What is your job title and what industry are you a part of?
I’m a lawyer. I am the managing principal of my firm, which I started almost six years ago and our niche is insurance coverage litigation. We represent businesses that are seeking help holding their insurance companies accountable. For instance, in a situation where an insurance company is not doing what the policyholder expects the insurance company to do, we are engaged to handle a coverage analysis to determine whether the insurance company should be doing more, and to fashion a plan for maximizing the policyholders recovery, helping them get the benefit of their bargain under the insurance policy. Most of our clients are businesses and for the most part we handle commercial insurance, directors and officers liability, professional liability, errors of omissions, cyber, general liability (which is the most common type of business insurance out there), property issues, and commercial auto. It’s fun!
How did you become interested in practicing law?
I began thinking that I wanted to be a lawyer when I was a child, around 7th grade. At some point, I realized that lawyers argue, talk, and persuade for a living, and I thought that sounded like it would be a really good fit for me. I didn't have any lawyers in my family, so no family pressure or anything like that, but I had very supportive parents who always told me that I could accomplish whatever I wanted.
How did you get into this area of practice?
After I went to the University of Virginia for law school, I knew that I wanted to do litigation pretty quickly. It’s where my aptitudes were - the talking, arguing, and persuading. About five years into my career as a lawyer, I had the opportunity to start doing some coverage work, which involves analyzing insurance contracts. Usually when I’m giving a speech on insurance and having an insurance-based practice, I tell people that I wound up doing this because I did not run kicking and screaming in the other direction. I'm intrigued by my job and I always have been. It is complex and technical, but I like that. It is my happy place.
What was the initial step that drew you to towards starting your own firm?
During the 12 years that I worked for a
national law firm based in New York, I
developed a niche in insurance coverage
litigation, but that was really not a niche for
that firm. I hired a business coach to help me
with business development and it was
definitely a turning point for me.
I was at a place in my career where I wanted
to have a leadership role within a firm. I
started setting up some meetings with firms
that I admired to discuss starting an insurance
coverage section or lead their coverage
section. At that time, law firms didn’t have
extra money to spend on a start-up practice
area and simply weren’t buying into my idea.
After a lot of consideration about where I saw
my practice and my business future, I decided
to start my own firm in 2009.
Mason Baronet developed all of my branding,
which has been hugely instrumental in the
success of the firm because this communicated
the firm’s qualitative standards and also made
the firm very distinctive.
What excites you about your field now?
Insurance companies have a regular need for lawyers to advise them on their obligations under a policy and whether there are defenses to coverage that will excuse them from their obligations. The result of that sustained and ongoing need is that the lawyers who represent insurance companies are extremely well developed and have a steady flow of work from the insurance.
On the policyholder side, there are some firms and lawyers who have a great deal of experience in insurance coverage litigation, but when corporations figure out that they have a coverage problem, they often turn to their regular commercial litigation people. So business litigation lawyers find themselves handling all manner of commercial disputes for their clients. It is less common for corporate insurance to find experienced coverage counsel who practice only in that niche, and therefore know a lot of the nuances of that type of practice.
There is a need for this type of representation where your lawyer understands why the insurance company is making the decisions it’s making, and knows how to persuade an insurance company to change their mind if possible. And in the situation where you can’t reach an agreement, has the expertise to litigate the case. I appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of a complex insurance coverage case. It is the perfect mix of nerdy analytics and litigation, and I enjoy both.
Who or what do you believe has been the strongest influence of your work?
I grew up in a home where my parents encouraged me to pursue excellence and to eschew mediocrity, and I want my work product to be at the highest caliber regardless of the case size. It is probably is one of the most defining attributes and one of the things most important to me.
Also, Rick Nelson, one of my mentors at Gardere, is a very smart and incredibly talented advocate. He helped shape my client service perspective with the notion that it’s our job to make our clients’ lives easier, whether that’s being responsive to an email with a random question that doesn’t have anything to do with their case, or doing heavy research for a spontaneous meeting. That is how we market professional services, by demonstrating that we are here to help clients.
How do you determine what you're going to wear to work each day? Do you have a typical work look?
My personal style is pretty simple, but I have two work looks. I have my “I have to see people today” work look and I also have my, “I’m not seeing anyone today and I’m trying really hard to get a lot done” look. Comfort is very important to me, so I’m not much of a suit person. I tend to buy jackets and sweater-type things that look jacket-ish, so I can get by without a suit unless I’m in court. If I’m in court I will wear a suit, but if I’m not, jackets and pants are fine.
