By Tanya Falleiro Neha Sareen • May 19, 2011•Balancing Private and Professional Life
Bio: Jenny Lynn Fountain received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and French from the University of Alabama in 1999 and her Juris Doctor degree from Emory University School of Law in 2002. While at Emory University, Mrs. Fountain was selected as a member of the Moot Court Society Special Teams and Review Board and was the recipient of the Gunster Yoakley Best Oralist Award. From 2002 to 2004, Mrs. Fountain served as Judicial Law Clerk to the Honorable Leslie Tchaikovsky, United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Northern District of California.
Mrs. Fountain focuses her practice in the areas of bankruptcy, debtor-creditor rights, financial institution's litigation and commercial litigation. She has extensive experience representing Chapter 11 Debtors, Trustees and secured and unsecured creditors in all aspects of insolvency proceedings. Mrs. Fountain also has broad and in-depth experience representing Assignees in Assignments for the Benefit of Creditors as well as broad experience in corporate raiding, unfair competition and trade secret litigation. “Super Lawyers” have named her a “Rising Star” two years in a row.
Mrs. Fountain currently serves as the Events Chair of the International Women's Insolvency and Restructuring Confederation (Bay Area Chapter). Mrs. Fountain is the past Chair of the Business, Commercial and Bankruptcy Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco and was the YIP Co-Chair for the 2010 California Bankruptcy Forum Conference. In addition, she is active in numerous professional organizations including the Don Edwards Inn of Court, the Bar Association of San Francisco, and the Bay Area Bankruptcy Forum.
Mrs. Fountain resides in Los Gatos with her husband, Frederic Servais. She enjoys long distance running, hiking, snowboarding and travelling.
What are your hobbies/activities that you enjoy doing out of the office?
If I am not at the office, I am usually enjoying outdoor and sporting activities including, hiking, biking, running, swimming, and camping. Two years ago, my husband and I trekked the Mount Salcantay pass on our way to Machu Picchu. Last year we climbed Mount Rainer. This year, we are training for a century ride together. Any time spent outdoors and reconnecting to nature is time well spent!
What do you consider is the key to creating a balance between one’s life in and out of the office?
For me, there is no one magic key to creating balance however there are many tools in our toolbox we can use to balance our lives. One tool is realistic prioritizing. Professional and personal responsibilities will always be there, but to maintain a healthy balance, we must maintain some control over our schedules. By thinking things through, figuring out what must be completed today, tomorrow, etc, a person can better control his or her own schedule, both in an out of the office. I naturally feel a need to complete each assignment, brief, etc., before I leave the office each day, but, many times that is simply not realistic and being able to recognize that fact and separate out what must be accomplished today is crucial to my maintaining balance.
Of course, it can be challenging for a younger attorney to control his or her own schedule as they are usually given assignments from multiple partners with strict deadlines imposed. However, it can be done if the associates and partners have open communications regarding assignments, scheduling and expectations.
Another tool for me that is important to creating balance is to make some time for myself, everyday, even if it is just 30 minutes at 9:00 pm: time when I can get away from everyone and everything. While that may sound simple, selfish or unrealistic given how busy people are today, I believe it is crucial to maintaining a healthy work/life balance. Whatever is going on in my work or personal life will still be there in 30 minutes. After I have taken a break, I am better able to address those responsibilities and challenges. Every person is different and what you do in that ‘break time’ depends on your personality (whether it be reading, jogging, listening to music, cooking, yoga, etc,). While there will be days when it seems like there is no time for downtime, planning ahead allows a person to make time for their professional and personal commitments.
If, and when, you feel your life is out of balance, how do you manage it? What are some of the consequences of living out of balance?
When life gets hectic, I take time out and “recharge” myself by engaging in something that I love to do. We all have some activity that helps us center ourselves. For me, exercise and enjoying the outdoors are true “stabilizers” between my life in, and outside, the office.
Do you feel that technology has made maintaining a “work-life” balance easier or harder? In other words, is it beneficial or burdensome to constantly be within reach?
Technology has created a situation that truly is a “double-edge sword.” It is wonderful that technology has made it easier to stay connected and work remotely so that we are not tied to our offices. However, becoming addicted to technology is a serious risk and can have unhealthy consequences in both our personal and professional lives.
In maintaining discipline with the tools technology has provided, do you feel that it is harder for younger attorneys to “just say no” to their Blackberry?
