In this column, we solicit opinions on issues pertinent to women from our readers. In this issue, we spoke with Linda Myers of Kirkland & Ellis, and Stephanie Jones of Weston Benshoof Rochefort Rubalcava & MacCuish LLP. If you have a question on which you'd like to see opinions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNews: What is the biggest challenge facing women in the law?
LMyers: It's not really that different from the biggest challenge for men. There is significantly increased time pressure in the practice of law. The time to thoroughly review documents, fully consider the situation or sift through all the available facts prior to giving advice is so limited because clients want instantaneous response. It is not necessarily a gender issue, although women may feel even more pinched because of the other responsibilities they juggle. Technology is partially responsible, but it's also just the work culture these days.I miss the opportunity to kick things around with my colleagues and gain their insights. It used to be one of the big advantages of working in a large law firm, a real luxury, and now it's virtually gone. There are so many demands on time – work, family, community service, it's just a huge challenge.
SJones: Maintaining work/life balance is the overriding issue. It's really difficult, and the fact that so many firms are very slow to address it causes a lot of very talented women to leave the law because of burnout and the desire to have a family. While some firms have done a good job of addressing the issue and developing formalized part time or flex time programs, much progress still needs to be made.
NNews: What has happened in your career that you were not prepared for, or that has surprised you?
S Jones: Surprise? Probably that I'm still practicing in a firm environment. I never anticipated being in a firm this long. When I left my prior large firm, as a sixth year, to join Weston Benshoof, I figured I stay a couple of years, finish paying off my loans, and then move in house or leave the law altogether. However, I now been with the firm for almost five years and can't imagine practicing anywhere else. For me, moving from a large firm to a midsize firm made a huge difference in my overall satisfaction with firm life in general.
I was also not prepared for the huge time commitment that maintaining a practice requires, while law school is hard work, it really does not prepare you for how difficult the job really is.
LMyers: The longevity of my career in the law – I never expected to be a partner in a law firm. When I went to law school, I saw it as being a stepping stone to something else, but I've enjoyed it so much that I've stayed.
NNews: Is there any particular area of law where you feel women have an advantage?
LMyers: Women are very good at facilitating, so anything that involves brokering a compromise – negotiating a deal, settling a piece of litigation, where everyone has to give a little to make it happen – tends to be something at which women excel. Many women entering law have these skills naturally, and it's terrific to see them further develop these skills, and become really confident in their effectiveness as they achieve positive results.
NNews: What is your most memorable or significant accomplishment as a lawyer?
SJones: Representing the family of a California 9/11 victim in seeking a compensation award from the Federal Victim's Compensation Fund. Shortly after the Fund was established a number of firms organized a formal pro bono program where lawyers within the firms took on their own clients and assisted them in making their claims from the fund. Even though I was fairly junior, I was fortunate enough to receive my own client and assisting her with her claim and guiding her through the process was one of the most gratifying things I' ve ever done.
NNews: In the summer of 2006, NAWL challenged law firms and corporate law departments to cure the inequity of women to men at the top level, with a goal that by 2015, 30% of all equity partners and CLOs will be women. Do you think this is reasonable? How will we do it?
SJones: I think it is reasonable, but the inequity issue first reared its head a long time ago, and little progress has been made to date. Consequently, many women move on to other jobs or leave the law entirely, which results in a smaller pool of women to be promoted. It would be wonderful if it did happen and it's certainly something we need to strive to accomplish.
NNews: What has been your most challenging issue to date?
LMyers: My husband is also a corporate partner at Kirkland, and his practice is hectic and involves some traveling. When we had our first two children, things were busy but under control. When our third child came along, that really changed the family dynamic…as they say, we went from "man to man" to "zone" defense and life seemed a lot nuttier.
Not long after our third child was born, I was offered a fantastic professional opportunity that would be exciting but also intense and would involve long hours. I really wanted the challenge and satisfaction that I knew would come with it, but literally, we were just getting adjusted to the pace of life with three kids. After some soul searching and lots of discussion with my husband, I decided to pursue the opportunity. We made some child care adjustments so that I could put in the necessary time without putting undue demands on my husband and the kids. Those were chaotic and tiring months but the work was in fact enormously satisfying and the project really helped my career trajectory, so it proved to be worth it.
SJones: Work life balance, definitely. It's very difficult to try to maintain some semblance of a life while at the same time maintaining a busy practice. Some years I've been burned out and have been miserable. I discovered, though, that I'm a better lawyer and generally more pleasant to be around if I have a life outside of work, and as a result of that I now make a concerted effort to carve out some time for myself and my outside interests.
NNews: If you weren't going to be a lawyer, what would you be?
LMyers: I would be a talk show host. I'd love to have the privilege of interviewing interesting people and finding out what makes them tick.
SJones: In an ideal world, a travel writer. I've traveled fairly extensively and love it; I also like to write so being a travel writer would allow me to combine two of my favorite activities.
NNews: What is your definition of a good day?
SJones: A good day would be a day where I can actually accomplish some of the tasks on my task list, because my attention does not get diverted by any emergency matters. Those days don't happen as frequently as I would like.
LMyers: When I'm able to accomplish all that I wanted to do on my matters, and hopefully have a chance to interact with my colleagues. I also really enjoy the committee work in which I am involved for the firm and interviewing law students and lateral attorney candidates. Just being able to get through my task list, with nothing unexpected interfering, is a big luxury and allows me to go home tired, but satisfied.
NNews: Tell me something about yourself that may surprise other people.
SJones: That when I was in law school a friend and I wrote a fiction novel. Unfortunately, shortly after we finished our initial draft we both got busy with our studies and abandoned the project.
NNews: What's the best book you've read recently that you'd recommend to others?
LMyers: I just finished Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It's about a women in her early 30s who goes through a divorce and a related deep depression. She decides to travel the world - Italy, India, Bali, and heals herself along the way. It offers lots of valuable insights.
Also Crossing Hoffa, which I'm reading now – it's written by one of my partners, Steve Harper. It's his Dad's story. His dad was a truck driver who was part of the Teamsters Union. After his father died, Steve found a box with memorabilia, a union card, newspaper clippings, etc., and with his own childhood memories, started to piece together what his dad had endured in fighting to clean up union corruption. Threats by Hoffa, attempts on his life…real intrigue. Plus, it's incredibly well written.
SJones: There are two, Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kinsolver and Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
NNews: Any words of wisdom for young women entering law school?
LMyers: There's been plenty of law school bashing, but I believe that attending law school is a beneficial thing to do. So, I'd say go for it! Even if you never practice law, you learn critical thinking, and how to analyze a problem from all sides. These skills you can use in any job – including raising children!
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