My Life of Hard-Won Achievement
As a first-generation American, seeing my parents work long hours, including holidays and weekends, for very basic pay instilled in me the work ethic, self-sufficiency and perseverance that have greatly helped me in my career. Given how hard they worked and the challenges they faced as immigrants from Spain, I always felt that any obstacles placed in my path paled in comparison. While it hasn’t always been easy and I have faced a variety of challenges as a Hispanic woman, a military spouse and a working mom, it certainly has been rewarding.
I was fortunate in that I had great success early on in my career as a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office. The DA’s office was a melting pot where no one paid attention to your background, gender or ethnicity; they just cared about whether you could try a case, work under pressure and ensure that nothing fell through the cracks. It was an environment I thrived in, and it helped me develop confidence in my ability as a lawyer.
That confidence was tested, however, when I moved to a small law firm and, for the first time, experienced racism and sexism firsthand. While I had seen my parents encounter discrimination, I could not believe that lawyers—educated individuals who took an oath to uphold the law—could not see beyond my gender and ethnicity. Working there was demoralizing. But I kept at it, believing I just had to work harder to prove myself.
Eventually, I realized no matter what I did or how hard I worked, I wasn’t going to change their narrow minds. I decided it was no longer worth the effort. And while I considered going back to government practice, believing that perhaps I was just not meant to succeed in a law firm setting, I decided to give it one more try at a larger firm with a seemingly greater commitment to diversity. I have remained in private practice ever since. While you can never fully escape from people’s biases and misconceptions, I found the secret to success is to identify people—and, importantly, clients—who appreciate what I bring to the table, value diversity and treat others with respect.
During the course of my 20-plus-year career, I have seen many lawyers face their own unique challenges at some point in their careers. Sometimes because of discrimination, sometimes because of personality conflicts, and sometimes just because. Too often, I see talented women and minority lawyers try to put up with a bad situation, believing as I once did that they just need to work harder. But this eventually wears them down and leads them to abandon law firm life, if not the practice of law.
In situations like these, I try to encourage people to seek out mentors and champions, and not be afraid to stand up for yourself. With women in particular, the struggle to balance family and career can be overwhelming at times. It takes creativity, flexibility and the willingness to both ask for and accept help when you need it. But it also takes recognition that sometimes it is just not a good fit where you currently are, and it in no way reflects any failing or lack of ability, and certainly doesn’t call for withdrawing from law practice.
In the end, I wouldn’t trade those earlier painful experiences for anything because they helped get me where I am today. I’m on the board of one of the most inclusive firms in the country, have great clients and am constantly reminded why I chose this profession. As they say in A League of Their Own: “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”
Christina Guerola Sarchio is a member of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s board of directors and focuses on general business litigation, class actions and white-collar criminal defense. Making it Work is a new column in partnership with the Working Mother Best Law Firms for Women initiative in which lawyers share how they manage both life’s challenges and work’s demands. Visit workingmother.com for more.
Christina Guerola Sarchio is a member of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s board of directors and focuses on general business litigation, class actions and white-collar criminal defense.
Making it Work is a new column in partnership with the Working Mother Best Law Firms for Women initiative in which lawyers share how they manage both life’s challenges and work’s demands. Visit workingmother.com for more.