Work Different: Finding The Opportunities That Match Your Priorities
The legal industry has been slow to adopt workplace innovations. Conventional paths often are still package deals with unwelcome tradeoffs – especially when priorities change over the course of a career.
COVID has changed our thinking on remote work, but beyond conventional full-time work – in or out of the office – there’s more room for innovation. Often, the challenge is bridging the information gap – connecting individual attorneys with the innovative opportunities that match their new priorities and make the best use of their skills.
Our panelists have all been on the cutting edge of this challenge, finding and creating opportunities that make the most of their time and talents. How did they find “outside the box” opportunities as their priorities changed? How can young attorneys build the skills and relationships that will prepare them for a better range of options? And how can we support attorneys looking for the chance to put their skills to good use?
Sumi Thomas, Vice President of Legal Professional Affairs, Blackstone Legal Fellowship
Stephanie Holmes, Founder, BrighterSideHR, LLC
Andrea Lucas, Commissioner, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Roger Severino, Vice President for Domestic Policy, The Heritage Foundation; Senior Fellow, The Ethics & Public Policy Center
Moderator: Kate Todd, Partner, Ellis George Cipollone
Work Different: Finding The Opportunities That Match Your Priorities
Alida Kass: Good morning, everyone. I’m Alida Kass, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at The Federalist Society and Director of the Freedom of Thought Project. I appreciate you so much—Saturday morning, it’s early. It’s been a fantastic conference, but it’s always a draining experience—just too much fun and excitement and interesting discussions. So welcome, everyone.
I’m very excited to present — this is our second year with the Work Different Program to talk about ways that the legal industry and the legal conservative movement can do a better job of supporting the range of choices that work for people across the course of their careers. Really delighted to have our moderator with us again this year, Kate Todd—well known to, I’m sure, all of you in the room, a great friend of The Federalist Society, with tremendous experience working in law firm, non-profit, and government across the course of her career. She’s currently the managing partner at the DC office of a firm right now, and I’m just going to move along and turn this over to Kate. And thank you all for joining us.
Kate Todd: Thank you, Alida. And I’ve been thinking about this panel, maybe — and more broadly about The Federalist Society convention in this anniversary year. And this isn’t a particularly unique observation, but there really are sort of two conventions going on. Right? There is a set of panel discussions—very robust discussion—on cutting-edge legal issues and sometimes really old legal issues but cutting-edge debate about them. And those, in some ways, could be passive to the audience. It’s generally not because we’re a very active group of audience members, typically, but it’s incredibly important and vital to what the organization does.
But then there’s — if you turned the camera around to face the audience or, even better, you took the camera out into the hallway, where you have the coffee stations and the people mingling, you see the entire other facet of the convention, which is the membership and the people who are all very passionate about the law and this country and the future and connecting with each other and just a huge diversity of ways that they take that passion and incorporate it into their lives.
And the secret of the dinner, for all of you who attended, is 2,000 people, and a waiting list would have paid money to go to that dinner to sit with the other 1,999 people even if there were no podium and there were no program. And that is just an incredible testament to this organization. But I mention that because, number one, I’m very fortunate throughout the year to have conversations with Alida and others in the leadership of The Federalist Society, who I know do just a great job of thinking about both of those pieces and cultivating them.
And the second reason I mentioned is because I think this panel — what this panel does is take a very open discussion about putting the camera on the membership and looking at the ways that people incorporate what we’re talking about in different ways in their lives. And so it’s a real pleasure to be a part of this project, and I thank Alida and everyone at The Federalist Society for promoting it.
My job is, largely, to get out of the way. And what I’ve asked the panelists to do is to start by — I mean, their story is the content of the program. So I’m asking them to — I’ll give the very briefest of headline of what they’re doing right now, and then I’ve asked them to sort of look at their path and what they’re doing and think about what they would want to tell this audience that isn’t in their bio.
And then I also asked them to—just as a sort of kick-off—answer a question, which was, “What would you tell — what advice would you give your younger self if you could?” Or I think in my case, it would be, “What would you — what advice would you make your younger self actually listen to?” Because I’m confident that I had gotten great advice. So with that, I’m just going to give the quick headline introduction, and then we’ll go down the row and let people kind of share what they want to about their path.
So, first, we have Sumi Thomas, who is Vice President of Legal Professional Affairs for Blackstone Fellowship. She graduated from Pensacola Christian College, and she is our non-lawyer on the panel. There are a lot of non-lawyers throughout The Federalist Society membership and convention, and I think she might talk about being a non-lawyer a little bit. She has experience in policy, communications, politics, and at a law firm, and she’s shepherded 1,600 young men and women through the Blackstone program. So she’s thought a lot about what to say to young people, in particular.
Stephanie Holmes is creator, owner — probably 17 other hats related to your enterprise, Brighter Side HR, an HR consulting business that I want to hear more about. She graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University, got her JD from Catholic, and she has both law firm and in-house legal experience.
Then we have Andrea Lucas, who is a Commissioner on the EEOC. She was confirmed in September of 2020. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, got her JD from UVA, has experience both in the law firm and as a law clerk at EDVA.
And last but not least, we have Roger Severino, who is a man of many, many titles, and I will probably miss some, but he serves as the Vice President of domestic policy, an Anderlik Fellow at Heritage, also is a Senior Fellow at The Ethics and Public Policy Center. He graduated from the University of Southern California, got his master’s degree in public policy from Carnegie Mellon, his JD from Harvard. He most recently served as the head of the Office of Civil Rights in that sleepy little division within the government, HHS—particularly during COVID—and has broad experience in civil rights, including religious freedom, administrative law, information policy, and a whole lot of other areas.
So with that, I’m going to turn it over to Sumi to tell us what you want to share about your path and advice you’d give.
Sumi Thomas: No. Thank you, Kate. So I come from a family of lawyers. Totally thought I was going to head into law because that is just what you did in the family I came from. Got into law school, and right before, I realized, “Oh my gosh. You actually have to practice law if you go to law school.” [Laughter] There is brief writing. There is complaints. There’s all these things, and I think — when I was growing up, I didn’t know there was another path. Right? It’s like, what else could you do with a law degree?
So I did an about-face. I focused more on policy, on politics, and the more I got into that, I realized I like candidates. I like shaping people. I like shaping messages and understanding—looking, you know, not just what’s in front of me but what’s 30/50 years ahead in an individual’s life, as you’re thinking about the direction they’re headed.
And one thing I’ve learned is lean into your strengths and the gifts. I think all of you in this room, no matter what profession, where you are now, I bet you can go back and look at yourself—honestly, even in elementary school—and say, “Where’d you lean? What are those gifts?” Even little things like, “Was I more organized than the other students were organized, or how did I think, or was I really good about putting friend groups together or inviting people into different friend groups?” All of us have those little things that we know about each other that I guarantee you that you can see from the time that you were a child.
So I ended up in Arizona by happenstance. I got married in 2001. My husband was getting his doctorate in physical therapy, ended up in Arizona, and a friend of mine had just joined ADF that I’d worked with at a law firm back in Colorado where I grew up and fell in love with the organization. And then in 2011, Dr. Jeff Ventrella, who’s here, tapped me and asked me if I would come accelerate Blackstone. They’d never recruited before then, so I got to take the strengths that I had had about finding people, helping them develop a narrative, their story.
So I started recruiting for the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, took over professional development in 2018, and I really look at it that way. It’s not just helping someone find a career path. That’s more than what I do. It is more like, “What is your personal and professional narrative, and how do we help you craft the credentials in your story to get where you’re trying to go?” And it’s something that I have loved doing for the last few years. It’s always enjoyable to find — helping students find success.
As old as the Fellowship is now, whether it’s a student that’s a 1L or whether it’s a student that is a partner or—I shouldn’t say a student—whether it’s a lawyer who’s a partner at a law firm trying to find where their next step, where their career is taking them, I would say the best piece of advice that I would tell myself, honestly, is something Kannon Shanmugam said back in, I think it was 2020. He was doing a — I think he was doing a commencement exercise, I think at the University of South Carolina. And he said, “Never look at your career as a ladder you climb. And so often you’ll see people that will look at it — it’s like, ‘I got to go right up this rung.’” And he’s like, “That’s the worst, visually.” He said, “Look at a climbing wall because sometimes you’re going to go up, sometimes you’re going to go down, sometimes you’re going to go a totally different direction that you didn’t even imagine, to take a step in a completely different direction that you didn’t even know was a possibility.”
So I think it takes the pressure off when you see a wide expanse of space in this profession versus saying, “Okay, next rung, next rung, next rung.” It’s not it. And I think, honestly, these panelists are a great testament to that. So that’s the best thing I think I could ever tell my younger self because I will tell you it’s what I tell every student that I talk to. And you will see them, all of a sudden, take a deep sigh of relief and it’s like, “Oh. Okay. There’s more out there than one, two, three, four.” And I think being a member of The Federalist Society and them seeing all of you here gives them that perspective. I think it’s one of the most valuable aspects of this conference.
Kate Todd: Thank you, Sumi. Go to Stephanie.
Stephanie Holmes: Sure. Thank you so much for having me part of the panel today. I feel particularly honored to be with these folks. So my background — so I started at a big firm. So I was at Jones Day for a few years in their Labor and Employment Practice Group and then went in-house for a Fortune 500 company and was their employment counsel for about nine years.
And fast forward to 2020. And I think, particularly, working in the HR space and just seeing the DEI efforts and really progressive ideology that HR was pushing into corporate America, it was just particularly concerning to me. And I really didn’t see any other alternatives available for employers in the HR space, and so wanted to — I care a lot about these issues, and I saw a problem that I wanted to help fix.
And so, I am probably one of the — or maybe not in this crowd — but probably one of the most risk-averse people that you will meet. But I nevertheless care a lot about these issues, and so I left my job and started Brighter Side HR, an HR consulting company, to offer an alternative, more values-aligned space for employers. So I do consulting. I do workplace training—so discrimination, harassment training, how to do workplace investigations, and just offering that in a simply just a non-woke version—and then also offering employers an alternative approach to diversity and inclusion.
So I’ve created some course content around that, which has really been fun to start and explore and start a conversation, what I believe to be a better, more positive, unifying approach to that. So, yes. So I am, at the moment, the IT department, the accounting department, and marketing. So it’s been — I feel like I’ve learned so much in the last year, and I’m very thankful for all of it, and it’s just — I guess the — I’ve learned so much. So in kind of distilling down pieces of advice, I have to say three quick things, I think.
So one of them is probably the thing that stood out to me the most in the last year, starting my own business — is the importance of having invested in good relationships and authentic relationships with people throughout your career. You may not always stay in touch with people, but it is just continually amazing to me how people cross paths, whether that’s a year later or 5 years later or 15 years later. And that is just something that I am just continually amazed by. And so, just the importance of maintaining good relationships and just simply being kind and treating people well, I think that’s just worth the time.
A couple other pieces of advice, generally. I think the importance of maintaining perspective, particularly as lawyers — I think, oftentimes, many of us are perfectionists, and the internal stress sometimes associated with that — if I could tell my younger self one thing is to just maintain perspective about things, and none of us are perfect. We’re all going to make mistakes at times. And so, one thing I would encourage people — is to just acknowledge that, and instead of internalizing that, look at them as growth opportunities.
And then the other thing that came to mind — if any of you are considering career transitions or how to work differently, I’ve kind of been thinking about that on and off for a number of years. And it’s easy—I think, professionally and perhaps, personally, too—to want to know, what’s the five-year plan, how am I going to concretely do this, what is my future like, and really want that solidified. And I think it’s okay, and I think, perhaps, the best thing that people can do sometimes is just to focus on what’s the right next step, and things just tend to fall into place from there.
So it’s just another thing that I’m just thankful for and kind of amazed by over the years — is how things come together. So I’m just particularly appreciative of being able to use my professional experience over the years in labor and employment to contribute to what I see as a problem in our culture right now and, hopefully, utilizing that in a way that I never expected to come together, but it’s a way that’s been really rewarding. So thank you.
Kate Todd: Thank you, Stephanie. Andrea?
Andrea Lucas: Thank you. So I guess, on paper, I look like someone who’s been really, really, really risk averse, and then all of a sudden jumped and did something totally out of left field. I was in big law for almost my whole career—almost a decade—with a short interruption for a clerkship a year out from law school, and then now I’m a commissioner on the EEOC. And so, to understand how you get to that path, I think I have to talk a little bit about personal things. So if you’ll indulge me on that.
Growing up, my parents were both the first person to go to college in their families, and it was really happenstance. My father only went to college because of the Vietnam War, to be honest, and my mother went over the objection of just about everyone in her family. And so, for me, even though I was excelling at high school, it was not a question of where I would go to college but if I would go to college was the mindset for them, which, in retrospect, was kind of crazy, given where I was, but economically, that was my history. So that kind of socioeconomic risk aversion plays a huge portion in where I am despite the fact that I had such a long period of time in big law.
And then the other path of — I had always been very interested in government and really thought that that was where I was going to try to go, but I was in law school in 2008, right at the start of the economic crash. And when you pair economic uncertainty and fear with, “Oh crap, the whole legal market just disappeared,” that adjusted things.
I also, by the end of my first year of law school, started having a serious health crisis and found myself barely able to use my arms, not walking, really. It was just like a complete collapse. Ended up being diagnosed with a genetic disorder that, if managed, is manageable but meant that I went from a really healthy 22/23 year old to not feeling myself in the least bit and wondering, “Should I drop out of law school? Where in the world will I go?” So severe risk aversion kind of is my story for a very long period of time.
Big law, in a weird way, was actually quite supportive of all of those things. It was a very set, discernible path. You go up. This is the next step. You make money. It is foreseeable, controllable, and also—depending on the law firm—it was also really flexible because—in ways that I think other paths aren’t, necessarily—you were perceived as, “You’re high achieving. You’ve made it, so you must be competent to be able to do this. So if you don’t have as much face time as, I think, some other organizations, we’re assuming you’re getting your stuff done.” And it’s a — you’re filled with a whole bunch of perfectionists who, the idea of screwing up in any way was inconceivable to them—extremely self-generated motivation.
So because of that, I actually ended up having a fair amount of flexibility. I could come in at different times; that really facilitated me managing my health. And they also had very definite, set-out paths for leave, and that was relevant for when I was going to have my kids—or tried to start. So I stayed and stayed and stayed and stayed and stayed in big law. And during that period of time, it was feasible because I had some really wonderful people I was working with. And so, that’ll tie into one of my points of advice — is that what you’re doing sometimes doesn’t matter as much as who you’re working with.
But so, I sort of kept my head down, built an expertise in employment law—primarily employment discrimination law—also saw, with growing horror, the level of woke nonsense that was increasing every single year as I was there. And then because I was both the senior labor employment lawyer and quite conservative—but also, I think, very deeply motivated by injustice—I ended up being a little bit of an agitator inside the firm when I proceeded to see some pretty clear cut pregnancy discrimination issues and did a lot of internal advocacy around things related to that and work-life balance and retention of women and practical things to retain women, not just create a cycle of discrimination and hire more people, but how do you actually retain people? So a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff.
And then, in truly the most poorly timed that you can think of, the pandemic hit. I got pregnant with my second daughter after having, first, a miscarriage, then a first daughter, then another miscarriage, and then finally the second daughter. And I was in the confirmation process, which, as many of you can think, is long. So pregnancy is not something you can control—as I tragically found out several times—and nor is the confirmation process, and, heck no, nor is a pandemic.
And all of those things converged, and then I found myself being confirmed in September of 2020 and then joining the Commission in October of 2020, at which point I was six months pregnant with a high-risk pregnancy and managed to work in-person for a couple months and then was on pretty much bed rest—quasi bed rest—for the last part of time.
So how do you go from being risk averse to jumping to that? Some of it was just a leap of faith. Some of it was because I had built up a lot of relationships. Some of it was waiting and being patient that if I built a skill set that was of deep expertise in an area and relationships that something — the fit would be there. So going from like 0 – 60, in terms of jumping, some of that was long, long thought-out preparation. And then, finally, it was a sense that I couldn’t afford—for the sake of our country—anymore to wait, and that the risk aversion — this was the time to stand up. This was the time to fight—and I think, probably, Stephanie feels a lot of that, too. So I’m trying my best to reinvigorate a concept of conservative civil rights, which I think can be quite compatible on the EEOC, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it. But it is like really 180 from what you would’ve thought from my resume before that.
So those lead to — my suggestions are life is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to do things that are sustainable long term. And I’ve seen that where I’ve tried to burn myself out; it doesn’t play out well.
Two, you need to be clear-eyed and prepared for suffering, and there’s more to my — the high-level story that I’ve given you, but it’s a question of when not if. Everyone will have a plunge off of a cliff at some point. For some of you who are further into your career, you’ve probably seen that or understand that. For those of you who are earlier, don’t assume that it will be just a climb up the ladder because it won’t. We are people, and people have — are humans and vulnerability, and unless you are isolated the heck out of your life, you’re going to either have a tragedy in someone in your life or yourself. So plan for spontaneity, flexibility, and good and bad.
And then finally, focus on relationships because that’s where I — how I had the courage to be here and had the ability to be here. It’s important to be deep in a skill set, but the people you’re around are truly important.
Kate Todd: Thank you, Andrea. And Roger?
Roger Severino: To get through those difficulties—and on the flip side, how to supercharge your life—the best bit of advice I could say is get serious about your faith. When I was in law school, I thought that I had made it. So I had crushed it in grad school, gone on to Harvard, everything was going well, did all the right internships leading up to that, on top of the world until I realized that I was doing great in everything except the only thing that mattered, and that was my relationship to God, Christ, and His church. So coming to that realization — I was confirmed, actually, in 2000, so I had the faith IQ of a child at that time, but it changed everything. Everything.
So when you have that foundational shift in perspective, it’s what orders your life from the top down, from what should occupy your thoughts when you wake up in the morning, to the last words you say as you go to sleep and everything in between. And that faith commitment is something that God calls all of us to, and we either answer, “Yes,” or we answer, “No.” Or you answer as I did for many years, “Maybe later.” Right? “I’ll get to that.” Okay?
So in law school, I finally got to that, and thank God because that’s what changed my ability to relate to human beings. Instead of seeing people as means to an end to get ahead—which is what my previous approach was—it was every person I meet is made in an image and likeness of God and has an immortal soul, and my interaction could have some impact on that, and their interaction could have some impact on me. And just think of that cascading effect, of that shift in mindset. And it impacted me on many things that have importance on career—what type of work I would be doing.
I had thought I’d be working, first, coming out of business schools, a CEO, and then probably big law and make a bucket load of money. And then I ended up doing really just liberty work, pro-life work, civil rights work, and mostly in incredibly hostile environments. DOJ Civil Rights as a career attorney under Obama, fighting the marriage fight before Obergefell, knowing we would lose and knowing that would probably disqualify me from ever being a federal judge. Right? Why do such things? Well, because it’s the right thing. And on the marriage one, I specifically thought, when it mattered, I want to be able to tell my kids—my children—years down the line that “your father was there in the fight, knowing that it was probably going to lose because it mattered that much.”
So my views on career, marriage, and family were radically shifted by that change in perspective. And of course, Carrie helped me along the way. She was far ahead in the faith than I was. Thank God she saw the trajectory in me and said, “You’ll probably be all right. I don’t know about this newfound Catholic who doesn’t know what a Rosary is, but” — so she took a leap of faith in me.
And as part of that growth, when we were having our first child, we were thinking, “Okay. Carrie just got done with her clerkship in the DC Circuit, time to apply for Supreme Court clerkships”—a pretty long shot for anybody; Carrie’s not just anybody, but still—”are we going to delay having children and use natural family planning to see if that possibility pans out?” And thought about it, prayed about it, and said, “No. No. That is not a reason to delay our primary purpose, to be fruitful and multiply. We’re married. Married people should have kids, and lots of them.” And that will ultimately lead to your highest satisfaction because you’re following God’s purposes. Right? If you’re ever fighting against him, it doesn’t work out so well.
So Ellie(sp), our amazing child — Carrie was pregnant at the time, and lo and behold, she interviews in the Supreme Court and gets a clerkship with Justice Thomas. And as Justice Thomas says to her — well, she was worried. “What do I do? How do I say it?” And told — we said, just tell him — told Justice Thomas, “I’m pregnant.” And he said, “You know what? You start whenever you want. What we do here at the Court is to help you and every other American raise their family. That’s what we do here. So you start whenever you want.” And the irony of that is that year, there were only male clerks, and the media lambasted Justice Thomas for being anti-woman when he did the most pro-woman thing you could imagine.
So God provides. And she had a successful, wonderful clerkship and delayed the clerkship for a year because prioritize family first. And we didn’t say, “Hey, Carrie. Now we got a great opportunity for you to make a killing with the Supreme Court clerkship bonus, but we wanted to raise our kids with the mom being there as fully present as possible and the dad being there as fully present as possible. So we said, “No. Clerkship’s nice. The bonus is nice, but that’s not worth it. It’s not worth that exchange.”
And there’s a story that really brought this home to me. We’re at a high-powered lawyer retreat, and we had brought our kids to it. And we bring our kids everywhere. And that’s one way to be able to have a high-powered legal impact and have a family—bring your kids everywhere. I don’t care — Carrie would be at FedSoc events with a baby strung on her asking a question at a FedSoc event. I was like, “You go, girl.” [Laughter] Right? That’s the Severino way.
So this one very prominent lawyer—big law partner—did a lot of great stuff for the movement. We’re having dinner, and we’re talking about family, and he says, “Yeah. You know, I told my kids I wouldn’t be going to their soccer games because of the work I do. But because of the work I do, we have somebody who is there cleaning the house or all the house is really in great shape and all those things. So when I do have time to spend with the kids, it is just — they got all my time, and we could go to — say, ‘Hey. We want to go to Paris?’ And the kid says, ‘Yeah. That’d be great.’ Then, boom, we’ll book a flight. We’ll go to Paris, and we’ll spend a day there.” And my thought was, “How sad.”
How sad when your kids would much rather have you there at the soccer games, as my parents were. Because my parents were the only parents that grew up poor, and big parents were absent at the soccer games. And that explains a lot of my success—my dad’s hard work, my mom’s prayers, and their being there.
So get serious about your faith, and that will help you get serious about your priorities because the most important things in life aren’t going to be those things that you get praised for publicly. It really isn’t. It’s going to be those relationships you build with other human beings because that will have the ripple effect for generations down the line.
Kate Todd: Thank you, Roger. And I want to give an opportunity, first, to the panelists, if any of you want to ask anything of each other or — and just invite you to — if anything someone else said touched on something that you want to speak to, please don’t hold back. But otherwise, I would like to open it up to the audience for questions. I have numerous, but I’d rather hear what you all have to say or to ask. Anyone have a question?
Andrea Lucas: Before a question, I’ll just chime in on Roger’s statement that I really agree with you about the concept of legacy. I saw a lot of people in big law, who I valued deeply, who were mentors, who their idea of legacy was, did they get on this or that—like law journal, lawyer of the year, firm of the year, litigation firm of the year. And those are admirable things, and it’s good to be skilled in your area, but no one will remember that. No one will remember you. Just be honest. Be realistic about that. How many people can name every single Supreme Court justice in the last hundred years? You can’t. You can name a handful. They’re Supreme Court justices. How many people in the United States can name presidents? Not too many. If you’re anything less than that—and that’s not to say that you haven’t done something amazing and prestigious—they’re just not going to remember you doing that.
Your legacy is almost never—but for the smallest number of human beings—going to be something related to your material achievement. Your legacy will be your family. Your legacy will be the people you specifically, personally impacted. It doesn’t have to necessarily be your biological family. Those are going to be the tangible points of legacy. So when you’re thinking about vocation or work, humility about what legacy actually looks like, proper perspective, I think, is really, really important.
Sumi Thomas: I think, hearing what everyone is saying — one thing I want to add is, a term I do not like is work/life balance. I don’t think it’s this teeter-totter that we have. I look at it more — it’s life balance as a whole. It’s mastering the art of living that draws no distinction between work and play, labor and leisure, but it’s understanding where do you feel called and how do you — how does it all sit together in unity? How does — it’s my family. It’s this profession that God’s called me to or where you feel led. It is making choices, whether you’re single, whether you are married, whether you’re a married-with-children and how those choices all fit in together to find balance as an entire unit, not a teeter-totter where work is on this side of me and, “Oh, well, the fun stuff is on this side of me.” It’s finding something that you are doing — this is why I think I like the climbing wall analogy.
Big law is not for everybody, but public sector isn’t for everybody either. Non-profit may be for you. You have no idea. But it’s like dabbling and taking a chance, especially as you’re younger. Different internships that you have, externships, opportunities help you say, “Where are my natural giftings taking me, and how am I led? And then how does that fit into my entire life as a whole?” Finding balance in the entire unit, not looking at everything as a separate bubble but all of it.
It’s why Roger and Carrie bring their kids everywhere they go because it’s not one aspect of them. It is a part of them as a whole entire unit. And that’s what I think I really try to work, and especially at Blackstone, we try to achieve within all of our students in helping them find their life balance no matter what stage of their career that they are.
Kate Todd: You all are — I am going to now ask a question. You all are all mentors, and you mentor people very expressly. You do it implicitly, and I do think it’s important to think about that and the messages that you all have been giving to younger people. But you’re all also in a position to hire and to speak to people who hire people. And we can mentor the heck out of people and tell them what they should and shouldn’t do, but if it doesn’t marry up somewhere with what ultimate opportunities are going to be for them, then we’re disserving the people that we’re mentoring. And so, I just would love to get your take, from any of you, on what are some things you tell to employers about how to tap into the people that are trying to find a better way to make their whole life work and may not be able or willing to do the 24/7 law firm lifestyle?
