Laura A. Lindner, Shareholder, Littler Mendelson P.C.
How long have you been working for your current company?
Since January 2010
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I have been a labor and employment lawyer since 1993, with a practice focused primarily on employment litigation. I started in private practice in Chicago, and was made an equity partner at Seyfarth Shaw in 2001. I then obtained invaluable in-house experience as employment litigation counsel at SBC Communications (now AT&T) for two years. In 2004, I returned to my home town, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as a shareholder in a labor & employment boutique firm founded by my father. When Littler Mendelson, the world’s largest labor and employment firm, opened an office in Milwaukee, I joined the firm. Littler offered a global footprint and a range and depth of expertise to fully service my base of clients.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Making equity partner after only eight years of practice. It was validation of my hard work and skill as an attorney.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
Greatest challenges: (1) growing competitiveness in what has become a 24/7 practice; (2) trying to satisfy client goals and quality standards while also meeting their budgetary needs, particularly given the difficulty of controlling litigation costs; and (3) providing associates the real-world practical experiences they need to develop their skills and confidence.
Strategies to overcome: (1) be very proactive in communication with clients to prevent any surprises and manage expectations – what I call an “early and often” strategy; (2) devoting time to really understanding clients’ businesses, their people, and their specific needs, and providing value-added service without being asked; and (3) building clients’ trust in associates and accompanying the associates (at no cost to the client) to depositions, hearings, etc., and then providing the associates immediate feedback on their performance.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
It is very difficult to attain work-life balance, particularly managing a large litigation-based practice. I invest a lot of my time developing associates, and as a result, I now work with very skilled associates who generate top-quality work product, instead of having to do it all myself. I vigilantly protect vacation time, and make sure clients, opposing counsel, and judges are aware of it in advance so I can truly disengage from work. But it is a constant struggle, and truthfully, I sometimes get more stressed thinking about how much less time I have to accomplish my “bucket list.”
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 have had the benefit of several mentors in my career, but one in particular (a male senior partner at Seyfarth Shaw) had the most impact. He invested a lot of time in my development and gave me very challenging experiences early in my career. Not only do I owe him for helping me become the lawyer I am today, but the associates with whom I have worked have also benefitted, because I teach and mentor them the same way he taught and mentored me. As I have said about him many times, he was a gift that keeps on giving.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
Mixed – some are, some are not. The initiatives that are truly effective are focused on cultivating diverse employees, particularly for leadership roles – not just bringing them in the door. That cultivation needs to be based on particular plans designed for particular individuals, and with those responsible being recognized for their efforts in a visible way. In addition, the success of diversity initiatives needs to be measured in a meaningful way by the organization. Too often resources are devoted to initiatives with no goals and no accountability. And too often even organizations that “talk the talk” do not address employees who express attitudes antithetical to diversity (e.g., have the courageous conversation with the successful male partner who treats female attorneys in a sexist way). In addition, diversity awards/recognition often focus too much on numbers – which are easy to measure – and not on what truly cultivates diverse talent.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
There are times when I have felt I had an advantage being a female labor and employment attorney, as many women hold in-house labor and employment positions and promote business relationships with women.
There are times when I have felt I was at a disadvantage with male colleagues, who generally predominate, in firm business meetings. In my experience, men do not always give as much credit to input from women as they do from other men. Organizations would be well-served by having more women in the room and in leadership positions!
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women have been in the legal industry over the past five years?
Technology advancements have allowed for more flexible work arrangements. But those same technology advancements have led to 24/7 demands on lawyers, which has impaired the ability to manage a work-life balance. The rise of more women to positions of leadership has made it easier for other women to have successful careers. There are still not enough women, though, in leadership positions in the legal industry, particularly in large law firms.
"I invest a lot of my time developing associates, and as a result, I now work with very skilled associates who generate top-quality work product, instead of having to do it all myself."
Laura Lindner is a ranked lawyer in the Chambers USA Guide. More on her profile