Oct. 20, 2014 | Volume XXII, Issue 10

Panel: A woman’s perspective on balancing work, life

Published: October 28th, 2013

Category: News

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UF Law Professor Berta Hernandez-Truyol speaks during a panel in the Martin H. Levin Advocacy Courtroom on Oct. 22. (Photo by Javier Edwards)

By Kelcee Griffis (4JM)

Sometimes, Jeanne Singer (JD 77) bakes cupcakes at 2:30 a.m. Jo Thacker (JD 87) answers emails from the Little League bleachers. Denise Ferrero arrives at her office in sometimes sweaty workout clothes because she spends early mornings exercising with her children.

At the “Balancing Work and Life: A Woman’s Perspective” panel discussion Tuesday afternoon, six accomplished female lawyers shared their tips and experiences with UF Law students gathered in the Martin H. Levin Advocacy Center.

Maintaining a healthy balance between three-pronged priorities emerged as a theme as the women talked about how they devote time to family, work and community service.

The workshop was presented by the Florida Association for Women Lawyers and The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Law Student Division

The women reiterated that making time for loved ones – which sometimes means postponing emails, meetings or laundry – is a priority they do not regret. Those sacrifices often require flexibility, they said.

UF Law Professor Berta Hernandez-Truyol told the story of when her daughter began experiencing abdominal pains the day before she was scheduled to leave for Italy for a conference. She changed her flight, took care of her daughter and eventually made it to the conference.

Thacker, a partner at Broad & Cassel, had to make up an evidence exam during her 3L year because she gave birth to her first child.

“You just do what you have to do,” she said, smiling.

Singer, chief assistant state attorney in the Eighth Judicial District, advised women to choose jobs that allow them to devote time to all their priorities – not just work.

“Find the type of job – the type of professional experience – that’s going to allow you to be able to get the most out of interaction and contact and relationship with your children,” Singer said.

But in the meantime, Melanie Griffin, the only panelist without children and who serves as president of The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division and an associate at Dean Mead, encouraged young women to set their sights high. She suggested accomplishing the milestones they want to reach early on so they have the leeway to step back for family later.

“Kill it from the beginning,” she said. “Make partner first. Do what you want to do first, give back to the community first…You will, for lack of a better way to put it, ‘have gotten it out of your system.’ You will have proven yourself at work.”

With the drive to excel in the workplace also comes the potential for burnout. Susan Goffman (JD 83), director of legal services for the University of Florida Foundation, encouraged fellow female lawyers to slow down and pay attention to their own well-being.

When Goffman was diagnosed with breast cancer, her friend drove her to UF Law so she could inform her husband, who was sitting in his last exam.

“It did remind me that if you don’t take care of yourself, ultimately what will happen is you’ll have no choice,” she said.

Along with the physical health aspect, Singer urged listeners to stay in tune with their spiritual side and to appreciate the moment.

“It’s important for you to think about and appreciate and suck in this beautiful present we have right now,” she said. “It gives you perspective.”

She mentioned the lack of support she experienced when she was in law school in the ‘70s because significantly fewer women had entered the profession.

But the nearly 40 young women sitting in the audience were evidence that the dynamics have changed.

“Make it point to pay attention to those other women lawyers around you,” Singer said. “They need your support. They need your shoulder. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun to live in their lives with them.”

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