By Noha Sidhom • October 12, 2009•Superwomen JDs and What You Can Learn From Them
Bio for this week's superwoman JD: Kate Anderson is an associate in the litigation department of the Los Angeles office of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.
Shortly after her arrival at the Firm, Ms. Anderson was part of a team of lawyers involved in preparing and trying a legal malpractice case. The verdict was a complete victory for the client. In addition to her trial experience, Ms. Anderson’s practice includes general business litigation.
Prior to joining MTO, Ms. Anderson served as Counsel to the democratic staff of the Committee on Government Reform of the United States House of Representatives. Her work encompassed a wide array of legislative and investigative matters, including developing and drafting major bipartisan legislation to fundamentally reform the United States Postal Service. Ms. Anderson also led a team investigating voting disparities in the 2000 election and produced a widely-covered report on the issue. She also conducted oversight of government entities including the Postal Service’s response to the anthrax attacks.
Ms. Anderson received her B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1996 where she served as Student Body President. She graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 1999 with high honors. She was a member of the University of Chicago Law Review and was elected to the Order of the Coif. Ms. Anderson served as law clerk to the Honorable Harry T. Edwards, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit during the 1999-2000 term.
1. How has being a woman affected your career or legal education?
Being a woman has had a huge impact on my legal career especially after becoming a mother. People in the workplace do not treat fathers the same as they treat mothers. The work-life balance issue hits me as a mother more than I think it does many fathers, though in an ideal world there wouldn’t be a difference
Was it scheduling?
As a mom there were certainly scheduling conflicts. Women still take primary responsibility for child care in most households no matter what the father does. I am fortunate in that my husband is tremendously involved and helpful, but I still feel more conflicts than most of my male counterparts I think.
2. You were recently instrumental in opening the first law firm sponsored childcare center on the west coast; can you tell us more about that experience?
I came back from maternity leave and realized a lot of my friends were really struggling with work and child care. This job demands flexibility. You need reliable care for your children. And I saw my female friends leaving the practice because they didn’t have that. I knew that a few law firms on the east coast sponsored child care centers and that it would help tremendously with the work-life balance and to help keep women in the profession.
I work at a pretty special place -- Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP -- and I knew that this firm would be open to it. I approached the managing partners about opening a center. They were great; they said go explore it. We brought in a child care consultant. And we spent a lot of time knocking on doors and selling this. And, as expected, the firm was amazingly supportive. There were skeptics. But generally the response was enthusiastic.
a. What obstacles did you face in getting that up and going?
People wondered whether the attorneys would really be interested in using it. So many attorneys either have stay at home spouses or use nannies, people wondered if the demand was there. I convinced them that it was, but they were still concerned, so one of our solutions was to bring in two other entities as partners and share the Center. That addressed the remaining concerns and we were able to move forward.
b. What advice would you give other attorneys interested in such an endeavor?
Do your homework. There’s data on the benefits of these kinds of programs; marshall those resources. It’s more than “the right thing to do,” it has benefits for your business.
Consider a childcare consultant. We used Bright Horizons. We faced questions about liability and management. We didn’t want to be running a childcare center ourselves. And we didn’t want to be vulnerable to new liabilities. We had good answers to those valid concerns because we had the consultant.
It was a political process. When I worked for Henry Waxman I drafted legislation on the postal service – you’re figuring out the policy you want, who your supporters will be, and how you’ll bring others on board who may not be. The same thing happened here – realizing that the successful strategy would involve partners (in this case O’Melveny and Oaktree) – by bringing them on we made a number of our original skeptics feel more comfortable.
3. There is a perception that senior female attorneys think that they had it tough and so should you. Have you experienced this? If so, do you think there is added value or a place for this approach?
I have experienced this in a very limited way. But I think we all have it tough. I think it’s been tough for me. I do think we should make it easier for future generations. And I had the opportunity to work part time, and women in previous generations either didn’t have that option or paid a higher cost when they exercised it. But I didn’t feel too much resentment from others when I did that.
You worked on the hill, do you notice an East/West difference?
They are such different environments – working for government and working in private practice. I couldn’t untangle that. Though I was lucky to work for Henry Waxman ; he had two women who came back part time.
4. More than half of law students self identify as aspiring politicians, however very few women ever pursue these goals. We know you are in the process of running for office.
a. What motivated you to run for office when so many others do not?
This is the way I can best contribute in the world. This was important to me early on. I was the student body president at UCLA and got an internship with Congressman Henry Waxman before I graduated. I worked in his office as a student and ended up working full-time before I graduated and finished my college degree in D.C. I was very fortunate to be working for Waxman. He is one of the country’s greatest legislators, making a real difference in the world and he is doing it for all the right reasons. That experience convinced me I wanted to devote myself to public service.
