I was fortunate enough to interview five female entrepreneurs who are actively building the future of work. For a quick introduction to these inspiring women, you can read, Pioneers of the Better Way: 5 Women Blaze a Trail Toward the Future of Work.
Now I am taking a closer look at each of the women and sharing a snapshot of their insights. Today’s feature is Maria Simon. I wanted to know about her mentors and the barriers she faced as she built her career.
Maria Simon is senior partner at Geller Law Group, a paradigm-breaking virtual law firm. The legal industry remains one of the more traditional industries, some firms still shuffling paper and sending faxes. That’s what is so exciting about women-led Geller Law Group, which the New York Times says, “let’s partners be parents.”
Missing in Action: Female Lawyer Mentors
I asked Maria about her mentors, curious about the female lawyers who encouraged her to break away from tradition and start pioneering the future of legal work. It turns out her lack of mentors was the very thing that got her into this position.
To start with, very few women are at the top of law firms. Glass ceilings aside, there are women who simply don’t want to be partners because they are unable to align the demanding in-office role with their values—like being a present force in their children’s lives.
So Maria looked around hoping to find a woman that would make her say, “She’s doing it right. This is what I want to do.” And she came up empty handed. That’s when she realized she needed to blaze her own trail. She thought, what if we could take out the brick and mortar, only use an office when needed, and be able to be present at home with kids when they are sick?
Maria Doesn’t Want Women Bound by an Old Rule
With technology, Maria made her vision a reality with Geller Law Group. They are a virtual law office with a brick and mortar office in the city, used only when needed for client meetings. And guess what? It’s a success! Not only professionally, but personally. Maria hopes she can be the mentor to other women that she wasn’t able to find for herself.
Her perspective is empowering. She said:
We can change the paradigm of how to structure a business. We do not need to be in the confines of what used to work in the past, because we have the ability now through technology, and through asking and demanding for it, to make these changes within the workplace. I don’t think women need to be bound by an old rule.
The Challenges Maria Faced
Of course changing the structure of an institution that is very set in its ways comes with challenges. I asked her what those challenges were. First, she said:
The fact that we don’t have an office. People have a concept of “my lawyer needs to be in their office at all times.” They need to realize that I am still here. It’s a barrier with the older generation.
This is an example of a growing pain that comes with changing the world of work. The same barriers existed, and often still exist, with the idea of working at home even if you don’t have client interactions. For years it was a far-fetched idea. But with 54 million freelance workers currently in the United States, it’s safe to say the barriers are crumbling.
It Wasn’t a Vacation; It Was Maternity Leave
Another barrier Maria faced has to do with being a woman. She said:
Just being a female as a lawyer is a barrier. I remember coming back from maternity leave, the first day back, and being on the phone with a client and he asked me how my vacation was. I said, ‘It wasn’t a vacation; it was maternity leave. I haven’t slept in three months. Glad to be here now dealing with different shit and not the other type.’
He said, ‘That’s a vacation; you weren’t here.’
There are more women now in law school; there are more female lawyers graduating, than there used to be but we are still not taken as seriously. There still is this barrier to it.
Specially related to the law field, Maria found it challenging to figure out how to provide great legal work without templates to work with and experienced partners to share their knowledge, both of which are a given in a traditional law office. Carving your own path takes the courage to start from the ground up. Maria has that courage.
Getting Clients at Soccer Practice
Beyond Maria’s active contribution to building the future of work, I also admire how she views her personal law practice. Her goal is to, “give great service for normal people at reasonable rates.” She goes about earning business by building trust within her community. This can happen on the sidelines of soccer practice or at a child’s birthday party. When her community needs help, she wants them to think, “I know Maria and I can trust her.” As we all know, trust is a fundamental aspect of the legal field, and it’s not always easy to ascertain.
Maria’s resolution is clear in her voice and ideas. In closing, I want to share encouraging words from her:
It’s hard to ask for things and it’s hard to demand change. But the more of us that do ask, and the more and more of us that demand change… it will come.