At McDermott, I head up our Financial Products, Trading and Derivatives Group. My practice covers all aspects of financial transactions and derivatives, with a focus on taxation, regulation, contract design, hedging, trading, operations and documentation. I represent multinational businesses, trading companies, financial services firms, and high-net worth individuals and families.
How has your practice evolved in the last few years?
Back in the old days when I first started my career, the term “derivatives” was applied to medical compounds and mathematics, but not to the types of financial transactions I advise clients about (in fact, many of these products had not even been designed at that time). Before the term “derivatives” was applied to financial products, I would describe my practice as involving “securities, commodities, options, and funky weird things.” The catch-all term “derivatives” made describing my practice area much easier.
My practice has always been split between the business side (contract drafting and negotiation, regulatory advice, and general business representation), on the one hand, and federal taxation (planning and defense), on the other hand. Depending on my clients’ activities, legislative and regulatory initiatives, and IRS audit activities, I can spend as much as 90 percent of my time on the business side, or 90 percent of my time on tax matters.
Since Dodd-Frank was enacted in 2010 and thousands of pages of regulations have been issued since then, I spend more time on regulatory compliance than any other part of my practice. As to what is in store in the future, I’ll just need to wait and see. It is always changing.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
Reach for the stars. Build the skills you need for the position you want next, not the position you hold now. Take on assignments that are scary and raise your hand to try new things. (I would also tell young women lawyers not to let other people’s stereotypes and expectations define who they are or to limit what they want to achieve in their careers.)
As part of my “reach for the stars” advice, I’d also say give yourself permission to try new things, to spread your wings, to make mistakes. Stop thinking about perfection. Trying to be perfect is self-defeating. It makes you afraid to do new things at which you might fail. It makes you feel frustrated and discouraged. It holds you back from taking on tough assignments; from volunteering for challenging, career-building projects; from venturing out of your comfort zone; and from giving yourself the chance to grow. Your goal should be to develop your skills: to be better, not perfect. You only get better if you can learn from your failures. So, give yourself permission to be less than perfect as you reach for the stars.
What’s one technological device, application or tool you could not function without?
I draft, review, and edit thousands of pages of documents and manuscripts on a weekly basis. I also have a busy travel schedule. As an old school lawyer, I do much of my work on actual pieces of paper. Traveling makes it very difficult to move the mounds of papers I move on a daily basis. To be sure I am not at the whim of a hotel business center, I rarely leave home without my laptop, printer, and scanner. When I check into my hotel, I often have my “office” up and running in less than five minutes.
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
When I started my career, I joined a small start-up firm as the only tax lawyer. The lawyers I worked with had a good understanding of the tax laws, and when I felt I needed help on a project, the firm would hire another law firm to review my work or supervise me. This arrangement provided me with the safety net I needed, and I am still grateful for this. But it was the professionalism and civility of the Chicago tax bar that allowed me to develop into the lawyer that I am today. I immediately joined the Chicago Bar Association’s Tax Committee and connected with lawyers across Chicago. I developed an informal network of experienced lawyers whom I could turn to with questions and to bounce off ideas. At the beginning, I was always the one asking for their help. Over time, however, as I developed my expertise in financial products and derivatives, the direction that questions flowed shifted to where I was answering their questions. I was now in the position to help my network answer their questions.
I’ve been practicing law now for close to 40 years, and my address book has more than 5,000 names of people that I have worked with, negotiated against, or connected with for one reason or another. I know I can reach out to any of them, and they can reach out to me. I credit my career success in large part to the civility and professionalism that was shown to me as a new lawyer, and I try to “pay that forward” in the professionalism and civility I show to others.
What do you do for fun?
My idea of fun might seem like a busman’s holiday to many lawyers. I enjoy writing and speaking about financial products and derivatives (my vocation) and about gender stereotypes and ways women can overcome bias to succeed in their careers (my avocation). Fortunately, my husband, Al Harris, shares this same passion, so we have collaborated for decades on writing articles, blogs, book chapters, and most recently a book. We have also started speaking and teaching about gender bias together.
Our book, Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work, was published on May 17, 2016. We’ve been very gratified to see it on three of Amazon’s “hot new release” lists (business negotiating, women and business, and business office skills), and have started writing a blog on topics of interest about women and their careers..
Civility is a topic we’ve recently tackled in a blog post. This post focuses on the lack of civility in American public discourse, which has reached crisis proportions. These attacks are often – but not always – directed against women who seek to participate in traditionally male professions and spheres. In our post we discuss some obvious examples: national politics, video gaming, and sports broadcasting. But incivility over the internet – with vile, cruel, hostile, and tasteless attacks – is often made anonymously, making it difficult – if not impossible – for their victims to protect themselves.