Women's Leadership InitiativeQ&A with Deb Boiarsky

In January 2020, Deb Boiarsky was elevated to the firm’s chief operating partner, the first woman to serve in this position. In this capacity, she will work closely with the firm's managing partner to oversee the firm's day-to-day business. In her legal practice, Deb concentrates in the field of employee benefits and executive compensation.

Describe a pivotal moment that influenced your career path.

When I finished my undergraduate degree, I knew that I wanted to pursue a post-graduate degree, but was unsure of what exactly that would be. In my younger days, watching L.A. Law and the like, I was always interested in the law – albeit the Hollywood courtroom version. During my last year in college, I was weighing entering a PhD program in economics versus taking a consulting position with a national actuarial firm. In the end, I opted for the latter. During that experience, I came back around to the law from a different angle, the transactional and compliance side, which is what ultimately lead me to where I am today. Early on in my legal career, I had the good fortune to work with some dynamic women in my area of law, which gave me a great foundation for the future in a practice that can be a bit esoteric. 

What made you want to focus on employee benefits and executive compensation law?

The first job I took right out college ended up being my first exposure to ERISA attorneys, and that continued and expanded when I shifted to a second consulting position with an accounting firm. The depth of their knowledge, and their ability to synthesize complex Code requirements into plain language, made an impression on me. I also quickly recognized how necessary ERISA attorneys were in the corporate environment. By that point in my life and career, I was ready to go back to school and get that post-graduate degree, and had decided on law, and specifically becoming an ERISA attorney. It is not a typical path, and certainly not one I would have found myself on if not for the professional experience before law school. 

As ERISA attorneys, we live in the details, and oftentimes those details are buried in the depths of regulations that no one in a fast-moving business environment cares to or has time to read. It is our job to know those provisions and translate them so our clients have the information they need and don’t skip a beat when it comes to their day-to-day responsibilities. All of us as attorneys are problem solvers, and that, in its simplest form, is what we do – we solve problems – whether as litigators, corporate attorneys or any other area. When we solve our clients’ problems in the ERISA area, it can often have immense impact, whether with respect to the IRS or DOL knocking on their door, or helping them design compliant programs that serve their employee bases and often, their bottom line. Seeing that impact is what reinforces my decision years ago to go down this path. That, and the fact that the laws in this area are constantly changing, which keeps us all gainfully employed. 

What advice would you give to women just starting out at a law firm? Are there keys to success?

Be good at what you do. It takes time to build your skills, and sometimes to find the area of practice  that you want to build. But once you find it, build it, and it will become that solid foundation that you can build all of the other pieces of a legal practice around – the relationships, the client development, etc. It takes patience, but building the kind of knowledge that makes you a go-to resource for your clients can make you an invaluable asset. Also, be open to learning something from every situation – even the negative ones.

I don’t believe that there are certain absolute keys to success that apply across the board. They differ for everyone and every situation individually. What is key is finding those character traits and those skills that resound with you, that you know you can get behind without question. If you have to bend too much to embrace something that you think is a “key” to success, you’ll eventually break something. 

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

Without a doubt, being a mother has taught me the most about what it takes to succeed – or, some days, just get to the office in clean clothes and matching shoes. Honestly though, there is nothing like having to explain to your children why you do something, to make you really face for yourself why you actually do it. It has also given me greatest doses of perspective over the years, and usually just when I need one. They humble me every day. 

I also learned a tremendous amount from my father, who I watched navigate running a second-generation family business. From him and the rest of my family, I learned the value of hard work, how important it is to treat people the right way, and certainly how to balance competing interests in the face of pressures mounting from all sides. 

Lastly, I attribute a lot of what I am today to my involvement in team sports through my youth and in college particularly. I was fortunate enough to play intercollegiate soccer at Villanova University with a tremendous group of pretty amazing women. Living and playing and learning alongside them, I learned immeasurable lessons in dedication, resiliency, time management, responsibility to those other than yourself, and seeing that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts in the most inspiring way. I wasn’t good enough at it to make a living of it, so I became one of those NCAA athletes to “go pro in something other than sports,” but I certainly wouldn’t trade that experience.

Tell us about your favorite thing to do outside of work.

Anything outside and active, preferably with my family.  From hiking to running to coaching to playing most any sport, to even yard work. If it's outside, and we can all do it together, I’m all for it.