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The legal industry has long struggled with diversity and inclusion issues, and many hurdles remain for women trying to advance as lawyers. But two accomplished attorneys – Barbara Hart, director and Executive Committee Member at Grant & Eisenhofer, and Mary Beth Foley, General Counsel for the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund – recently discussed their career paths in a webinar hosted by Western Alliance Bank Settlement Services entitled “Women in Law: Becoming the Master of Your Career.”
During their conversation, Hart and Foley produced a bevy of keen insights on the importance of building diverse skill sets; the need to continually reinvent one’s self; balancing work and life; the need to communicate deliberately; and how to face failure.
Building skill sets: Foley and Hart emphasized the importance of embracing every opportunity to build skill sets. Foley relayed how, as a law school student, she was asked about interning for the Ohio attorney general’s office despite her interest in working as a defense counsel. A professor told Foley that the internship could provide invaluable courtroom experience; her subsequent success proved his point. “I had federal jury trials by the time I was 28 years old,” Foley said.
Embracing constant reinvention: Hart talked about how her specialty, securities law, changed after the passage of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act in 1995. Among other sweeping changes, the act strengthened the relationship between lawyers who represented small shareholders and those who represented institutional investors. “The law will change under your feet,” she said. “Are you a deer in the headlights, or are you going to get up and reinvent yourself?”
Balancing work and life: Foley and Hart discussed managing motherhood and their legal careers. Foley, who joined the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund after years as a litigator, noted that “litigation controls your schedule – judges do not give you a continuance to go to the school play.” Hart pointed to Foley as an example of the female attorneys who have successfully advocated for freer schedules – after demonstrating clear value to their employers. “The more control and seniority you get … the more you will have mastery and control over your schedule,” Hart said.
Communicating deliberately: Hart said she’s always aware of how she can be judged based on how she communicates. “You have to be willing to express an opinion and take a stand to be perceived as a leader,” she said. But she also cautioned that female attorneys must remain vigilant about certain stereotypes, “because people are willing to believe things in particular about women,” she said. “I hope for these things to diminish over time. For now? I wouldn’t bank on it.”
Facing failure: Hart asserted that failure should be instructive – but not defining. She recounted a story in which a retired judge told her not to “over-learn the lesson” from a loss. “You shouldn’t hog success – don’t hog failure either,” Hart said – acknowledging that she often struggles with this advice herself. “Learn from it, try to be unemotional about it and dissect it and don’t let it define you. Fail faster, learn all you can and keep going.”
This is just a sampling of the many insights shared by the panel. To hear the full presentation, register for and access the recorded webinar here: