Career/Work Balance Explored in Panel Discussion



Friday, Feb 17, 2012

Story by Bronte Lawson Silverstein

Photo by James Bradicich

Successful female lawyers gave insight on balancing career and family

The Women’s Law Association hosted a panel of female lawyers at the USC Gould School of Law to give insight on how to balance having a successful career and a fulfilling personal life.

The “You Can Do It!” lunchtime panel was moderated by Amanda Walker, a senior associate in the Litigation/Controversy Department at Wilmer Hale and 2007 USC Law graduate.

Walker, Kriebs, Arnal, Katz & Jeffries

Walker opened the discussion by asking the panel, “How do you create a work/life balance?”

Gail Katz who works as in-house counsel at Amgen Inc., a biotechnology company that specializes in human therapeutics, credits achieving balance to the supportive network she has created between herself, her husband, and their babysitter.

“We all support each other in doing the tasks that we need to do,” Katz said. “We raise our kids and support our respective careers.”

Andrea Weiss Jeffries, a mother of five and partner at Wilmer Hale who specializes in Intellectual Property Litigation, joked that since she thrives on being busy she has achieved “nirvana.” However, she told audience members that she could not have done it alone.

“I’ve had toddlers, teenagers and trial all at the same time,” Jeffries said. “It takes more than just the woman, the mom, to create balance in the house. You have to have a balanced family, and that involves the dad and potentially nannies or babysitters. You need to depend on others.”

The discussion then delved into questions about starting a family. Walker asked the panelists if there is such a thing as a “right time” to have children when you’re a lawyer.

Kelly Kriebs, a corporate finance lawyer who specializes in mergers and acquisitions, made partner at Sidley Austin LLP 12 days before she gave birth to her son.

“There’s no right time to have kids period,” Kriebs said. “It’s always going to be a crazy drastic change in how you live your life. Ultimately the most important thing is deciding what the right time is for your family. Letting your career drive the decision can be a big mistake, because there’s no guarantee that you’ll be promoted whether you have kids or not.”

Kimberly Arnal, a partner at Black Compean Hall & Eli who specializes in insurance coverage, credits her personal success to working at a small firm.

“At my firm, most of the lawyers have small children and we frequently bring them to work,” Arnal said. “Our kids go to each other’s birthday parties. Everyone loves children, and we want the people at the firm to have lives and to have kids.”

However, Arnal acknowledged that the size of a firm could be both beneficial and detrimental. While her workplace is accommodating, it only has a staff of from eight to 10 lawyers. Andrea Jeffries explained that the bigger the firm, the more potential there is to find someone to cover for you. 

Both agreed that modern technology has made it much easier to coordinate work and motherhood.

“You really don’t need to be in the office from nine to five,” Jeffries said. “You can work from home at anytime, whenever fits your schedule. It’s freeing – if you want to take your child to the doctor or go to a school event, you can leave and get the work done later that day.”

Jeffries told the audience that she takes great pride in being a working mother and that she believes it has taught her children valuable life lessons.

“I’m serving as a role model for my children,” she said. “I’m teaching my boys that it’s important to have a strong mom. You can have a family situation where your mom or your wife is strong and you as a partner can be very supportive and involved in your children’s lives.”

The discussion ended with each of the four women giving personal insight and advice to the law students in the audience.

Kelly Kriebs suggested that the key to finding balance is by accepting that perfection is impossible.  

“Nobody really has it figured out,” she said. “At the end of the day, we’re all struggling with the same issues.”

Kimberly Arnal agreed and emphasized that having realistic expectations is key. 

“You can have it all, just not at the same time,” she said. “It took me a little longer to make partner because I had my children, which was frustrating, but today I’m the only female partner at my firm.”

Andrea Jeffries added that life is full of unexpected twists and turns, and suggested that students be willing to constantly re-evaluate their life plans.

“Have a picture of where you want to be – but if it isn’t working, listen to yourself and change that plan,” she said.

Gail Katz ended the presentation with a point of optimism and encouragement.

“If you love what you do, you’re going to make it work,” she said.