Do you wear skirts?
So even when you wear a suit, it’s a pantsuit.
Heels or flats?
Usually heels. I’m 5’2½” so I kind of need them.
Where do you shop for your work wardrobe, and when do you find the time?
I don’t have much time and I really hate to shop. I used to shop at Nordstrom. I like their selection and I think their range of prices is good. I have started working with a personal shopper so that I don’t have to do as much of the hunting and gathering, and she finds stuff that’s on sale. My dollar is likely to go further with her help than it would if I were on my own, desperately trying to get the job done and get out.
How does that work? Do you just call when you need something?
I prefer in-person. I recently bought a few things online. I do that when I know my size at a store that I frequent. Sizes vary by stores, so I just find it harder and more of a hassle when you have to return it and find something else. I would rather just go in person and try it on. It's easier.
I know that they help with selection, but do they help with the actual fitting?
Yes, they have alterations in-house.
So what are your go-to brands? Do you find yourself with a go-to brand for clothes or accessories?
I do have favorites, although I try to keep an open mind. My favorite clothing brands include Lafayette 148 New York, Eileen Fisher, Tahari, and then Talbots comes and goes, but their petite clothes fit me really well so that has been sort of a mainstay for me. I just love Eileen Fisher. I think the fabrics are so elegant and all of the clothes are really comfortable. I really love finding their items on sale. Another line I like a lot is Etcetera. I have a friend who sells it. It's a trunk show line and it is very distinctive, extremely well made and has yummy fabrics.
What about for accessories? Do you have certain brands that you tend to gravitate towards?
For bags, I like Tory Burch and Kate Spade. I don’t venture very far out there. I have pretty simple tastes. For jewelry and accessories, I rely on the personal shopper at Nordstrom. When it comes right down to getting dressed in the morning, I have favorites that I lean on almost every day. I do like Kate Spade shoes and I bought my very first pair of Cole Haan Nike Airs this year, which are amazing.
To help keep my morning routine easy, I tend to keep things simple. My favorite shoes are black patent leather, peep-toe slingbacks. I like wedges too, and I like black suede.
What type of daily tote/bag do you use and what is inside?
Right now, I’m carrying what is probably my favorite bag, and I probably should buy 10 of them. It’s a very simple Kate Spade gray tote. If I have my act together, inside I have my sunglasses, my distance glasses, a little bag of makeup, my reusable bag from The Container Store, for the grocery store, and my business cards in my Tory Burch wallet.
What is something that you wear that instills more confidence on days when you don't quite feel yourself?
If I felt like I needed to encourage myself, feel more sassy or more in control, I would lean towards black and heels.
Lipstick or lip gloss?
I wear T. LeClerc Transparent Lipstick in the shade Organza. I used to buy it at Barney’s, but they quit carrying that color, so I will be buying it online. I also use Fresh Lip Treatment in a few different colors.
What is the most important part of your beauty routine that you feel helps complete your look?
My Chanel mascara. It is the best mascara I have ever worn which is saying something. I want my eyelashes to behave and not get clumpy or bunched together. It matters to me and this is a really good one.
What's your mani/pedi style?
I wear really super pale pink (almost white) for summer. I have my nails done at Nordstrom. It’s the Shellac and I can almost get two weeks out of it as long as it stays shiny. When it starts to get dull, I feel like I need to have them done again. I care about whether my nails go with what I’m wearing and so I really like not having to think about it.
Is there a particular hair product that you always use?
I love Kérastase hairspray. It smells good, it’s super-light, it’s not sticky at all, and it holds my hair. And I use the Shu Uemura brand volume shampoo and conditioner, which I love. I switch out my salon products all the time.
Let's talk about your jewelry - your go-to pieces.
I love long necklaces, but I feel like I’m not dressed if I don’t have something in my ears. Now if I forget, I have earrings at the office so I have something to stick in my ears. I tend towards neutrals, silver and gold. I wear a gray pair of Kendra Scott earrings almost every day. I just need to be put together; I don't have to look different everyday.
What do you do in the morning that helps
you prepare for the day ahead?
My mornings are very focused on getting my
kids ready and out the door for school. I try
very, very hard to work out almost every
morning, either with a trainer or running.
That is probably the most important thing
to prep for my day, because it is a sanity-
preserving measure for me.
Also, I recently bought a Nespresso coffee
machine. I almost don’t get Starbucks
anymore, which used to be a ritual for me. It
uses pods, so you don’t have to worry about
grounds and it’s so yummy. The coffee or the
espresso comes out with a crema on it. That
is the yummiest latte on the face of the earth,
and I’m one of these people who never made
coffee at home, ever.
