Not long after I made partner at the law firm of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, I was faced with a tough decision. I’d worked hard to put myself through college and law school and as a law firm associate, and now I was finally in a comfortable place both personally and professionally - with no desire to change that. That’s when my husband received an offer for a great job near Washington, DC.
I was very happy as a litigator in Orrick’s New York office. Although Orrick had a Washington office, the firm had no litigation practice there. As I saw it, I had three options: First, I could tell my husband we couldn’t move; second, I could leave my position in favor of a Washington law firm; or third, I could stay at at and create a DC litigation practice for my current firm. I quickly dismissed option one. I was happy for my husband and wanted him to pursue his opportunity. In the less mobile and flexible world we lived in back then, option two was clearly the less risky path of the remaining choices. I could easily join another firm with a solid client base and work for the senior partners there, just as I had been doing at Orrick. Option three was uncharted territory. Orrick’s East Coast litigation group was tight knit, entirely based in New York and with no plans to expand to D.C. The notion that I could jump from junior partner to being the lead (and only) litigation partner there and growing our business in D.C. was a stretch. I also had very little business development experience, having contentedly relied on senior partners and the firm’s established clients to bring in new matters.
I loved the people in the litigation group at my firm and thought I could handle the many challenges of the move, so I decided to take the risk and lean in: I pitched the third option to the senior partners. While they recognized that I was proposing a leap for all of us, I had earned their confidence. I had often asked for more responsibility and had consistently succeeded at whatever I took on. They gave me the green light.
Happily, the move worked out exceedingly well for the firm and for me. The lawyers in our DC office were very supportive, and I arrived shortly before the Enron collapse, so my litigation skills were soon in great demand as investigations and lawsuits piled up. I became the firm's go-to litigator in DC, and the new practice flourished.
Success requires more than just good timing. I firmly believe that when taking on something new, you have to own it to make it work. So at the outset, I spent time in New York every week to stay connected to my base there. I also worked hard to build and learn to manage a strong team in Washington.
In retrospect, my decision to lean in was undoubtedly the right one. Had I stayed in New York or switched to a different firm, I would have continued for years to be sheltered by (and subordinate to) senior partners. At Orrick in Washington, I was largely on my own, and I had to take ownership of my career. Without the experience and leadership skills I gained from that period, I would not be where I am at my current job.