Female Law Firm Leaders in Small Markets: Q&A with Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum

Sharon Krevor-WeisbuamIn 2016, there were eight female managing partners of established Baltimore law firms and many other women who led solo or small firm practices. Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum is one of them.

The coolest thing about Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum is that her business card includes Braille. As a long-time champion of people with disabilities and their families, representing organizations like the National Federation of the Blind, it makes perfect sense. What's more, sitting front and center as part of the multitude of magnificent artwork displayed throughout her firm's offices is a "tactile" sculpture of a bull created by a blind artist that the firm recently purchased at a fundraising event. In addition to representing individuals with disabilities, Krevor-Weisbaum represents businesses that provide support and services to individuals with disabilities. As Krevor-Weisbaum talks about her career, her passion for and contentment with her law practice is evident. This first managing partner of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP, Krevor-Weisbaum has not only "a sense of one with her clients' but also a deep connectedness with her colleagues, many of whom have long tenure with the firm.

Brown, Goldstein & Levy is a boutique litigation firm of 21 lawyers who represent individuals in a broad range of civil and criminal disputes, including civil rights, which encompasses its strong work in disability rights, family law, serious personal injury and wrongful death, class actions, white collar and other criminal defense matters. The firm also represents businesses in commercial litigation, healthcare regulation and more.

Q&A

How long have you been an attorney with Brown, Goldstein & Levy?

I began working with Brown, Goldstein & Levy as a law clerk in the summer of 1986 after my second year of law school. I actually sat at a brown wooden round table in the office of our founding partner, Chris Brown. At that time, there were two partners, Chris Brown and Dan Goldstein, and as I recall, two associates and a few staff members. I was the only law clerk and my work continued through my third year of law school. I was struck by the brilliant advocacy and admirable values that both Chris and Dan brought to their work and was incredibly grateful to watch and learn from them. After graduating law school in 1987, I spent 11 years with the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, first as a staff attorney in the Office of Opinions and Advice under the brilliant supervision of Jack Schwartz and then as an assistant attorney general representing the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. I always watched with admiration the continued growth and amazing work of Brown, Goldstein & Levy. I left the AG's office after 11 years of service, spent two years establishing a private practice with my friend and colleague Beth Pepper at Stein & Schoenfeld, and in 2001, I returned to this wonderful firm as a partner and have been here ever since.

What is special about your firm that has kept you there for 16 years?

There has never been a day when I have thought to look elsewhere. People here are truly happy to come to work. We treat each other with kindness. In fact, many members of our support staff, including legal assistants and paralegals, have been with the firm 10, 15 and some 20 years. I have total trust in every one of my partners, knowing that they treat our clients like I would want to be treated as a client. We have a slogan, "Doing Good and Doing Well." Our lawyers have a sense of purpose in and passion for the work they do. Everyone strongly identifies with our clients. We take pride in the high quality of the work we produce, including: (1) representing people with disabilities; (2) handling a terribly tragic personal injury matter for a family; (3) defending people facing long prison terms; (4) representing professionals faced with the loss of their licenses and professional reputation; (5) handling child custody disputes and divorces; (6) working with families with special education challenges; and (7) helping businesses involved in difficult commercial disputes. We hold the hands of our clients and their families going through these life-changing events. Most people we are dealing with are going through a very difficult time in their lives. We really take clients through the process using a very personal approach.

How has your work life changed since you became the firm's managing partner on January 1, 2016?

I am now involved in many more aspects on the operations end of our firm. For example, doing a full review of the benefits we offer and continuously evaluating our technology and staffing needs, all with the support of our fantastic, long-time firm administrator, Jan Mahar. I still have a full practice so my evening hours are longer because that is when I have more quiet time to evaluate and make decisions about our operations. It's a lot of fun. This is a great time in my life to undertake this challenge.

What do you believe are the key drivers for your firm's longevity?

Two key things I am focused on right now are succession planning and associate development. We are actively looking at succession planning, and we are doing great things around that. It's incredibly important to the firm. I look at succession planning as a reality and an opportunity. We also actively seek to ensure that our associates are fulfilled in their jobs. We want our associates to work hard at developing their legal skills while paying attention to early networking opportunities.

Let's talk about diversity at your firm. It is remarkably diverse for a firm its size.

Our firm is quite diverse because of the work we do, the excellence we promote, and the recruitment and retention for which we strive. Thirteen of our 21 attorneys (62%) are either women or lawyers of color. There are 13 partners, five of whom are women (38%) and two of whom are lawyers of color (15%). I understand these numbers are quite competitive with national and local diversity statistics. One of our firm's eight associates is employed through our Disability Rights Fellowship Program. The Fellowship is designed to offer mentorship and help jump-start the careers of new lawyers with disabilities during one-to-two years of employment with the firm. Lawyers in the program are paid and treated just like associates. We also seek to help these lawyers find their next position.

What has been the greatest reward in your career?

My career is, and has been, extremely rewarding. One of the greatest rewards came in 2015. I was asked to speak at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, where I addressed several thousand people about my work on behalf of blind parents. I was able to synthesize what I had learned and what steps we needed to take to enhance the rights of parents with disabilities. Representing parents with disabilities is a powerful legal experience. When successful, it helps change lives of both parents and their children. These issues arise in custody and child welfare proceedings, for example, where a parent's ability to care for his/her child's needs is being challenged because of the parent's disability, and many times only because of the assumptions and biases that others hold. Another rewarding experience occurred when I was representing a woman with an intellectual disability in her quest to marry when others were challenging that right. I needed to use both legal and interpersonal skills, and we ultimately prevailed. It's pretty wonderful to be a lawyer when you take on cases like these. I am blessed to say that the work I have been honored to do has been intellectually stimulating and rewarding. I hope the same for the young attorneys that I have the privilege to mentor.

How would you define your career in 5 words or less?

BALANCE OF LIFE. I am a lawyer and a mom – also a wife, a friend and fairly active in my community. Balancing life when my children were young was a constant struggle. The balance of professional life and parenting is one I look back on with a good amount of pride. I watch young associates do it now and try to support them in their journey. It is hard and real, but totally worthwhile.

What advice would you give to newer lawyers who desire to become a partner in a law firm?

You need to develop your legal skills and network from day one. It takes commitment and patience. While developing your skills and ethics as a lawyer, you must develop your network on a parallel track. I always recommend getting involved in bar activities, connecting with law school friends, being involved in community organizations and with your religious and neighborhood communities, and ultimately getting involved in industry groups related to your practice areas. If you want to be a partner, you need to build a practice, and developing a practice, in part, comes from your network. Some young lawyers say they do not have time because they are working so hard on building their skills. That may be true, but you have to find a way to do both on a parallel track.

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Randi Lewis, Law Firm RecruiterRandi S. Lewis is a Director at Major, Lindsey & Africa, based in Baltimore. Randi specializes in recruiting and placing law firm partners and associates in the Baltimore market and surrounding areas.

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