I’m a business lawyer. My particular expertise is executive compensation for either an executive or for a corporation – I negotiate employment contracts and separation agreements. I started out representing women who were leaving securities brokers having difficulty with the way they were being treated in the securities industry.
How is the practice of law evolving for women?
If I were remaining an optimist, I would say that we would see an equality of compensation between men and women and we would see an equality of opportunity at the higher levels of the corporate world for men and women.
Women professionals have been coming out of schools in large numbers for more than 25 years, and really there is little excuse for us at this point for women to be 17 percent of equity partners of the large law firms and for women to be a very small percentage on corporate boards. Only 23 percent of Fortune 500 companies have women as general counsel.
I would like to say that in the next five years I would see a tremendous change in the equality of opportunity and see a lot of women’s names on the employment contracts that I’m negotiating, but that’s not happening. What do I see? I see stagnant statistics and a continued glacial change.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
Your word is your bond; your reputation is platinum and diamonds, not just simply gold and silver. Protect your reputation for integrity beyond all other things; and never, ever cross the line into a gray area of integrity, there is no such thing. In the law, not everything is black and white; the law doesn’t live in absolutes, except when it comes to your professional reputation and your integrity.
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
The example that I am going to give you, unfortunately, is a lack of civility. I find that people are less civil on the telephone. So I have lawyers that call and scream; they think if they talk louder, they will get their point across. I don’t know why they need to raise their voice and scream under any circumstances, frankly, and I see it in depositions, which is to intimidate the witnesses or the other attorneys.
I always tell my associates to determine the strategy that they will use to come to a resolution on the matter they are working on. And that strategy should include not only the facts of the law and the presentation of the case, and the motions; it should also include the tone in which a discussion will take place. There are times for tough tones and short sentences, and there are times that things can be worked out in a friendly way. It’s very rare that somebody is pushed into a corner by your tone of voice, and you come out for the better. And then you have to think about small world. You think that I’m going to forget how you treated one of my associates? No, I’m not. You’re not going to treat me that way; that’s not going to happen. But if you think you’re going to treat one of my associates in an unprofessional way? Think twice.
What do you do for fun?
I go shoe shopping with my girlfriends. I just love sitting on the floor in a shoe salon with my girlfriends, laughing about how high the heels are that we can’t wear.
Laurel Bellows is founding principal of The Bellows Law Group P.C., a business practice law firm based in Chicago. The Bellows Law Group is a women owned firm whose expertise is in strategic business counseling and litigation for businesses of all sizes. Ms. Bellows personally loves to represent entrepreneurs, and is recognized for her international expertise in negotiating employment contracts, severance agreements, and handling workplace disputes for corporate HR departments and for individual executives.
Ms. Bellows continues to tirelessly advocate for gender equality not only in the legal profession, but for all other professions as well. She is immediate past president of the American Bar Association, named as one of seven women nationally who contributed most to the advancement of women in the legal profession by American Lawyer Magazine, and has been named an Illinois SuperLawyer for the past 11 consecutive years.
Lately as part of her work to combat human trafficking in the U.S., Ms. Bellows is working with corporate supply chain officers and human resource directors to assure their supply chain procedures and recruiting policies comply with current regulations and that protocols are in place so corporations do not unintentionally use slaves to provide products and services. She has spoken on the subject of negotiation tactics before various groups.