Andrea Lucas: I’d say that as conservatives, we have to put our money where our mouth is. And if you’re in a position to hire or you’re in a position to fund, you need to expressly be open to people who followed the values of the movement that underlie it to its logical conclusion, which means that sometimes they will have a gap, they will have a break, there may have been dips, there may have been something non-traditional. If you don’t hire those people, you don’t expressly attempt to recruit those people, you don’t build an ecosystem for them to come back in, you’re going to get single-minded people who look like everybody else. And we do not want to be some sad-sack version of ACS or the mainstream or — we don’t want to be a copy. We want to be different—vibrantly different. And that means putting your mouth where your money is.
Roger Severino: So at Heritage, ironically, we had a terrible family leave policy, which we just changed. And I said, “Look. This is ridiculous. We cannot — again, we have to practice what we preach. And you often see in my office a baby right outside because Kara Frederick just had her child. And I said, “Bring the baby to work. If you need to give a talk at work, bring the baby, and my secretary and I are perfectly cool with it.” We have a baby in our office while Kara does her thing. We need more workplaces like that, that are that open and affirming.
And I heard, also, a young lawyer here — a lot of women feel guilty on all sides—so I hear—guilty of, “I’m working and am I spending enough time with my family.” And then the other one I heard yesterday was, “I’m at home, and I have this big degree and spent all this money, and I feel guilty for that.” Okay? And my view on that one is, “Well, workplaces have to be more flexible to allow women, in particular, to work from home a lot more.” COVID helped a lot. And I think, culturally—and this is a message to men—if your wife says, “You know what? I’d rather stay home and raise the kids,” it is the husband’s moral obligation to do everything he can to make that happen. That’s your job at that point. Right? And I think more men need to get that message as well.
Kate Todd: Any other thoughts on this topic? All right, can — open it up to questions?
Adam Lang: Hi. My name’s — is this on? My name’s Adam Lang. I’m a partner in a small firm in Honolulu. Just a question about how to keep people motivated who are the high performers. I think everybody in this room probably dots their I’s, crosses their T’s, is hyper-responsive. Well, what about the middle section, those who may not be performing as much? You want to develop them. Sometimes the competency, sometimes the responsiveness isn’t there. That’s kind of the first part of the question.
And then, secondly, we have seen some generational challenges, not to be stereotypical, but some of the younger workers who feel a little bit more entitled and maybe do, somewhat, use flex time and aren’t as productive. Just some thoughts on that would be really appreciated.
Sumi Thomas: I have a phrase I sometimes use, “I can’t put in ya what your mama didn’t give ya.” [Laughter] So there is a character aspect to individuals. I will spend more time on a resume than a transcript. For me, smart’s easy. That’s the easiest thing you can have. Trying to find character, resiliency, grit — jobs, whether it’s manual labor, whether it’s working at McDonald’s, whether it’s working at carrying someone’s golf clubs—wow—I will tell you, if I can find a deep work ethic, that work ethic didn’t end the moment that they hit the next profession as a lawyer. That work ethic continues, so I will scrutinize and go details into a resume and will spend more time on an interview in that area than anything else. So that’s one way that we do it.
Stephanie Holmes: I think one thing to consider, too—just kind of going back to the relational aspect of work—is making sure or making an effort to ask questions. Is there an underlying issue or underlying problem or just have the open line of communication to really understand how they — if there’s a sort of different way they prefer to work or if there’s something that — some kind of resolution in that regard. But I think the importance of asking questions and just having a dialogue about it and listening to what the employees are saying, too, and trying to kind of be responsive to that. So I think just the relational aspect is important sometimes in improving performance.
Kate Todd: Other questions?
Christine Johnson (sp): Good morning. Christine Johnson. I appreciate the practical aspects. I took a 14-year hiatus from the practice of law, and some people gave me a break, and that has put me where I am today, so I really appreciate that. So there is a movement in terms of the state bars and how long you have to practice before you can waive into them. I missed the Virginia Bar just shy of a few months, and so, after my Illinois Bar did not transfer to Virginia, I had to take the Virginia Bar. What things like that can you comment on that would — that have a negative impact on people being able to come in and out of the practice of law and other practical advice in that regard?
Roger Severino: I think if you could publish something—anything—early on, I think is very helpful. If you’ve been published either academically or if you’re going to do op-eds, just to have something out there and that you’ve staked a position, that people know you’re competent and smart and then that, you could point to — that’ll be there for years, and that’ll — get it in there early I think.
