Jeanine Conley – CUP Member Spotlight

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?
Partner in the Labor/Employment Group of Baker Hostetler

I am one of those individuals who wanted to practice law for as long as I can remember.  I was on the debate team, participated in every speech contest possible, and as my siblings will tell you, I loved to argue my point.  I grew to learn, of course, that the law was not just about arguing your point in a courtroom like Perry Mason or Matlock (although I will admit that I am a huge fan of both shows).  The law is integral to so many aspects of our daily lives, which became particularly apparent for me after my dad, using me as his assistant, handled a civil suit brought against him, represented himself and won.  So seeing firsthand how the law can be used to resolve disputes and help individuals seek justice sealed the deal on my desire to pursue a legal career.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?
My biggest challenge is twofold.  First, to be successful as a partner, a lawyer has to draw on a different set of skills than the skills used to make partner.  You have to learn to sell yourself, which is very different than say, selling books door to door (which I’ve actually done).  But you have to learn to talk about or promote yourself, which is antithetical to how I was raised, particularly as a woman  and especially coming from the south.  To add to that, I am often selling my skills to friends, but I’ve learned to get over any inhibitions in doing that, because there is no one who I believe can better represent my friends than me and using my skills and my knowledge is just another way for me to be of service to them in what are often very difficult situations.

What is your proudest achievement?
While making partner was a huge achievement, I am most proud when I see the impact of how knowing I made it to this stage in my career affects the lives of young women and girls.  When I speak at schools and see eyes light up when young ladies hear my story and realize their own potential—generally because they so rarely see or meet women of color in such positions—those are my proudest moments.

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?
I am in admiration of so many people, I don’t know where to begin.  But there is an amazing exhibit at the Atlanta Civil Rights Museum that attempts to recreate what it would feel like if you took part in the sit-ins at the  Woolworth lunch counter.  It is a powerful exhibit and made me even more in awe of those courageous individuals that endured such vitriol and hatred for the greater good.  Along with them, I greatly admire those individuals that particularly opened doors for me like Constance Baker Motley, Ruth Whitehead Whaley and Jane Bolin, all firsts in the legal profession.  I love practicing law and had they not opened those doors, I would not be where I am today.  My only hope, however, is to be able to keep those doors open for others.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
In ten years, I just hope to continue loving what I do, while always keeping family and friends first.  I love trying cases, if they can’t be resolved otherwise, so I want to try more cases as I continue to build my employment and internal investigations practice and reach management levels in my profession so I can open more doors for people who look like me, who perennially have been underrepresented in this profession.

Did you have a mentor or do you mentor someone else? How has that experience changed you?
I would not be where I am without my mentors.  I never make major life decisions without speaking to at least one of them, so they have been instrumental to my career and life trajectory.  Because I could never repay them for all they have done for me,  I make sure to pay it forward and mentor others.  While it is impossible to truly engage in a mentor relationship with everyone, I do not hesitate to sit down for coffee or take time out of my day to talk to anyone over the phone and provide any insight or tidbits of advice I can offer.  If I can help anyone deal with the unique obstacles of the legal profession, that I have already faced and overcome, whatever I had to endure was worth it.

What would be your advice to young people who want their careers and lives to have an impact?
It is imperative for you to pursue an occupation that you are passionate about.  If you are, you will put your all into it and then your ability to effect change is boundless.  It is also critical not to let challenges and hurdles waylay you or dissuade you from achieving your objectives, because there will always be roadblocks, it’s how you maneuver around them that will strengthen you and help you accomplish any goal.  And always believe in yourself and have faith in God.