I would say yes because, generally, I believe younger attorneys are more tech-savvy, and feel a greater need to prove themselves. Also, younger attorneys have grown up with social media where being constantly connected is the norm. Even though it is harder, discipline is key.
I try to be disciplined. I do use a Blackberry and check it quite often, but unless I am expecting something important, I try to make it a point to put it away and not look at it during certain times (e.g., if I am sharing a meal with someone, working on an important brief or motion, have company over, during a business meeting, after a certain time at night, etc.,). Otherwise, the balance in my life suffers. Also, if I am with someone else, whether in a business meeting or a social setting, but am constantly checking my Blackberry, I am not able to give them my full attention and it devalues them and their time.
Do you feel that it is difficult to make time to network, become involved with bar associations etc? Is this something that can be given less priority as one gains more experience?
If you get involved in an organization that you enjoy, then it does not seem like work. Some people love becoming involved with bar associations and different organizations, and others are pressured into it and do not enjoy it at all.
My motto is if you are going to become a part of an organization, actively participate, or spend your time elsewhere. Actively participating is not simply joining the group and attending meetings. It means taking leadership, board or advisory roles, assisting with events, speaking at events, etc. That being said, while, I believe that it is important to be actively involved with professional organizations, there are many other ways to get your name out in the community as well. For instance, while I am active in many professional organizations, including IWIRC and our local Inn of Court, I also participate in basketball and tennis leagues. It is a way for me to play sports that I enjoy and meet wonderful members of our community that I would never meet at a local bar association function or CLE course. I enjoy being a part of these leagues and therefore do not mind any time devoted to league activities. A person should find out what they enjoy and devote him or herself to it. Getting involved does not simply mean becoming a member of professional organizations.
Overall, what are some of the challenges that you have seen, and notice today that women face in the legal field? Many say that the legal field is male-dominated, do you agree?
The legal field is male-dominated in that there are more men in the profession. However, things are changing. If I recall correctly, for the first time in Emory history, in my law school graduating class, there were more women than men! It is taking time, but the disparity between male and female lawyers is decreasing.
However, in the partner level, things are not yet equal. I’m sure there are many reasons for the disparity, including the inherent challenges professional women face when they become mothers.
Is there any advice that you have out there for new female attorneys?
First, learn to effectively and efficiently research. I thought I knew how to research after graduating law school, but there is nothing like on the job training. It makes an amazing difference if a young attorney can effectively research. Spend some time in the library familiarizing yourself with secondary sources. Secondary sources should always be a new lawyers starting point.
Second, when you want something, ask.... but...do your homework before asking and make sure you have earned and/or can handle the thing for which you are asking. Overall, women need to speak out more. We need to ask to be a part of certain cases and take charge of certain opportunities. There is nothing wrong with asking for something, but stereotypical gender roles and notions discourage women from the ‘aggressive pursuit.’ Each woman needs to find what works for her in terms of seeking out opportunities. I remember the first time I asked a partner if I could take a hearing on a contested motion I had drafted. I was a new associate and the partner that was planning to argue the motion had a corner office. It took a lot of courage to ask and I was a nervous wreck but I had done the research, drafted the motion and reply papers and knew the subject matter back and forth. The partner said yes and went to the hearing with me. At the hearing, opposing counsel (some 30 years my senior) argued effectively while his associate, a junior associate just like myself, who had no doubt took the laboring oar on the briefing, sat and watched. I argued the motion on our client’s behalf. I don’t know whether it showed but on the inside I was shaking like a leaf and my voice probably cracked. Afterwards, the senior partner gave me some constructive criticism. The Judge was very prepared, was attentive and ruled in our favor. When the Judge made his ruling, I was grinning like the Cheshire cat. It was an amazing day.
Do you have any advice or words of wisdom that you would like to leave our readers with?
In general, finding someone you admire is important—someone who is a mentor-like figure. Learn whatever you can from this individual, yet stay true to your beliefs and goals as well. On a personal level, my parents taught me that honesty and hard work are key to happiness and success. On a professional level I naturally gravitate to people with those same values. Retired bankruptcy Judge Leslie Tchaikovsky, Shawn Christianson, and John Walshe Murray have greatly helped me in my career thus far.
Interview conducted by Neha Sareen and Tanya Falleiro