Do you drink it before you leave the house or do you drink it on your way?
Either. I do like Starbucks, but I was very excited to find something that allows me to have a good latte at home. It’s delicious, and I don’t spend quite as much money.
By what means of transportation do you use to get to your office and to your meetings in town?
I drive a Ford Expedition. It’s white with tan leather interior … it’s my second one.
So you really like it. That’s your car.
I really don’t like to shop. It’s very functional at best - it handles my kid, my stuff, and it handles shopping. It takes care of me.
When you need to fly somewhere for business, what do you do while you are in the air? Work, read books ...
I work the entire flight. I'm the Gogo in-flight junky. I become very testy and impatient if I can't get onto Wi-Fi.
Do you have a certain bag that you use for travel?
I have a Tumi briefcase. They are expensive, like hundreds of dollars, but worth it. I bought my first Tumi briefcase after I started the firm and this past year one of the straps broke while I was traveling, which was just awful. I took it to the Tumi store and my briefcase was sent back to the Tumi headquarters where they concluded they couldn't fix it and they gave a full credit. I mean it was in good shape, they hold up really, really well, but yeah, they gave me a full credit to get a new one. I couldn't believe it because I had owned mine for about four years! So I went and got another one. I mean that makes it worth it.
I also have a giant Tory Burch tote that my laptop fits in, which works great. If I don't have any other books and papers to carry with me, I'll throw my laptop into that Tory Burch tote and take that since I like big hand bags anyway. I get compliments on it constantly.
Do you have a favorite song, artist, or playlist that you listen to on your way to work or even in your office?
I do not have a commuting playlist at all, but I listen to a U2 Pandora station when I’m having trouble concentrating at work. When I need to focus on something that I need to really concentrate on - that is my go-to thing, and it works. Nothing else does. It’s very weird.
What is your morning office routine?
I usually check email first, and check in with
my receptionist to see what's going on, if I'm
coming into the office. I don't schedule early
meetings in the office, because I need to
have a little bit of time to get my priorities
set for the day. I'll do it at a client's request,
but I don't schedule my own meetings
What does your typical workday look like?
There is no typical workday. Last year, I had a
great deal of travel, so when I’m out of town
the agenda determines the day. Even when
I’m in the office, I don’t have a usual routine.
I have some standing meetings. Currently, we
have a weekly meeting on a particular case
that's taking up a lot of our bandwidth. And
we have a weekly docket meeting which is
our way of checking in with each other,
making sure that we're meeting deadlines on
all the rest of our cases, and that someone is
in charge of things that are coming up.
What essentials do you have when you meet with clients?
I take notes on my laptop and will then email them to myself, and sometimes put it into the file. So, my Dell laptop goes with me pretty much everywhere I go. I may have supplies that I need if I'm preparing a client for a deposition or I may have a PowerPoint loaded on my laptop if I'm doing a presentation.
How do you handle job-related stress?
It's running. It keeps me sane. I also have a close group of girlfriends and we share war stories and provide confidential support. I can call them in the middle of the day and say, "Can you grab a coffee?" or "Can I just have five minutes? I need to talk to you about this situation." So, yes, the girlfriend group is key.
It's so Lipstick Jungle of you.
Yes! (Laughs) So true!
What are some of your work pet peeves?
I can't even finish reading a document full of typos, misspelled words, and incomplete sentences. I will absolutely freeze up. I’m also sensitive to bad formatting and font usage. It can distract me from being able to read the substance. I think it’s just the (self-diagnosed) ADD in me.
What is your happiest moment at work?
My happiest types of moments are the times when I realize the strength of our team. The team is multi-dimensional and it gives me the greatest sense of pride and makes me the happiest because we have people who are strong in areas that I’m not. It takes so much pressure off of me that I don't have to do the firm budget or manage payables, for example, because there are people here who handle those areas and are really good at them.
My niche is directors and officers' liability and management liability insurance, and so we have people who are really good at construction insurance, commercial auto issues, and general liability. I know a lot of that law so I could handle those types of cases, but I have a different niche where I'm the happiest and we have people here who are better than I am at those other areas. I am very thankful for that and it's working really well.
How would you describe your office space?
My goal for it was to be just modern and clean and I think we hit it. The art was important to me. I wanted it to not be such a law firm.
What were some of the challenges you faced with the design of your office space?
