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10 Questions: This Chicago lawyer is working in the tech sector after 5 years as a stay-at-home mom

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photo by wayne slezak

Julianne Walsh. Photo by Wayne Slezak.

A year into her new position as attorney-in-residence at Nextpoint, a litigation management software and support company, Julianne Walsh faces none of the challenges of her last gig.

Leading advanced cybersecurity webinars does not involve singing the ABCs. The lawyer-clients she strategizes with generally remember to say “please” and “thank you.” And she has yet to pick up a sippy cup in a corner office or boardroom. Returning to work after five years as a stay-at-home mom wasn’t easy, but this Chicago lawyer made it work, as she has in the past.

From country music marketing to law school, from BigLaw to solo practice and on to the legal tech sector, Walsh has always been driven by professional challenges and steered her career to grow and thrive in the face of change.

Q. Let’s start with what seems like your most drastic career transition: re-entering the workforce after five years at home with your children. How did you do it?

A. I started by talking to people. Everyone I met, even moms at the playground, I asked what they did. I wanted to know what was out there—I was waiting for something to connect. Then a friend from my kids’ school mentioned she used to work for a legal technology company and that I should get in touch with her former colleague. I reached out and set up a casual, informational interview to learn about her industry and experience. Most people, especially women, are willing to help each other, and everyone’s willing to talk about themselves. We chatted, and she passed on some names of companies and contacts in the legal tech industry. Later that day, I got an email from her that said, ‘Don’t call anyone on that list until I talk to my boss, because we may have a position for you.’

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Q. And they did! What was it like going back to work?

A. My job is supportive and flexible, but in the beginning I was overwhelmed. Every time I felt like I had the work-life schedule down, something would change. But there are so many parents who work and figure it out. You quickly realize that everything doesn’t have to be lined up ahead of time—you master the art of balancing everything.

Q. What made you leave the law in the first place?

A. It was 2008, and the real estate market crashed. When you’re a real estate attorney, you only get paid when the deal closes. And nothing was closing. At the time, I had a 2-year-old at home and was pregnant with my second, so I finished up my last deal in the delivery room and signed on as a full-time, stay-at-home mom.

Q. Did you always intend to go back to work?

A. Yes, I knew I wanted to go back to work, but I did not know what my next challenge would be.

Q. There’s been much written about the tension between working moms and stay-at-home moms. Did you ever experience that?

A. Definitely. There’s a lot of judgment, especially when you have a law degree. People think you’re wasting your education if you’re not actively using your degree. Who knows why people think that? Maybe they wish they could stay home. But I’m happy with my life, and I am not going to justify any of my choices for those folks. I learned better multitasking and negotiation skills from my kids than any job I have ever had.

Q. In country music marketing you worked with stars like Clint Black and Alan Jackson. What made you become a lawyer?

A. Marketing was a great job right after college. I met a lot of talented artists and went to a lot of state fairs. But I knew there was a glass ceiling in marketing at the distribution company, and I wanted more structure in the workplace. As far as structure, I went from one extreme to the other.

Q. Why did you focus on IP?

A. It bridged my experience in the music industry, but I also grew up with it: My father is a patent attorney. When we were younger, he would put a “TM” or “©” on everything my sisters and I created.

Q. While you were at a big firm, you changed practice groups. How did that happen?

A. I started in the firm’s IP group, but then I began doing some transactions with a lawyer in the real estate group. He became my mentor, so I started working more and more with him, and that’s how I ended up moving into real estate.

Q. Why did you leave the firm to go solo?

A. I started doing some house deals on the side. I really loved the connection with people. When you’re an associate in a big law firm, you’re working with paper, not people. You very rarely get the opportunity to interact with clients. That’s the piece I was missing.

Q. What’s it like being in your 40s and entering the youth-dominated tech sector?

A. One of the first things a 20-something colleague said to me was: ‘When I’m older, I want to be just like you.’ I said, ‘If you meant that as a compliment, it wasn’t.’ Yes, I am older, but it gives me credibility. I am a lawyer, and I have deep experience in the workforce. So we’re bridging gaps and learning together: You show me how to navigate the settings panel in GoToWebinar, and I’ll help you understand what’s important to practicing lawyers.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Moving Forward: From recession to motherhood, this Chicago lawyer has driven her career to adapt to the challenges of change.”

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