Women's Leadership InitiativeQ&A with Karen Borg

Karen Borg is a partner in the firm's Chicago office. She concentrates her practice in complex commercial litigation and arbitrations, with a particular emphasis in insurance disputes. She also has extensive experience with product liability and mass tort litigation, as well as bankruptcy and bankruptcy-related disputes.

If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Michelle Obama, no question. After reading her book Becoming, I have so many questions to ask! I would love to talk to her about her experiences growing up in Chicago, her early years as a lawyer, and compare notes as mothers of young adult daughters. And on a personal note, I am very curious to know whether my father taught her when she attended Whitney Young High School in Chicago. He passed away 20 years ago, so we have no way to find out! I do know that he taught Michelle’s best friend at the time, so chances are good that Michelle was also in one of my father’s classes.

If I wasn't a lawyer, I would be...

Working in art history. I double majored in Art History and Public Policy Studies at Duke University. After graduating, I moved to New York City to follow the art history path. I moved into a tiny studio apartment that I shared with a roommate and took a job at a small, historic museum on the Upper East Side. I enjoyed my work at the museum which included research for the curator and conducting weekly lectures for tourists from around the world. However, pretty early on I realized that this was not going to be my life-long path. After a fun and culture-filled couple of years, and against the advice of several friends and family members, I decided to pack up my bags and head back to my roots in Chicago and continue to use my research and advocacy skills while pursuing my passion for the law. I still visit museums whenever I have a chance, but I’ve never looked back!

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self, just starting out in the legal field?

I would tell myself to keep an open mind to new opportunities that come along that might cause you to shift your focus or area of law. Some of the most rewarding work I’ve done over the years has been in areas I never thought I would practice.  It’s important to become extremely knowledgeable in your field, but you have to be ready to pivot if new opportunities arise.  Allowing yourself to move into a different area and take on a new challenge broadens your abilities and keeps things interesting over a long career.

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

First and foremost, align yourself with a strong and supportive mentor. You can and should have many influential mentors (both inside and outside the law firm) over the years, but early on it is key to find a champion to help guide you and set you on your path. Spend time meeting with female lawyers, at different career stages, to better understand what it really takes to succeed as a woman in law, as well as differentiate between real and perceived obstacles.  Finding a firm whose values align with your own and colleagues you enjoy working with can be just as important as finding an area of law that you feel passionate about. At your earliest opportunity, treat your client’s problems as your own and take ownership of your efforts.

Tell us about your favorite thing to do outside of work

I like to travel, visit museums, enjoy the art scene in Chicago, and spend time with my family and our two dogs. Since my daughter started college at Syracuse, I’ve renewed my focus on March Madness and relished in the Duke/Syracuse rivalry!