Elsa Ortega, Partner, Azar, Ortega y Gómez Ruano, S.C. (AOGR)
How long have you been working for your current company?
Together with my two partners, I co-founded this law firm five years ago.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I am a Mexican lawyer who graduated from the Escuela Libre de Derecho in Mexico City. After obtaining my law degree, I studied for an LL.M. in the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium. Thereafter, I developed wide expertise in a number of legal practice areas, in particular arbitration, while working at a couple of large well-known law firms in Mexico City.
After my second child was born, I joined my colleagues, Cecilia Azar and Sofía Gómez Ruano, in founding AOGR, a law firm in Mexico City specializing in alternative dispute resolution. We did not deliberately had in mind founding an all-women partners law firm. But the fact that the three of us were under the same circumstances (both professional and personal) made it become a very natural and comfortable partnership. Moreover, we all share similar views on the ethics, thoroughness and quality of the services to be provided to all clients, as well as on the size of the firm that enables us to deliver these services.
I should clarify, however, that as our firm grows and expands in the future, new partners and associates – male or female – will join us. We firmly believe that their admission will always be based on their specific qualifications and expertise, not on their gender or other personal considerations.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
In my view, AOGR is a big achievement. Not only is it a well-consolidated law firm in Mexico that has earned recognition amongst clients and other arbitration law practitioners, it has also stood out precisely for being a project conceived by female lawyers. I firmly believe that while enjoying our law practice and our role as providers of fine services to clients, we are at the same time an inspiration for young female lawyers graduating from law schools. These young attorneys may wish to become wives, mothers and partners at law firms in Mexico eventually, with all these circumstances running concurrently.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
In the beginning, AOGR, as an all-women partners law firm, had to earn a place as a stable, capable and reliable organization among the predominantly male law firm community in Mexico. In order to accomplish that, we, as partners of the firm, committed ourselves to work diligently and deliver excellent results to our clients.
Now, as any other firm, the great challenge is to continue consolidating our position as a leading dispute resolution law firm in Mexico, by striving to attract new clients and providing the highest quality of services.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
Even though the schedules of my family members are pretty much organized (my children go to school now and have extracurricular activities that keep them busy a big part of their day), as far as I am concerned, every day is a challenge due to unforeseen events that may inadvertently occur such as an illness or a school meeting. Fortunately, in Mexico we have a strong network in place that provides women who wish to have a professional career with the necessary support – in my case a cooperative husband, very dependable grandmothers, and a specialized afterschool day care.
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?
Many women and men have inspired me and continue to do so. But I cannot really say that I had a role model for what I am doing today.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
Regardless of how effective corporate diversity initiatives are, diversity is a reality of our lives. Corporate organizations should not close their eyes to this fact, but embrace the richness that such diversity provides to the workplace.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
Many law firms in Mexico are open to having female associates and some others, even female partners. However, in reality, being a new mother and a professional at the same time while competing with male members of the same firm poses a disadvantage. This situation occurs no matter how many special considerations the female lawyer may have for her particular circumstance as a new mother. Unfortunately, these special considerations do not make up for the amount of time that she is not able to devote to the profession at that point in her life.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
In many law schools in Mexico, about half of the students are women. In the past, many of these female students would obtain a law degree and then abandon their professional careers in order to establish a family. However, this situation is slowly changing and every time more and more young women attorneys are combining both their practice with their roles as wives and mothers. The visibility of female lawyers in companies, law firms and public offices is increasing.