Maureen Ellen Dwyer, Director, Goulston & Storrs PC
How long have you been working for your current company?
Since April 1, 2010
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
During law school I clerked for a large antitrust law firm and assumed I would go into that area of the law. My first son was born during law school, however, and my priorities changed so I decided to look for a position with a small firm with more reasonable hours/time demands. Wilkes Artis, a regional real estate firm, had a position available in the zoning practice and since I had been an Urban Studies major in college and was interested in cities I decided to take it. This also enabled me to learn about DC since I had moved here from New York. In 2000, a group of us who worked well as a team decided to move to a larger firm, Shaw Pittman, which subsequently merged with Pillsbury Winthrop. In 2010 that same group plus several other additions to our team decided to leave the large firm environment and move to Goulston & Storrs, a firm with a focus on real estate and a true team culture.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
My proudest professional achievement was being asked to serve as Managing Partner of the DC office of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman once the merger took place. The DC office was the largest of the firm’s offices and I was honoured by the firm’s confidence in my leadership skills. Since I was one of few women managing partners at that time, I greatly appreciated the opportunity to be a role model for other women. It also taught me new management and team-building skills which I continue to use in my practice. (My proudest personal achievement is my two sons.)
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
My greatest challenge is still finding the time to do all that I want to do and, as a corollary to that, learning when to say no. In addition to my law practice I am very active in professional, community and business associations. That work is important to me in terms of my own personal self-fulfillment. Finding the time to do it all, however, is a challenge, in addition to making the time for my personal/family life and the all important work-life balance. I am fortunate to work with a group of people who are a team and can support me when needed and with a firm that values full engagement with the larger community.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
I have worked part-time when my sons were little and I have also been a single parent. I came to realize that balance occurs over time. There are some days/weeks when your work demands more of your time and others when family comes first. Through my friendship with other women going through the same challenges as well as the support from organizations such as Commercial Real Estate Women and the Women’s Bar Association I have learned how to manage both without having to give up either.
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 women role models and male mentors throughout my career. Brooksley Born, who was at Arnold & Porter working part-time when she made partner was my role model for being able to make part-time work. All successful women who combined families and careers also served as my role models. At Wilkes Artis I had a senior male partner (Whayne Quin) as my mentor and again at Shaw Pittman I had the support and mentorship of a male partner, Steve Huttler, who believed in my legal and management skills.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
These initiatives can be effective and are essential and the Women’s Bar Association in DC has been very effective in promoting best practices. It starts with a firm commitment to diversity from top management along with the promotion of a firm culture that values diversity. I am serving on the Diversity Committee at Goulston and Storrs and we definitely have that commitment and value. It extends to our hiring practices, our mentoring and training programs, and our insistence on diversity when putting together client teams.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
When I started practicing in 1978 there were definitely some clients who were not ready for a woman attorney. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work for a number of university clients, however, who were much more accepting of women and enabled me to grow my niche practice in higher education. The advantage to being a woman is that you get noticed and you are also able to bring different skills to bear in the way you handle a case, including multi-tasking at which most women excel!
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
The most significant changes are the focus on diversity by firms and clients and also the acceptance of part-time or flex-time programs for both men and women. Together these provide opportunities for women to advance their careers. There are also more women managing partners and greater numbers of women on the executive committees of firms. As more senior women assume leadership positions the firm’s culture becomes much more accepting and these women also serve as mentors and role models for the younger women attorneys. Finally, having a woman serve as the President of the ABA was also a major milestone for women.