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Making Partner in a Pandemic: MoloLamken’s Sara E. Margolis

March 15, 2021, 9:40 AM

In March 2020, I found myself locked inside a tiny bathroom, participating on an important conference call while my toddler banged frantically on the other side of the door. As I tried to time my participation—including careful use of the “unmute” button—opposite his interruptions, it began to set in just how challenging trying to make partner while working remotely would be.

I was suddenly responsible for so many tasks I’d previously had more help with, including daytime childcare, cooking, and cleaning. If someone had told me then that I’d succeed in making partner at the end of the year, I would have laughed.

Once it became clear that a return to the office—and normalcy—was much farther away than I had hoped, I understood that I had no choice but to seek significant help, both from my family and from my colleagues. I fled my cramped city apartment for my parents’ bigger suburban home. Even though each of the adults in the house had a full-time job, and there was not enough space for everyone to have a desk, more hands meant more help. I settled into a new routine, splitting up primary childcare responsibility with my husband while working late into the night most evenings.

And fortunately, my firm was extraordinarily supportive of my new schedule. Everyone understood when I did not answer emails instantaneously (as I’d done for so many years). No one said a word when my toddler’s laughter rang out during an impromptu internal call. My colleagues’ support helped me schedule my days so that I could have absolute quiet for all external-facing or pre-scheduled obligations, including client calls, team meetings, and court conferences.

Although the pandemic shifted my work hours, I never changed my fundamental approach to work. I’ve always believed that success at any law firm requires more than just excellent legal skills. Those skills are a prerequisite to career advancement, but they are rarely enough on their own to ensure you’ll rise above the pack in an environment where every colleague is brilliant.

Good firm citizenship, a commitment to building strong connections inside and outside the firm, and thinking strategically about what clients want are all equally important. Although it was tempting to narrow my focus to billable work only during the pandemic, I continued to also prioritize my leadership role in those other areas—even though it often came at the expense of sleep.

Good Firm Citizenship

One of the aspects of MoloLamken’s culture that I value so much is how connected we are to each other. Given the firm’s size, I always know what others are working on, who has an important deposition or filing, and what challenges others face in their professional and personal lives.

Even scattered across different (home) “offices,” I was determined not to lose that connection. And MoloLamken’s leadership felt the same way. During the first week of remote work, I helped organize a series of weekly financial literacy courses, conducted over Zoom with interactive polls and quizzes. The sessions often ended with our attorneys laughing and joking about who had ended up atop that day’s leaderboard.

I think my role in organizing those courses went a long way toward demonstrating my commitment to the firm and ensuring that MoloLamken would maintain its collegial culture during the pandemic.

Building Relationships

I also regularly made time to check in with both senior and junior colleagues. I picked partners’ brains for tips about how associates could best support the partners while working remotely. I checked on my junior colleagues, making sure their needs were met and any concerns were heard.

I was open about the challenges I faced while working remotely, and in turn, others opened up to me about theirs. I was gratified to find that my relationships with my colleagues strengthened during the pandemic, despite the lack of face-to-face interaction.

Business Development

Finally, I sought advice about how to keep various business development projects moving forward. Without the constraints of travel or in-person meetings, I found that senior lawyers were very willing to make time for a quick Zoom coffee or networking break.

I was also able to participate in even more pitches and conferences than before the pandemic. I was certainly strategic about how to fill my limited time, but I realized I always felt better at the end of days when I’d carved out time to spend connecting with others.

Having made partner, I have the opportunity to continue to think critically about what kind of lawyer I want to ultimately become. Although MoloLamken attorneys are advocates first and subject matter specialists second, I think it is important to focus on excelling in a few areas of legal practice that I love. For me, that includes intellectual property and securities work. I am excited to continue developing my expertise in those areas and taking on more of the cases and clients that will help me stand out in those crowded fields. I look forward to continuing to strengthen the legal skills and connections that will help me do that.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Sara E. Margolis is a partner in MoloLamken’s New York office. Her practice focuses on a broad range of trial and appellate matters, including intellectual property and securities litigation.

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