Andrea Lucas: Structurally, I do think that lots of employers need to be thinking about the big picture impediments, that you’ll never fix gaps in hiring if you don’t look at the big picture, underlying structural things—so part-time licensing issues, transfers. General occupational licensing is a real problem across the board. There’s a time and place for it, but we, I think, need an overhaul across the board on occupational licensing and also over-credentialing as well. So we’re all lawyers, for the most part, but just thinking about, does this person actually have to have this particular degree at this particular time? Sure. Sometimes they do, but sometimes they don’t, so trying to focus on—like Sumi was saying—character, grit.
Then another thing I would say was when I was helping in the hiring process at my law firm, I would vastly prefer to see someone who didn’t have as high of grades, maybe wasn’t as from the highest school, but demonstrated character traits that meant that they were going to be resilient in litigation. And that was a constant struggle to persuade my firm—and many of the big law firms—that that was what they should be looking at. But if you get someone who’s just, like, fragile as all get out but has a 4.0, they’re going to take your big, big paycheck and then get out of dodge very quickly. So character matters more.
Sumi Thomas: There’s a movement — Karin with—and I cannot think of the name of the organization.
Andrea Lucas: NeW.
Sumi Thomas: NeW. Yes.
Andrea Lucas: Karin Lips. Yeah.
Sumi Thomas: We worked with them in changing that state bar regulation in Tennessee. And she is looking at other states, and they’re leading the effort to change that bar qualification for women. I think boutique law firms are changing a lot of it. One of our fellows, Paul Watkins, started a firm called Fusion Law. Whether you want to work an hour a week, whether you want to work ten hours, he has been able to remodel and refashion and say, “Hey. I can hire whoever wants to work, and I can adjust the hours for what you want to work if that’s what you want to do.” And I think that’s afloat. I don’t think big law is just in anymore. There are so many options now. I think it’s a matter of finding it because I think it’s out there.
Questioner 3: Andrea, you mentioned some of the best practices you were trying to employ at your firm to try to help attract and keep women and flexing around their families. I know there’s people from a lot of different law firms here who might also want to hear what are some of those best practices that you can recommend in the firm context?
Andrea Lucas: Yeah. So I went flextime after I had my daughter, and the reason I was confident in doing that was because there were quite a few other women and people who had gone flextime—including some conservative men who had done that, balancing their and their wife’s career—so having an ecosystem of people who are open and talking about that. And I took a lot of effort to try to talk about what I had done.
So flextime is helpful [inaudible 48:22] within leave-related things. And then, also, acknowledging that the people may need a variety of leaves, too — will retain people. Again, this often will disproportionately impact women, but it’s going to impact other people as well. And so, having leave-related issues—including bereavement leave and health related leave—explicitly, in your mentoring and retention programs — I mean, going through two miscarriages while at the firm—including ones that — one, the first one which was a substantial health crisis and blew up one of my years—it was a fight for a long time to figure out how to navigate that. I didn’t get leave. I didn’t get hours credit for a period of time. I had to retroactively go back then.
I was an employment lawyer. This should never have happened. But once I knew that, then I made the conscious choice to talk really loudly about some of the worst moments of my life to every single woman and person I could find at the firm so that if they went through that, they would know, “Oh, I can do this, and I can tell this person, and this will actually mean that I don’t just get pushed out.”
Because to one of the prior questions, sometimes someone is taking flex leave or flexible work to take advantage of it. But sometimes they have something else going on and finding ways to know what’s going on may mean — I mean, I can think of specific examples of people who, because they knew about how to handle this and talk about it, the firm has retained them for several years after that, and they’ve gone on to be extremely productive people. But they may not have done that if they didn’t know the way.
So I would say, acknowledging people’s low points. If you’re ready and prepared for that, then you will actually retain people. Because, again, people are people. They are not machines, and so they will have low points in their life.
Roger Severino: On people are people, not machines, if you see a law firm or a big corporation that says you can do it all; we will offer to pay to freeze your eggs, they’re treating you like a machine that they’re going to use you up and not like a human being. Run away from any firm that offers something like that.
Kate Todd: All right. I think — yeah. Yeah. With that, thank you so much to our panelists for really opening up about your paths and, I know, sharing some very personal things, so — and, particularly, this early in the morning, without probably as much coffee as you might normally drink. So I just am really appreciative of all of you sharing. So thank you.