By Erin H. Abrams (New York City)
“You need to be able to learn from someone who has the career and work life balance you aspire to,” said Lisa Bebchick, a 33-year old partner in the litigation department at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP, explaining why she makes time in her busy schedule to mentor junior associates at her firm. Bebchick, who works in Fried Frank’s New York office, focuses her practice on all aspects of civil and criminal litigation, and has expertise in white collar criminal defense and internal investigations, among other areas. In addition to her billable work, Bebchick also manages to find time for pro bono work, as well as serving on numerous charity boards, taking on leadership initiatives at her firm and recruiting and mentoring the next generation of associates. That’s why Lisa Bebchick is one of the Glass Hammer’s 35 women under 35 to watch, because she is making a difference in the legal world.
The Glass Hammer recently caught up with Bebchick over lunch near her office in the Financial District to learn more about her career choices and her path to partnership at Fried Frank. Here, we share with the Glass Hammer readers some of her advice to aspiring attorneys on how to develop your professional careers, balance work and life, and have fun doing it all.
When asked how she got her start in the law, Bebchick said that she knew relatively early on in life that she wanted to be a lawyer. As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, Bebchick majored in political science and was fascinated with political communication. She worked on John Kerry’s re-election campaign for the U.S. Senate and in his press office the following year, working for his press secretary. However, she realized that she didn’t want to go into politics herself. She decided to become an attorney because the career seemed like a logical choice for someone with strong writing skills who enjoyed the art of effective communication. “Good communication and strong writing skills are at the heart of being a good litigator,” Bebchick explained. She also was committed to giving back to her community, and saw the legal profession as a great opportunity to do that. After college, she went to law school at Boston University, where she was a member of the Law Review, and graduated magna cum laude in 2001. She began her career as Fried Frank as a summer associate and worked as an associate for eight years before becoming a partner at the firm in the fall of 2009.
In her nine plus years at Fried Frank, Bebchick has racked up some impressive accomplishments. When asked about the accomplishment she is most proud of, Bebchick points to a case that involved a three month long federal criminal trial in which her client, accused of a white collar crime, faced a ten to twelve year sentence. Although her client was convicted, she successfully advocated for a sentence that did not include any jail time. When the government vigorously appealed the sentence to the Second Circuit and the case was remanded for resentencing, she was able to obtain the same ‘no jail time’ sentence. “I like white collar cases because of the human aspect,” said Bebchick. “When a person’s liberty and livelihood are on the line, it can be very challenging, but also very personally rewarding.”
Bebchick is also a leader in her community and is actively involved in many pursuits outside of the law. She is a member of the Next Generation Philanthropy Board of the Anti-Defamation League, a charitable organization whose mission is to fight all forms of bigotry and intolerance and protect civil rights. She is also a member of the Board of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, an organization that matches community groups and non-profits with pro bono attorneys from law firms and corporate legal departments across New York City. A lifelong tennis player, Bebchick also serves on the benefit committee of the New York Junior Tennis League and has been a vice chair of its annual event sponsored by the Arthur Ashe Foundation to provide free tennis lessons to underprivileged children in New York City. “It is important for young lawyers to be involved in not just bar associations and legal-related charities but also other community organizations,” Bebchick said, “because it allows you to give back more broadly and has the added benefit of providing a refreshing break from your daily work and helping you meet people outside of your profession who could someday become potential clients.”
As a rising star in the white collar criminal defense world and one of Fried Frank’s youngest partners, you would think that Bebchick would have very little time left over for mentoring. However, she explained that she has had some incredible mentors at Fried Frank, and so she makes extra effort to make the time to give back. When seeking out a mentor at work, Bebchick advises female associates not to seek out “gender-specific mentors,” but instead to consider what they can learn from men and women whom they admire. However, that being said, Bebchick stressed the importance of the mentoring relationship she has had with a female senior partner at the firm, as she explained that in the early years of her career, she was amazed by her mentor’s ability to consistently provide outstanding service to her clients while still making time to cook dinner for her family. As a result of this relationship, she has sought out a similar work/life balance (although she is still learning to cook!)
Advice for Lawyers: Find Great Mentors and Take Time for Yourself
Of course, the life of a lawyer at a big law firm can be stressful. She said that the best piece of advice she ever received from her mentor came at a particularly stressful point in her career. “You need to take time for yourself,” Bebchick’s mentor told her. Bebchick said that receiving this advice from a person at the pinnacle of her career really resonated with her, and she came to believe that you cannot do your best work for your clients if you are burning the candle at both ends. So as hard as she works, she tries to take time out to do things that energize her and bring her joy outside of work, like spending time with family, going to Broadway shows, running, and playing tennis. Keeping up with these interests and hobbies helps her stay grounded so she can do her best work for her clients.
Bebchick admits that she found it challenging to maintain a good work/life balance in her twenties, when she focused single-mindedly on building her career and her reputation. “As a single person without a family, I found it challenging to make sure that I took time for myself,” she said. However, she got married in November 2009, to another lawyer who coincidentally went to the same law school as she did, but not at the same time. Now, in addition to all of her professional responsibilities, she makes it a priority to spend time with her husband, as well as with her adorable niece and nephew and her family in Boston.
With the wisdom that comes from experience, Bebchick explained that “you have to pick a few things that are non-starters for you,” and make it clear to the people you work with that you are not willing to give these things up. Whether it’s a child’s soccer game, a yoga class or a book club, you have to pick something that helps you keep your sanity and keeps you grounded, and then make time to do it. While she acknowledges that a busy young career woman probably can’t do all of those things, as much as she would like to, she emphasizes the value of picking the ones that are most important to you and sticking with them. That being said, she notes that young associates also have to make sacrifices and be willing to forgo some things that are less important to them in order to put in the time and energy to advance their careers. However, “figuring out which things are non-negotiable for you” is a good starting point.
When asked for her advice on how to make it to the top, Bebchick had a few key recommendations to share. “You have to rely on other people,” she said. She explained that it is important to develop strong managerial skills and be able to delegate work and supervise people efficiently, in order to be as productive as possible. She also recommends utilizing technology to make your life easier –keeping up to date on all the latest developments in your field by reading blogs and receiving email newsletters to stay on the cutting edge of your practice. As a partner in a law firm, developing relationships with clients is an important part of her job. That’s why she suggests making it a habit each day to reach out to at least one current or potential business connection, by phone, email or in person, in order to maintain and grow your network. “Getting to know your co-workers and business contacts on a personal, social level makes work more rewarding,” Bebchick explained. Finally, she also encourages young professionals to speak up in meetings and not to be afraid to voice their opinions. “Too often,” she said, “young professionals are very task oriented, instead of viewing themselves as members of a team. It is important to add value no matter what you are doing.”
By following this advice, Bebchick has certainly achieved professional and personal success at a young age. Hopefully, her advice will help Glass Hammer readers to get on the fast track to success as well. Her parting advice? “You are the master of your own career, and so while you might occasionally have to work on something you don’t like or that is not exciting to you, take one for the team. Then seek out the work that does interest you and go for it!”