Bender said he and three or four of O'Melveny's minority lawyers head for Harvard University and other top law schools each year to recruit more minorities.

According to several women lawyers at O'Melveny who were interviewed for this article, gender has never been an issue for them at the firm.

"I saw what was in the American Lawyer article," said Pam Westhoff, who has been at O'Melveny 11 years. "I can only say that what was said about Katy McGuinness hasn't been true for me. I have always felt that I've been dealt with fairly here, and I've been given some of the best assignments in the department. I feel that I've been rewarded for my initiative."

Gender "literally hasn't been an issue," said Allison Keller, who said she left the firm when she was recruited away by Mayor Richard Riordan but returned last year when O'Melveny wooed her back.

According to one former O'Melveny lawyer who has left the firm, O'Melveny is probably "much less stodgy and formal than most people might realize," although it is nowhere near as entrepreneurial as smaller firms or as companies in other industries.

"It's not Netscape," he said, "but it's not the big, stuffy institution that a lot of people probably imagine it is."

Says another partner at a smaller L.A. law firm: "To the extent that there is a blue-blood law firm in Los Angeles, it's O'Melveny." But that same lawyer says O'Melveny probably doesn't differ significantly in corporate culture from other large law firms.

"Law firms of that size typically go through an evolution," he said. "When they're small, they're closely knit partnerships where every individual makes a big difference. When they get to a certain size, they become more institutionalized. They have to."

What O'Melveny has evolved into, according to outside observers, is a fairly typical, large, modern law firm trying to ensure its corporate future by adjusting to the changing business scene.

One thing that hasn't changed, however, is the demanding work load.

Westhoff, who is in her second year as a partner in the real estate division, says she finds it tough to juggle her duties as a wife, mother of two and a lawyer.

"It is difficult to balance big firm law practice with raising children. It is a big time commitment. People who leave, whether they are men or women, often go to jobs as in-house counsel so they can have more manageable schedules," said Westhoff.

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