Lawyer Spotlight: Nina Fain, CBA Treasurer

Our Lawyer Spotlight series highlights Illinois lawyers who are demonstrating the ideals of professionalism in their daily lives.

Nina Fain is a Chicago-based attorney and was one of the first Black female partners in an AM Law 100 firm in the U.S.

As a corporate lawyer, she represents a private trust. Earlier in her career, she represented government entities and companies, including Fortune 500 corporations.

Nina also serves as the 2023-2024 Chicago Bar Association Treasurer and co-chair of its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.

How has your practice evolved during the last few years?

The legal issues remain similar, but the ways of conducting business have changed. For example, like many people, I now do more work on Zoom.

However, one thing that hasn’t changed is that prompt, regular communication remains the most important tool in maintaining a good rapport with clients.

What’s one piece of technology you couldn’t function without?

My mobile phone! It’s a lifeline to communicate with people, whether by voice, text, or email.

How do you manage your well-being?

As a young lawyer, I wanted to find the “secret sauce” in the lives of successful women, particularly those in professions dominated by men.

Women mentors shared that physical exercise was key to remaining healthy and competitive in the work environment. So, I try to exercise regularly.

Recently I’ve started to learn tai chi, which experts say will promote mental clarity, flexibility, strength, and balance.

How do you remain civil in tense situations?

A former managing partner taught me that the key to success was to learn to set anger to the side, focus on the problem at hand, and then circle back to see if the anger was still warranted. It took many years to understand what my managing partner meant, but as I watch out-of-control lawyers in arbitrations and negotiations, I am grateful to my mentor.

Most lawyers are brilliant people whose intellect demands immediate answers. However, we must remember that being rude and uncivil will never help us get our way, and in fact, can backfire.

How can attorneys advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession?

In the Chicago Bar Association’s recent “One & Done” CLE program, we advised that we could help our profession address these issues in several ways.

As Co-Chair of the CBA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, along with Illinois Appellate Justice Michael B. Hyman, we specifically recommend that people get involved in their workplaces’ diversity committees to develop programs on topics such as inclusion, unconscious bias, entitlement, and privilege. We suggest that these programs include people at all levels: partners, associates, all staff, and business unit leaders.

In post-pandemic workplaces, where individuals often work remotely or in a hybrid setting, we recommend hosting these programs on days when people are in the office to give a sense of communal involvement. Whether workplaces are small, medium, or large, these activities help to harmonize the firm’s objectives and mission.

We suggest too that firms and individuals (e.g., solo practitioners) review their pro bono initiatives. Their commitment to racial and social justice is something that clients and prospective clients are often interested in knowing about.

Beyond the benefits of focusing on the goals of social and racial justice, a commitment to diversity leads to business growth, profitability, and success for all involved. We acknowledge that no one-size-fits-all solution exists to the challenges of achieving diversity, but a stated commitment is a start.

The CBA’s strategic plan addresses these issues. The CBA’s CLE program can be found on our On-Demand programs on our website.

In 2022, the Commission’s Executive Director Erika Harold presented the first “One & Done” diversity and ethics segment.

What is an attorney’s role in furthering public confidence in the rule of law?

Whether it is fair or not, most people would agree that lawyers and judges should be held to higher ethical standards. We must always act with integrity, rejecting bias to treat people with fairness and respect.

No citizen should fear that a lawyer or judge would put a thumb on the scales [of justice] to influence the outcome of a hearing, arbitration, or trial.

If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?

Whatever your definition of success, be intentional in what you do.

Networking is one skill to perfect. Stay alert to increase your roster of acquaintances and resources. In addition to becoming active in bar associations, meet as many people as you can; they may be able to introduce you to client prospects.

Meet people through your volunteer work. Many companies require their managers and executives to serve on the boards of volunteer organizations, which can offer opportunities to meet clients, business unit leaders, or other decision-makers.

It is important to learn about their interests or projects and cultivate mutual interests. And even if business opportunities may not be developed, these individuals may become mentors who can offer unexpected resources.

Social media is useful, but don’t forget the personal touch. A personal note rather than an email or text demonstrates that you have taken a bit more time to stay in contact. Sending a link to a news item about a topic that may be of interest helps broaden your topics of conversation and distinguishes you from the scores of people they meet in their business dealings.

You may even seek their advice, such as what they may recommend to solve a problem or how to contact someone who can help you achieve your goals. Reciprocate when you can; know that your offer to reciprocate even in small ways builds currency in the bank of personal relationships.

Finally, never let anyone tell you what you cannot do.

What do you think is the biggest challenge impacting lawyers today?

It is hard to forecast the future of our profession, given the unpredictable factors of AI, privacy, and the impact of technology on geopolitics, business, and court systems.

What do you do for fun?

Now that the pandemic is over, I can once again indulge my love to travel. I want to continue my quest to see as many of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites as I can.

And when I’m not traveling, I am spending time with family and friends.

Our Lawyer Spotlight recognizes attorneys throughout Illinois who are admired for their professionalism and civility. Check out more interviews with attorneys here.

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