I started the childcare center and was elected to my neighborhood council and I realized that serving in the state assembly was the way I could best contribute.
b. What is the hardest part and what is the most enjoyable part of running a campaign?
Time away from my girls is the hardest part. I came back part time because I wanted to spend a lot of time with my girls. I’m continuing to work part time and run simultaneously. And it’s a lot less time with them and I miss that. At the same time, they are old enough now that I can involve them in what I do. I bring them to kid-appropriate events with me, like neighborhood BBQs, I take them precinct walking with me, I make them listen to me practice my speeches (they don’t like that one so much except when I get to the Darby and Emeline parts).
The most enjoyable part is getting out and talking to people in the community, identifying problems that I think I can do something about and then figuring out how to do it.
c. What role does your family play in your politics?
They’re an inspiration and necessary source of support. My husband wants this for me. He believes in me. He’s very progressive and this is part of both our meaning in life. This is a way for me to contribute – we both see it that way. And the same is true for the girls. They understand mom’s running and that that’s service and they want to be a part of it.
I’ve considered waiting because of the time away from the girls. But I want to be a role model for them. This is important to me. And I would want them to follow their dreams – and I think I can show them that by following my own. I want them to see women in leadership. And now my daughter wants to be president.
My family also grounds me more deeply in the policy issues that are important to me. Education, for instance, is a top priority for me. It’s the right thing to do for the state, but as a mom with kids in public schools, I have a more visceral sense of why it matters.
d. What advice do you have for women who aspire to run for public office?
Get involved in your community as soon as you think you might be interested. That process will help you figure out if this is for you. I loved it – I loved the constituent contact, the precinct walks, the meetings, all of it
Also, don’t wait to be asked. Study after study shows that women consistently underestimate their own potential and do not seek office as often as men because we wait to be asked. Men don’t wait, neither should we. If you are interested in it, go for it. The best part about running for office as a women today is that there are lots of organizations out there to support us -- organizations like Emily’s List, WulfPAC (Women Under Forty PAC), and California’s List. These groups will help you, just reach out.
5. We all have to make sacrifices for our careers, what sacrifices have you made and which would you make again?
I’ve made huge financial and personal sacrifices both working part time and running for office. I took a significant pay cut to spend more time with the girls and I’m fortunate that Peter and I were able to afford it. I’d make that sacrifice again in a heartbeat.
I also make huge personal sacrifices. I go back to work every night after the girls go down. I often wake up at 5 in the morning. And I work almost every weekend. But again, I’m fortunate to have the flexibility to do that and still be able to spend time with my family so I’d do that again in a heartbeat as well.
6. What is your favorite thing about being a lawyer?
Solving problems. You see a problem and your work to understand client’s perspective and then you try to find the right solution for them. I love that I’m at a firm that prides itself on doing what we do the way we do it. It’s the gold standard. I like working until I get something right.
7. What are your interests/hobbies outside of the legal practice? How important do you think those interests/hobbies have been in maintaining some work life balance? I take a bath a lot of nights to relax. I try and work out 3-5 days a week. I go hiking with the girls. It’s hugely important. I think those things are essential.
8. What is one change you would like to see in the legal profession in the next 20 years?
Broader than the profession, but that is my lens: I’d like to see work-life balance equalized between genders. It’s exacerbated in the legal practice. Women continue to take primary responsibility for childrearing. Men participate but with less responsibility. We won’t make great strides as long as that remains a women’s issues. Even today it’s not exclusive – but many of my male colleagues have stay at home wives and few of my female colleagues do. The more men are free to be part of primary child care the more we will see focus on work-life balance for everyone.
Bio for the Author of the column: Noha Sidhom is a proud graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Law. Before attending law school, Noha interned on Capitol Hill for the Honorable Charles Timothy Hagel and went on to campaign for Senate candidate Peter Ricketts. During law school, she clerked at Husch Blackwell Sanders, formerly Blackwell Sanders. She also did an internship at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Enforcement and an internship at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where she is now an attorney in the Office of General Counsel. Noha is licensed in New York and New Jersey, and currently resides with her husband in Washington, D.C.
A Message from the Author: This column is a Q&A with senior level female attorneys offering advice and mentorship to young female lawyers. The questions below were sent to the interviewees and responses have not been edited for content. The advice, experiences, personalities, and approaches of these women are extremely diverse and more importantly very useful to future generations of female attorneys. I hope this column will offer helpful advice, and inspire healthy discussions. I have an exciting lineup of female leaders in the profession, but if you have someone you would like to nominate, or you yourself would like to be interviewed, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special Thanks: I would like to extend a special thank you to Jessie Kronberg from Ms. JD for her help on tailoring the questions and conducting the interview.