How I Leapt—and Soared

by admin 12. June 2013 08:00

By LESLEE COHEN

Given this month’s theme—Taking Risks—I have to begin my very first blog post with the most major (and most successful) risk I’ve ever taken: starting my own law firm, together with my partner, in 2010.  

So here’s the background information to keep in mind as we get to know each other: After graduating from the University of Michigan (GO BLUE) and New York University School of Law, I was incredibly fortunate to become an associate at a boutique Wall Street law firm. I say “incredibly fortunate” because I graduated from law school in 1992, during the last big recession. I had spent my summers in public interest positions (with the United Nations and the federal government) since that is the career path I originally intended to pursue following law school. 

However, my summer experiences instead convinced me that my nature is to move too fast for public policy-type work, so I changed course and decided to seek a law firm position.  Unfortunately, these were few and far between back then, just as in today’s environment. In a future post, I will delve deeper into why I consider the time at my first law firm so special—I need to get back on course for now. After seven years as a securities associate, I moved back to Chicago, where I had grown up, and spent 13 wonderful years at a mid-sized firm. 

Fast forward to 2010—my second son was in school for full days, the economy had tanked, and those of us working part time were suddenly being paid based on billable hours, not many of which were available. I started thinking about change—maybe an entirely new career or maybe building a client base of my own, something I had not previously done. Then one of the partners with whom I'd worked closely stepped into my office to tell me he was leaving to start his own firm. I truly could not imagine practicing law without him. 

Here’s where this month's theme comes in: I took a huge risk, jumped off a proverbial bridge ... and started a firm with him.

This was something I never had contemplated. Small firms were for gray-haired men, jacks of all trades, not young(ish) women from big schools and big firms who had flown around the country first class doing IPOs. However, the risk has most definitely paid off, for two reasons. First, I had to build my own client base to help our firm thrive. That, plus being a business owner, gave me the freedom to become the top-notch lawyer and the mother I always strived to be. Surprisingly, big kids (my older son is 13 and in the dreaded seventh grade) really do need you even more, and now I can be there when my son needs me most. At the same time, I can be there when my clients need me. I will not claim that there is much “me” time—let’s not kid ourselves. However, the best things for me are my amazing boys and my career. 

More to come next month... I'm looking forward to sharing the secrets I have discovered along the way so that you, too, can enjoy your career as much as I do and still be proud of your parenting.

Leslee Cohen is a principal at Hershman Cohen LLC, a boutique corporate and securities law firm in Chicago that stands out from the crowd, combining big-firm experience with small-firm rates and relationships.  Leslee lives in Deerfield with her husband—the true love of her life—and her two amazing boys, ages 13 and 10.  She was a co-founder of the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law and continues to serve on its board of directors, and she is very active in the Small Business Advocacy Council.  Her interests outside of work and family include fashion and politics, and her passion is helping younger women rise to the top of their professions.

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Leslee Cohen | Life on the Lattice

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