Joy Fuhr, Partner, McGuireWoods LLP
How long have you been working for your current company?
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
After graduating from Princeton, where I was a two-time All-American tennis player, I played on the Women’s Professional Tennis Association Tour for a few years. After graduating from law school at William and Mary, I clerked for the Honorable Robert F. Chapman in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. I joined McGuireWoods upon the completion of my clerkship and have been a litigator there for my entire legal career. At McGuireWoods, I have defended cases throughout the country in both state and federal courts. While I’ve enjoyed a varied practice, the majority of my cases have involved defending environmental, mass tort and public nuisance claims.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Over the years I have been fortunate to have had more than my fair share of interesting cases for great clients. Most recently, I have spent a great deal of my time defending public nuisance claims brought by the Rhode Island and Ohio State Attorneys General and dozens of cities, counties and municipalities in six states seeking billions of dollars for abatement of lead paint in their respective jurisdictions. These claims seek to expand current laws and regulations to create a remedy that, I believe, would subsume existing tort law. I am most proud of the fact that, to date, all of those claims have been defeated.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
My greatest challenge is to make sure that I understand the business needs of my clients and the impact of the litigation on their businesses. This insures that I am able to represent them in a way that best meets their objectives. In high profile cases, this often involves collaboration to address not only their legal issues, but governmental relations and public affairs issues. I do this by trying to be a great listener first and foremost.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
I do the best I can every day to meet the needs of both my clients and my family. Most days, I am able to do that by delegating activities that can be done by others or that I do not enjoy (like cleaning). I do believe you can achieve relative balance if you don’t spread yourself too thin. It also takes discipline, a positive attitude and a good sense of humor.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
I learned a lot during my clerkship with Judge Chapman, who had a wonderful demeanour as well as extensive experience as a practitioner, trial and appellate judge. I have also learned from many of the best litigators in the country here at McGuireWoods. There are too many to mention by name, but we have a rich tradition of mentorship here at the firm.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
Corporate diversity programs are most effective when they have an element of accountability. If corporations want to increase the diversity of their legal representation, in-house legal departments must insure that their cases are actually staffed by and referred to women and attorneys of color.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
I can’t recall any point in my career when I have felt particularly disadvantaged or advantaged because I am a woman.
What do you think the most significant changes for women have been in the legal industry over the past five years?
The economic downturn of the past five years has been a challenging period for the legal profession. Everyone knows that the pipeline of women entering the law has been robust for the past couple of decades. However, too few are being retained and promoted to partnership within law firms and to senior positions within corporate law departments. The recent economic downturn has exacerbated this problem because advancement in law firms and within corporate law departments has become even more difficult.