What interested you about going to law school?
I was definitely not one of those people for whom law school was a default choice. Attending law school was always in my game-plan. I have a temperament well-suited to the practice of law. I always have been empathetic, passionate, responsive, and conscientious, and these “soft” skills drew me to a career as a lawyer. Law school provided me with the requisite training and knowledge, i.e. the “hard” skills, that I needed. I also come from a long line of lawyers, so I grew up with a favorable opinion of them and the work they do. I knew that a career in the law would play to my professional skills and strengths, but also would satisfy me on a personal level. I feel proud when I tell people my profession.
Was your experience in law school what you expected it to be?
In some respects, yes. I attended an academically demanding high school and college, so I was used to being surrounded by highly motivated and competitive students. But in other respects, no. Having attended a liberal arts college, I could largely elect to take whatever classes appealed to my interests and strengths and avoid those classes that were outside my comfort zone. In law school, you have less control over your curriculum. Some classes were quite interesting and really captivated my attention, and consequently I performed well in them; other subjects seemed totally foreign and I really struggled to stay engaged.
Describe you law firm and your practice.
Our core area of expertise is estate planning (fixed fee, not hourly) for individuals, including sophisticated tax-oriented and charitable planning as necessary. We assist clients with probate, estate and trust administration and disputes. We provide asset protection planning, international estate and tax planning, including offshore trusts. We also do pre- and post-marital agreements, and a large amount of closely-held business work. Our firm is in a unique position in the marketplace because we have the sophistication and expertise of a big firm, but we operate in a small firm environment with only three lawyers. We answer our own phone calls and emails and respond in real time. We listen, we are thorough, and we provide high-touch service. The number of referrals we get from existing clients is the most flattering form of praise.
What has been your most rewarding experience in practice so far?
Estate planning is a field of law that allows me to have an immediate positive impact on clients’ lives. I am well aware that there are more pleasant topics of conversation than family feuds, death and taxes, and some of my conversations with clients are emotionally charged and draining for them. I approach my work with a sense of understanding, commitment, and humor when appropriate. I know that when clients leave our office, they feel better. I know this because I can see it on their faces, read it in their body language, and because they tell me how grateful they are. Clients entrust us with deeply personal information, and it is fantastically rewarding to ease some of their concerns and really make a difference in their lives. Sometimes my job requires me to assume the role of a therapist, and I enjoy that. Estate planning is well-suited to female practitioners because it plays to qualities possessed particularly by women: relationship building, compassion, gaining trust, interpersonal skills, a focus on the importance of fairness, diplomacy, and organizational skills. It’s incredibly satisfying work.
What has been your greatest practice challenge?
Estate planning requires clients to share very personal and private details of their lives, and it can be difficult to avoid getting emotionally involved. Sometimes I hear stories that are so heart-wrenching or outrageous that my first reaction is a human reaction, not a lawyer’s reaction. I must remind myself that clients engage me to identify and explain the legal issues to them and to provide them with an appropriate solution or outcome. You want to show clients sympathy and compassion, but, at the end of the day, you cannot let your emotions blur the legal issues and relevancies.
What is your best advice to young women considering careers in the law?
I would emphasize that the benefits of a career in the law, particularly for women, are tremendous. It is not only an opportunity to support and promote the interests of other people, but also an opportunity to advocate for your own interests. A career in the law teaches you to speak up for yourself and to make your own decisions, it allows you an opportunity for financial independence and stability, it hones communication and interpersonal skill, it strengthens your intellectual skills, and it gives you a sense of confidence in understanding the law and current events. It is a career that is well-regarded and well-respected, and, undoubtedly, the abilities that you gain in your professional life will empower you in your personal life.