By Cheryl Hall
The Dallas Morning News.
Unlike most attorneys at big law firms, Debby Ackerman of Strasburger & Price LLP doesn’t have to worry about billable hours or bringing in clients.
The 64-year-old is being paid to be a role model.
Her sole charge is to show Strasburger’s female rising stars how to have successful legal careers without sacrificing rewards on the home front.
Women at professional firms are often urged to guide by example. But that means giving up time they could be spending on advancing their own careers.
Strasburger partner Mark Golman believes he has found the solution.
Ackerman is a former general counsel at Southwest Airlines. Golman lured her out of retirement nearly three years ago to help work with a startup Mexican airline. When that project fizzled out, he wanted to find her another role.
“Our younger female lawyers naturally gravitated to Debby because she’s been-there-done-that at a major U.S. company in an industry that’s traditionally male-dominated,” Golman says. “Debby had already climbed the ladder, so that pressure was not on her.”
Strasburger has a half-dozen career development programs, but this is the first time it has hired an in-house mentor.
During her six-year tenure as Southwest’s top in-house attorney, Ackerman helped the airline right itself after 9/11, worked on labor negotiations and developed the airline’s code of ethics.
“I can’t think of a better person to be a mentor, both from a legal standpoint and as a person,” says Jim Parker, former CEO of the Dallas-based carrier. “Southwest would not have been as great an airline as it became if Debby hadn’t been around.”
She took on the mentoring job at Strasburger two years ago. She’s paid what she calls a “very generous, approaching-six-figure” annual salary for eight hours a week of mentoring and a bonus for any specialty legal work she does.