Be Kind to Everyone, Including Yourself
The path to happiness and contentment for this lawyer wasn’t direct or easy. But she wouldn’t change a step.
By Cheryl Borland
Dear Younger Cheryl, where did the time go?
What a wonderful and exciting ride this has been. And, just so you know, it was certainly worth it at the end. Your vision and perceived road, although you had a unique start, has hardly turned out the way you expected.
Now, having reached a modicum of success in life and the law, I often look back on the decisions I made along the way, as well as some of those decisions that were made for me. Some took me to places I’d never have fathomed. Some still carry a bit of an ouch factor that cause me to wonder if I’d do things differently. But overall, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I harbor very little regret and revel in the beauty of my life.
The law was different then
My career began in the era when we thought we could do it all and were indeed expected to be able to do it all. It was still a time when women attorneys weren’t respected by attorneys, judges, or clients. I remember a lecture I attended by a judge that focused on proper court attire. We were admonished not to wear “beach wear” to this judge’s court, which meant we had to wear suits with skirts, not pants; stockings; no flashy jewelry; and for goodness sake, we were told, don’t wear open-toed shoes. Oddly, I don’t think my male classmates got that same lecture.
I opened Griesing Law’s Cincinnati office in March 2017. The firm was formed eight years ago to retain, grow, and develop women attorneys, a truly novel concept within the legal community. Before I joined this firm, there were times that I hated my job and wanted to quit. Clients were difficult. Firms were difficult. Opposing counsel were difficult. Cases were difficult.
I was often discounted by BigLaw male attorneys. I was often mistaken for a paralegal or secretary instead of an attorney. But I was fortunate in having some old, white-haired men who became not only mentors but sponsors (sadly, it wasn’t other women who had senior roles who were my mentors or sponsors). So rather than quitting, I found a way to use my experience to refocus my career so that it was energizing and exciting again. I began to view my practice as being an entrepreneurial legal professional.
The joys of being introverted
My secret skill has been being an introvert in a sea of extraverts within the legal arena. My attention to detail and my ability to be a discerning listener has paid huge dividends. Often, it’s not what’s said, but what’s unsaid, that’s the most important.
I also began to see each change in my career as a way to make sure I was truly following my passion and to recognize that, although it seemed like I often didn’t have control (you know how we lawyers love control), I had opportunities to learn, to grow, to be uncomfortable, and to truly discover.
Along the way, I learned a few lessons that have stayed with me. One or two particularly difficult clients have been excellent teachers, as has a lack of collegiality among opposing counsel (or sometimes within my own firm). Both have been quite humbling, but they taught me to know my value. My time and expertise is valuable irrespective of whether others saw or acknowledged it. I’ve spent my career living by a Dr. Seuss quote: “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.”
Finally, I never gave up on my goals and dreams. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, but I wanted to be a lawyer who made a difference. I learned to practice self-care and to remember that my family was truly important. I traded a big salary to be able to leave my office at 4 p.m. to watch my son play baseball and soccer and to watch my daughters’ dance lessons.
Before we had the ability to work remotely, I remember getting a call from my children on Christmas Eve wanting to know when I’d be home. They also wanted to know what could possibly be more important than cooking Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas cookies? Unfortunately, it was the Securities and Exchange Commission. But after that, failing deadlines that I couldn’t control, I spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s with my family.
And when those self-doubts crept in, I remembered that I’m a brave, strong, resilient, sweet, and beautiful person. I work hard and try to remember to be kind—to others in the profession, to my clients, to my family but, most importantly, to myself.
CHERYL BORLAND is of counsel at Griesing Law in Cincinnati and chair of the firm’s trusts and estates practice group.