Women's Leadership InitiativeQ&A with Jessica Alley

Jessica Alley is a partner in the firm's Litigation Department. She focuses her career representing clients in the insurance, legal and healthcare industries.

What are the biggest issues women lawyers face?

As a profession, it is critical that we continue to develop and, even more importantly, retain talented women lawyers. So many amazing women attorneys voluntarily withdraw from practicing law, opting out because of obstacles and a lack of mentorship, assistance and resources. The reasons are varied and complex of course, and there is no one solution to the problem. Still, maintaining experienced female attorneys is essential to the development and continued success of our profession.

What advice would you give to women just starting out at a law firm? What are some important first steps they can take to lay the groundwork for a successful career?

Be yourself — not the person you think you should be or the person someone else wants you to be. When I first started practicing in the late 1990s, female mentors in the legal profession were rare. In the absence of a female role model/mentor, I started making it up as I went along. My first strategy was to try to fit in and to hide or diminish as much as possible the unique aspects that made me stand out as different from my male counterparts. This strategy worked for a while, but it couldn’t last because it wasn’t authentic. It was only when I found my own voice, not the voice I had borrowed from my male colleagues, that I truly began to succeed in the profession.

By what standards do you measure success?

As a threshold matter, I am not sure anyone can answer this question quite as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson in his poem “What is Success” — it’s one of my personal favorites, and I aspire to accomplish his words in my life. Beyond Emerson’s poetic words, as a litigator, I consider my service a success when my clients goals are fulfilled. Sometimes to accomplish my client’s goals requires me to put aside my own ego or desire to “win the case” in order to meet a client’s goal of early resolution or preservation of a business relationship. But, as a lawyer, that’s the job. It’s all about putting the client first — that is success.

Complete the sentence: “If I wasn’t an attorney, I would be …”

An author, although, truth be told, I don’t think that I would have found my voice as an author without first practicing law. And, if you’d asked me this question when I was in high school or college, my answer would have been “a lawyer!” I was 100% focused on becoming a member of the legal profession.