“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.” so reads the plaque Ann Sullivan’s mother kept in their home. Monica Monday’s mother believed in the transformative power of education. Nina Ginsberg’s mother protected the oppressed. Stephanie Grana’s mother escaped a lack of options. All four—Ginsberg, Grana, Monday, Sullivan—have risen to prominence in the legal profession and, although they practice different specialties, they all share two things in common: They all have strong women in their backgrounds. and they are dedicated to overcoming any obstacle set in their path.
Faced with the difficulty of balancing their families and jobs, working mothers sometimes feel they must either quit their jobs and devote themselves to family, or devote themselves to work and become absentee mothers. But Ann Sullivan has created a law firm where women can flourish without shortchanging their family lives. “I wanted to create a place where working mothers could continue their careers without having to sacrifice their work-life balance,” says Sullivan. “That was my business model.”
Launched in 2013 in Norfolk as a boutique employment law firm, the Sullivan Collins Law Group eschews the billable-hour requirements that drive lawyers’ careers in most firms. Instead, the attorneys are asked to work whatever hours are required by the client’s needs, giving much more flexibility to individual scheduling. “We work to what [each lawyer] wants to do and try to keep that in balance,” says Sullivan. “And it’s been a huge success from the standpoint of the people who work there. It’s just a real happy place to work.” The emphasis on teamwork is visibly apparent in the collaborative environment, where individual schedules are not the only thing that’s flexible.
“People share desks,” Sullivan explains, “so if you’re working Monday-Wednesday-Friday and somebody else is working Tuesday-Thursday, I have to remember who’s going to be where on what day and what desk they’re going to be sitting in.” Although Sullivan has never advertised, word of her management style has spread through Hampton Roads, and the legal community has responded as matchmaker. Judges, lawyers, family members, and drinking buddies have all given referrals. The result is an all-female cadre of lawyers, some with young children, some returning to the workforce after a long absence, and some military spouses who, as new arrivals in Virginia, would have had to retake the bar exam if not for Sullivan allowing them to practice under her license. In addition, the women are grateful to Sullivan for providing guidance. In more than 40 years of practicing law, Sullivan has worked both sides of the aisle in cases that have resolved behind the scenes and in those that have been argued passionately in court during bitter trials. Two cases she was involved with went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, both ruling unanimously in her team’s favor. Now, she’s sharing her vast knowledge with younger associates. “I’ve become much more of a mentor and strategist,” she says. “These young women need more of my strategy and mentoring than my writing answers to interrogatories or things of that nature. And that’s been a very rewarding experience.” On a recent visit to the College of William & Mary, Sullivan gave law students advice for guiding their careers. She told them that in addition to keeping a gratitude journal—”what you liked about your day and what you were thankful for”—they should be making note of other experiences. “If there are things about your day-to-day existence as an attorney that are bothering you, you should make note of those, because that will show you the path where you need to go,” she says. And if the path doesn’t exist, you can always follow Sullivan’s example and blaze one yourself.
Credit – Virginia Living Magazine | Author: Bill Glose, Illustrations by: Paddy Mills