We were in a period of very rapid growth, and needed a bigger space. We were in a smaller suite with, no kidding, temporary tables from Home Depot and task chairs from Costco. We worked like that for about a year while we were refining the furniture plan and determining what we wanted the new office to look like. And what I wanted it to look like changed a lot during that year as I was learning about furnishing an office space. I'm very thankful that we didn't make any expensive mistakes.
I can't visualize things in 3D, so I struggled a little bit with communicating the look and feel that I wanted. Jan Flat, one of the design professionals at the Knoll studio, helped me pick out some of the key pieces in the front of the office, like the conference room table, the chairs around that table and the reception chairs - things that define the space right when you walk in. So she was instrumental with that.
Well, it's simply gorgeous! What is in your office that makes it more comfortable for you?
The fact that it has a lot of natural light. That is probably the biggest perk for me.
Do you have anything on your wish list for your office décor?
There is a sculpture of a couple of horses with birds on the back that I’m eyeing. It’s by an artist in Santa Fe and the sculptures are turquoise and white. I mean they just fit our space so well, but they look old. So it would be an added dimension, but it is currently not in the budget. Maybe a bean bag chair for a comfortable spot to read in, since I read a lot.
What would you say is your favorite office
supply and why?
I love office supplies. I love my green rubber
bands, just because they're different. And I
love these ginormous sticky pads from
Poppin. They are the perfect notepad by
How do you organize your desk space?
My desk has to be really clean for me to start
a project, so I tend to keep my office pretty
picked up. It helps that we're a paperless
office, but when I am finished with work
materials, they get put in the file cabinets in
the common area so that I don't have
distractions in here.
What is a work tool that's a must-have for
you (app, hardware or software)?
I really rely on my iPhone because to me
being extremely responsive is so important.
I really don't know how we used to do things
back when we couldn't check email and text
and return phone calls. If I'm in a meeting for thirty minutes or for an hour I can't return a phone call during that hour, but I can call as soon as I get out. And the whole idea of a higher tier of client service to me is being responsive.
Also, after trying lots and lots of options, we use Bill4Time for tracking and billing time that is very user friendly. It is the ideal solution for us. We didn't want to invest in software, and it's an online tool. We pay a monthly, per user fee and it is so easy. It interfaces with our accounting systems and it's been really good. And we use Net Documents, an online cloud access for all of our document management. It was a long trial and error process and we settled on this because it has the functionality that we need with the security that we, as well as our clients, expect.
How do you prioritize and manage your email inbox?
My system is like a filing system. I have a folder for each of my clients with subfolders for each of their cases. I try to move emails in real time, but once a month I search my inbox box and I clear out anything that I failed to move. That’s also when I clear out my sent items, because I don't usually move sent items in real time. So I'm reviewing bills, I'll just use that as my checklist to search by. It's my way of saying, “Oh I asked about this a month ago and I haven't heard anything back,” and people start getting emails from me. If it's a more serious follow up issue than I just flag the email to remind myself that it can’t wait 30 days.
I have different folders set up that emails get automatically pushed into, like promotional emails. If I'm ever wondering what Garnet Hill has on sale, then I can simply look in that folder because it's not going to pop into my inbox. I only allow Kate Spade, Nordstrom, Neimans and Tory Burch in my inbox, but that's it. The other promotional emails go straight into that folder.
What is your secret to achieving your daily objectives?
I rely very heavily on to-do lists. The office uses to-do lists that are case specific. We review them in meetings to make sure that we're getting everything done. That's where we make assignments, move assignments around, that sort of thing. I keep my own to-do list and my items are always in motion, so it is constantly in a state of flex. In a client service business you have to do what you have to do. Things come up. I may be derailed by one of my colleagues needing my help on something that I wasn't anticipating and so I really don't get terribly worked up when I can't get to the things on my to-do list. I just re-prioritize after lunch, or at the end of the day, or the next morning.
I work at home a lot after hours, because I’m always trying to maximize my time with the kids in the evening, before they go to bed. I frequently work a second shift, if I need to either finish something up that has a deadline or if there is something that I simply couldn't get to during the day.
Also, I try really, really, really hard not to over book my days. Sometimes I fail, but (laughing) I try to limit my out of the office commitments especially with networking and meeting with people. I try to preserve chunks of work time while I am here.
Let's discuss your to-do list. How do you organize and maintain it?
It is a calming process for me to take a partially complete to-do list from the day before, reorder the priorities and redo it. I'm one of those people who benefits a disproportionate amount for crossing things off - to the point where if I get something accomplished that wasn’t originally on my list, I add it on the list and then cross it off. (laughing) It helps me to realize everything I was able to do. I’m continually organizing it and responding to whatever happens to control the direction my day is taking.
