Shipman & Goodwin’s Leander Dolphin Named 2022 Attorney of the Year
Leander Dolphin’s career trajectory and social justice, equity, and inclusion efforts are setting examples for young women and people of color across the state.
Dolphin, who took over as sole managing partner of law firm Shipman & Goodwin in January, was named 2022 Attorney of the Year by the Connecticut Law Tribune last month.
“I feel very proud to have been elected to the role, and the significance of the position I am in,” Dolphin told CBIA.
Dolphin began her legal career at Shipman in 2004. After a brief two-year absence from 2007 to 2009, she returned to the firm with a new energy and self understanding.
She was named a partner in 2015 and co-managing partner in 2021.
Dolphin, a member of CBIA’s board of directors, says sponsors and mentors played important roles in her story.
“There were many people along the way who poured into me early on,” she said. “It was not that they gave me the confidence to lead; it was that they saw me leading this firm before I saw myself in that role.
“I just wanted to be a great lawyer, be good at what I did, and I wanted to be respected by my colleagues.”
Dolphin left Shipman & Goodwin in the early 2000s after starting a family.
At the time, she felt she needed something new to continue her learning.
When a client recommended her for an opportunity as general counsel and vice president of human resources at the Girl Scouts of Connecticut, it seemed like the right fit—connecting a passion for girls’ issues with her employment law experience.
“I am a feminist. I went to an all-girls’ high school,” she said.
“I was a women’s studies major at Wesleyan. I am passionate about girls’ organizations, girls’ education, and girls leading.”
A relatively junior lawyer at the time, the Girl Scouts of Connecticut position presented Dolphin with a challenge.
There was a steep learning curve as the lead attorney for a statewide organization in a period of massive change.
But the learning went far beyond the law.
“I learned a lot about myself,” she said.
“Things I thought I did not like about private practice, I was still that person at the Girl Scouts.
“I still worked long hours and I still worried all the details, because my dedication and work ethic were the same.”
A suggestion from a former colleague and mentor at Shipman & Goodwin to come back, was just what she needed to hear when she felt it was time to look at her next move.
“It was like this lightbulb went off,” Dolphin said.
“I can go back to the firm, continue developing there with my renewed understanding of myself, and then see what happens.”
Countless accolades later, including the Connecticut Law Tribune’s 2014 New Leader in the Law, National Bar Association 2017 40 Under 40 Nation’s Best Advocates, and 2022 Savoy Magazine Most Influential Black Lawyers, Dolphin has made a name for herself, and paved the way for others.
Only 2% of equity partners at large law firms are women of color, according to a 2020 American Bar Association study.
“To be truly seen by other people who understand what it means that a person like me—Black, a woman, an immigrant—is in this role is really personal and meaningful to me,” Dolphin said.
“I think that it is my job to make sure I am contributing to a culture that provides opportunities for others that are underrepresented in the law. I take that very seriously.”
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion
Dolphin feels the proudest about the internal changes she has helped the firm make regarding inclusion and decision-making.
For example, Dolphin saw the impact of implicit bias training almost immediately during a full-day retreat with a consultant and other firm partners.
“It was really transformative for our partnership,” she explained.
“It changed me because I was forced to think about all the ways my biases were interrupting or affecting my decisions.”
Dolphin learned that she alone could interrupt her biases.
“I am still working on it,” she added. “We all are.”
The initiative soon spread across Shipman & Goodwin.
It has helped the firm become Mansfield Rule Plus Certified, meaning it has made significant progress with respect to diversity and inclusion, especially with regard to gender.
In 2021, Shipman was recognized as a Top 10 law firm nationally for representation of women in equity partnership.
“It is always expected that you consider how your implicit biases might be impacting access to an opportunity,” she said.
“Attention to implicit bias, and intentionality around diversity and inclusion has changed the way our firm is run, and it will continue to have an impact.”
As Dolphin reflects on her career and looks to the future, she hopes to help inspire the next generation.
Her advice for women looking to follow a successful path is to know yourself and always be yourself.
“My number one cardinal rule is to truly know yourself—and be open to opportunities that you may not have considered for yourself,” Dolphin said.
She also encourages young women to build relationships that are both authentic and reciprocal.
“I am intentional about making sure that my relationships are good and solid and real,” she said.
“Because I am never not being myself, I am able to fully show up for my clients, my colleagues, and the firm.”
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