Christie Smith, managing principal of the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion, met Paul Weiss partner Roberta (Robbie) Kaplan at a professional networking event earlier this year. Kaplan, 47, successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Edith Windsor, who sought to ensure that same-sex couples be entitled to the benefits of marriage under federal law. Though Kaplan (right) and Smith, 49, work in different fields, the two women became confidantes, and each has inspired the other professionally. --Stephanie N. Mehta
Smith: I was walking to my first dinner with Robbie, and I called Kelli, my wife, and I said, "I'm nervous! This woman has changed history. What am I going to talk to her about?" And Kelli said, without missing a beat, "Why don't you just let her be the big shot tonight?" I laughed. It was the perfect response.
Kaplan: I remember meeting you and immediately thinking, "(a) She's super-cool, and (b) Here's another married lesbian with kids, which is not something I encounter all that often."
Smith: The thing I've learned from Robbie is owning your place. There are responsibilities I've been asked to take on at work that had been done one way in the past. Upon reflection, I decided not to accept the status quo and follow someone else's path, but to create a new path.
Kaplan: When I became partner at Paul Weiss, it had to do with the ability to be what's known as a first-chair lawyer. It had much less to do with one's ability to get business. It's a different world today, and I want to be able to develop business and bring clients into the firm. Almost all the time I'm trying to develop business, I'm thinking of Christie, because she's so good at it. It's much harder for me to do this for myself. I might not have a problem saying those things in a courtroom, but saying those things in a meeting is different. So I try to channel Christie as much as I possibly can.