Mary Wasik is a partner and vice-chair of the corporate practice group at Levenfeld Pearlstein. Her corporate representation is extensive and includes advising clients on structuring and preparation of limited liability company agreements, including real estate joint ventures, stock and asset purchase and sale agreements and shareholder agreements.
What made you decide to be a lawyer?
I decided to become a lawyer in high school. I was on the debate team and each year a common topic was selected for the area schools to consider. One year, the question concerned reform of the jury system, so I was 16 years old and spending my afternoons at the Cook County Law Library hunting down cases and law review articles. I was drawn to the legal analysis and intrigued by the fact that I was required to convince a judge of my position, regardless of the side of the argument that I was told take. When I was in college at Loyola University, I have a distinct recollection of taking the Chicago Avenue bus to my part-time job, and paging through a copy of the Chicago Sun Times. Nearly every article in the first few pages of the newspaper required the involvement of a lawyer, whether the article was reporting on local government, the enactment of a new law, a business dispute, or a criminal case. That was enough to confirm for me that my career choice was the correct one. My remaining time in college was focused on doing what was necessary to get into the University of Illinois law school.
What advice would you give to a young associate or law student just entering the field?
While you are building your expertise and developing your practice, think of the other lawyers that you work with as if they are your clients. The senior lawyer who asks you to find the answer to a client’s problem wouldn’t be calling you if the answer was sitting on his or her desk. Be prepared to do the hard work to find a solution, consider whether there are any unanswered questions or alternatives you can offer, and explain and defend your conclusions.
Surround yourself with people who have integrity and are willing to help you grow as a lawyer. Great lawyers are willing to train others to be great too. Professionally speaking, there is nothing worse than spending a significant part of your day working with people who don’t share your values and enthusiasm for practicing law.
Begin to network with your classmates and acquaintances as early as possible. Facebook and other social media sites have made that easier than ever to keep in touch with the classmate who has the potential to be your next client or the referral source for your next job.
Expect to learn something new every day. In other words, expect to be faced with the limitations of what you know on a regular basis. And if you find yourself in over your head, don’t be afraid to seek out someone with more experience. Always offer to return the favor for a colleague who needs help in an area of your expertise.
How has your practice area changed over the course of your career?
People don’t unplug anymore. I have always worked in the area of corporate transactions and business counseling, so the area in which I practice has not changed markedly. However, the manner in which I practice has changed a lot. In my first year of law school, we were introduced to this new way of doing research through an on-line database. Of course, you needed to get access to one of the few computer terminals that were located in the library, but it was all very cutting edge. Soon regular mail was replaced by fax, which was replaced by overnight mail, which was replaced by email. I am now using an iPad to check emails and access documents.
Of course, the speed at which we communicate has also put more pressure on our ability to analyze and respond quickly. Everyone seems to be available 24/7. As a result, it is important to set realistic expectations and boundaries, especially when you are trying to balance both work and family obligations. Joe Lieberman recently published a book entitled “The Gift of Rest,” where he describes how his Sabbath practices require that he unplug his phone and disconnect from the outside world for a day. Years ago, I made the choice to juggle being both a lawyer and a working mother, and my family and my practice have survived just fine. A cellphone needs to plugged-in every so often so it can work well, and I am increasing persuaded that we need to be unplugged every so often so that we can work well too.