis on diversity in law. “There’s a focus on diversity in the private sector and the business of practicing law. At O’Melveny we have a great focus on bringing people along and not leaving it as business as usual. Walter Dellinger, our partner in charge of diversity, has shaped this focus on creating diverse legal teams and it is very well received by clients.”

Brown is taking part in the firm’s women’s employee network, which addresses and identifies issues that affect women at O’Melveny and in the legal profession in general. “I’m so delighted to be with this group of women associates who are brilliant and fun to be with. One of the joys I’ve had in my career is mentoring young women and men, and I’m hoping to work with these young attorneys formally and informally.”

Additionally, Brown said, she was pleased to learn about the firm’s flexibility policy, which includes things like reduced workload, telecommuting, and even job sharing, along with back-up care for children and other family members. “Although I’m past my child raising years, now I’m leaning toward taking care of elder parents. The firm recognizes that these are not just women’s needs – they’re really parenting and family issues. There are so many options available to meet personal needs.”

The firm also offers counseling for people transitioning back to work after taking parental leave. “It’s nice to see that O’Melveny recognizes that need,” she said.

In Her Personal Time

Outside the office, Brown enjoys reading, cooking, wine, and traveling. “I love to travel. Each year my husband and I and a group of friends rent a house somewhere, and I take my life and move it out of DC and into some beautiful setting.”

“And of course, I also love any time I have with my son who’s going to be a sophomore in college this fall,” she added.