Carol M. Durling, Associate, Arias, Fabrega & Fabrega
How long have you been working for your current company?
I have been working in ARIFA since August 2004.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I started working as a clerk at a municipal civil court in Panama. I practiced for five years, doing different things and got an MBA, before moving to the private sector.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Becoming part of ARIFA’s legal team because ARIFA is the best and oldest Panamanian law firm; in addition to being ranked as the Intellectual Property Associate to Watch in Panama, by Chambers Latin America, for two consecutive years (2011, 2012).
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
My greatest challenge is trying to explain my litigation strategy to our clients, because they are mostly from abroad and have different jurisdictions and laws. Nevertheless, it helps me to start with explaining our laws, in order that the client understands why we acted in a particular way.
In addition, another big challenge is to juggle the responsibilities of managing the firm’s trademark department and serving our clients. Together with a senior associate, we are responsible for the management of the trademark department and we always have to find ways to be more efficient from the organizational point of view. At the same time, we have to provide the best service possible to our clients. Even though it is a challenge, I love to put in practice what I learned in the MBA.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
It is always a challenge. Right now I am in the middle of trying to adjust to a new situation: I recently became a mother for the first time; and I am already thinking on how I am going to manage my time in going to Court, to the office, and breastfeeding my baby. Although I am still on maternity leave, I am following up on my cases from home, in order to be ready when I return to the office.
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?
My father, who is also an attorney, has always been my most important mentor, and has helped me throughout my career. The women who have made it as partners in ARIFA are my role models because they have managed to combine successful legal careers with being mothers and wives.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
In the Republic of Panama, there are not that many diversity initiatives and the few existing ones are blocked by our male-dominated government. For instance, a group of women have been sponsoring an Equality Act, which would require parity of male and female candidates for electoral posts, but such an initiative has not garnered much support in the executive and legislative branches in our government. The private sector is almost the same; nonetheless, we have an obligation to make a difference and pave the way, which is why I am in the Board of Directors of the Panama Bar Association.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
At the beginning of my career I felt a disadvantage because a very small group of women were allowed in the Boards of Directors, and as partners in the big law firms. Nowadays, I feel that the disadvantage is being diminished; but it is still a work in progress.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
The creation of the “Women in Law” webpage, and the “Women in Law Awards” from Chambers and Partners; which will hopefully, pressure the big law firms to acknowledge and recognise the work of women.