The Glue That Holds Us Together

by Dana Hughes
Heyl Royster

As a young associate, I cried in my office more often than I would like to admit. Sometimes I cried because I made the wrong decision on a case and got called out on it. Other times, I felt stupid because I completely missed the point of an assignment even though I worked so hard to get it right. I was wrong and embarrassed. 

I was so thankful for the other female lawyers in my office—my colleagues—who seemed to know why my door was closed during those painful times and barged in to rescue me from myself. They encouraged me to cry it out, then suck up my pride and try harder next time. We were like a sisterhood who picked each other up and dusted each other off, thankfully, so none of “those guys” ever knew about those times. I felt emotional and ashamed but I now prefer to think I was developing a resilience and mental toughness because of my femininity, not in spite of it. 

In last December’s issue, my fellow partner, Deb Stegall, talked about developing women in leadership roles within businesses through groups like our Women’s Forum. I’m proud our firm recognizes the need for our lawyers to support one another, to serve our communities together, and share in our successes and struggles. 

We didn’t have a Women’s Forum to formally support each other 12 years ago, but we acted like one and helped each other anyway. We mentored each other organically. We covered cases for someone with morning sickness, we drove to court together so the new mom could use a breast pump in the back seat, and we worked late into the night at the office together because we had gone to school Valentine’s Day parties earlier in the day for our kindergarteners. We helped each other because it was the right thing to do—but we were also progressing together, personally and professionally. We struggled and succeeded together. 

As partners at the firm, we haven’t abandoned that style of authentic mentorship, even though we have committees and formal programs designed to do that stuff. We still come alongside one another in struggle and success—like a sister would growing up. 

I used to think that becoming leaders in the firm meant we all had to assimilate to the same marketing style, the same approach to cases, the same workday… but we don’t. We can achieve that bar of excellence in our own individual ways, using our unique strengths and weaknesses as men and women, but more importantly, as lawyers. The only thing we have to assimilate to is the legal excellence and integrity our firm has stood for the last 108 years. It’s the glue that holds us individuals together. iBi