Lisa Edison-Smith, Shareholder, Vogel Law Firm
How long have you been working for your current company?
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I received an undergraduate degree in accounting and completed the Uniform CPA exam. After that, I worked in finance for a major corporation for eight years. Along the way, I rekindled my desire to go to law school. So, I began law school as the mother of two young children. After law school, I clerked for the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court for a year and then began my current job as a management-side labor and employment attorney for a relatively small law firm.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
When I first started practicing labor and employment law, I had a long-time client of the firm tell me he did not know if he wanted to have a female attorney. The field of labor law, in particular, has traditionally been dominated by men and a “boy’s club.” After working with the client for a few months, he informed me that he recently told a referral that I was “every bit as smart, if not smarter” than my male predecessor. That expression of confidence and trust by a client meant more to me than any court victory. The practice of law is about relationships and building this relationship was a major victory.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
The practice of law has becoming increasingly competitive and stressful for all lawyers, not just women. It is increasingly harder to maintain work-life balance and maintain a successful practice. I continue to struggle with this, but primarily I try to remember that my job is first and foremost about service, to clients, to the profession and the public.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
When I had young children, maintaining acceptable work-life balance was especially difficult because of family responsibilities. I think it is still especially difficult for women in the profession to meet the demands of home and the full-time practice of law. Fortunately, I had a spouse with a more flexible job and the ability to be there when my children needed a parent. Recently, the demands of law practice have become more difficult because of other family commitments, including commitments to aging parents, as well as the increasing financial pressures of the profession. I try to balance all these roles by specifically finding time for stress reducers including exercise, reading and just quiet time.
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?
There were many outstanding female role models for me on the Minnesota Supreme Court when I was a law clerk. In addition, many outstanding law professors and female shareholders at my law firm have helped with practical issues, as well as putting career tribulations in perspective.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
I believe diversity initiatives are very important. The face of our society and profession is changing. Law firms, in particular, need to ensure that they are actively recruiting and are welcoming to minorities of all kinds, including racial minorities, women and LGBT individuals. This initiative has to come from the top of the law firm management down and can be subtle; but is critical to maintaining an effective workforce and advancing basic issues of fairness and equality.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
Many times. This ranged from clients who didn’t want to work with female attorneys to other lawyers who called me “Mrs.”, to having to balance two small children and law school. This continues to be a challenge to women and other minorities.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
The predominance of women in American law schools has meant a beginning of a shift in law firm cultures to be more practical, more family-friendly and to provide more opportunities for women. This shift won’t be seen fully for a number of years, but it is a step in the right direction.