The other part of managing is being very deliberate about delegating and trying to cultivate high quality delegees. Taking time to think through who can help me with certain tasks, so that I am handling items that I want to and am the best person to handle them. And that is meaningful to me as opposed to retaining the stuff that someone else can or should do. I like tasks that contribute to my personal or professional development and spending time with clients or my kids and friends. I want to maximize my time and that means I might have my sitter go pick up my dry cleaning and run by the grocery store or ask my assistant to print something out so that I am not distracted by searching through my email for it. Once she gives something to me, I just need to close my door and try to stay focused.
During the weekend, I might send myself an email to remind myself to do something that I have to do during the week.
How do you keep track of who is working on
what in your office?
I don't micromanage, if I am not the senior
lawyer working on a case, I simply ask them
to update me. We structure our team to build
efficiency into the way we're running cases.
People sort of understand who is handling
which issues thanks to the team structure
and also because of our TAR (Task
Assignment Responsibility) list. It’s a chart
we use internally to keep track of which
lawyer is handling which task, the date that
it was assigned, and the deadline for the
assignment. It also has a column that says
how much time we're anticipating the task
taking, which helps with budgeting. And it
includes a completed column. It is a great
tracking mechanism. We just document
what’s going on and if there are questions,
we can go back to the chart to know the
current status and how we’re going to
accomplish our objectives.
On your laptop, what program do you use to
take your notes?
For work, I typically type in Word and then
email it to a staff person to put in the file.
And then I put that email in the client matter
folder. For personal notes, I actually use the
note app on my iPhone. So I use that a fair
amount and I love it.
What is your method for networking?
I founded a networking group seven years ago, called ConnectHer, for female business owners. It’s great in the sense that it is an important part of our job to have a book of business and to cultivate new business. The group consists of about half lawyers and half other types of business owners and I really enjoy it. It’s both a sounding board and a confidential safe forum in which we discuss challenges. There is also significant networking going on.
I am also involved with a group called Attorneys Serving the Community that's comprised of Dallas and Fort Worth female lawyers. As a non-profit that serves women, children, and families, our activities are typically centered on raising money. We have a big luncheon, we hold a race, and we have a silent auction and in total we raise about a quarter of a million dollars each year. The other part of this group’s mission is to create business opportunities for our membership to network with referral sources and perspective clients. I have gotten significant business opportunities through this group and yet we are doing something really great with our time while we're getting to know each other and expanding our network.
Those are my two favorite groups for networking, but also insurance brokers and in-house council and defense lawyers are my top referral sources, so I try to be where those people are. I select the places where spend my time pretty carefully.
What advice have you received in your professional life that has really stuck with you?
The most important advice that I received was that it is important to focus on the business side of your practice as a lawyer as opposed to just working on being a good lawyer.
Do you have a work motto?
I have a goal that is pretty focused and that is to make my clients life easier. It means a number of things; it means efficiently managing the work so that I'm not wasting the client’s money. It means being incredibly responsive so they are not wondering why they haven't heard from my team or me when they need something, and they need it quickly. It means listening a lot so I can understand what it is they really need. You see a lot of lawyers who, instead of listening to their client, are busy pursuing their own objectives, which may or may not be aligned with the client. I want to be more attentive and simply make my client's life easier.
What do you do during your downtime to refresh and recharge yourself?
Spending time with my kids and my friends is my biggest priority. My standing nail appointment is also very important to me. I've been going to Nordstrom for about six months and I go to the same person every time. We chat and the atmosphere is great. So that is definitely more than just walking out with my nails done. It is like a recharge time for me, a sanity-preserving thing. Running and personal training fall into that same category. Running is not new for me, but personal training is, and both are big recharge opportunities.
What currently has your fascination?
I am fascinated by cyber insurance, all of the cyber security issues, hacking, and the data breeches. How technology is evolving at the speed of light and the security measures that are trying to keep up. And then the insurance, which is what steps in when the security fails, is trying to keep up with that. I am really fascinated by that. I am such a geek!! (laughing)
I am fascinated by soup. I do like to cook. I don't have a whole lot of time but I am, trying to cook healthy, yet yummy food for my family. It is challenging because it takes time and planning, which is what's the hardest for me. So I am fascinated by soup currently. I believe I have perfected butternut squash soup and chicken noodle. Perfected. Mine is amazing. I would like to find how to make a good asparagus soup.