Education: JD with honors, University of Iowa College of Law; BS with high honors, University of Iowa
First Job: Office assistant at our family tire store
What I'm Reading: "The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls" by Anton DiSclafani; "Michael Jordan" by Ronald Lazerby
My Philosophy: Be brave, stay happy.
Tara D. Sutton • Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi
Partner and Chair of Mass Tort Group, Member of Executive Board2015 award winner
From the beginning, I sought out opportunities to work with leaders in my firm. Taking on assignments outside your comfort zone can be scary, but it can also help you stand out from the crowd. Observe successful people around you, whether male or female, and learn from them—they know what they doing. Also demand the best (hardest) assignments, and your career will advance.
Make your voice heard. Don’t be afraid to speak up and contribute your ideas, even if you are the only woman in the room. Do not let others marginalize your contributions. I found coming to meetings with a plan was helpful. Standing out and speaking up can be difficult, particularly early in your career, but don’t give up. Hang tough and persevere.
Make your own path. When I was 10 years into my career, I completely changed the focus of my work. I didn’t change firms, but I joined an entirely different group and switched my practice from corporate to individual clients. It takes courage to counter conventional expectations, but it can lead to personal fulfillment, renewed creativity, and career advancement.
Contribute wherever you can. Firms and companies can be insular. It has been important for me to touch lives beyond the people I work with. There are countless opportunities to engage, whether in your community or on a pro bono project with your workmates. Not only will you learn more about the world, but you will form unexpected connections and build your reputation in a positive and rewarding manner.
Keep your sense of humor. Your spirit of fun is often sacrificed when you feel overworked or stressed out. If I carve out places in my life for enjoyment, that is reflected in my work. A sense of happiness makes every new idea more powerful.
On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
To be a leader, you must act like one. You need a clear plan, confidence in that plan, and the ability to “sell it” to your clients and your team. And a strong passion for your work always helps!
On Facing Challenges
Before having children, it was easy to say yes to any new assignment, no matter how inconvenient or far away. After I had kids, that all changed. Figuring out how to keep all the balls in the air—good mother, good partner, and good lawyer—can be overwhelming. Key for me was gaining the confidence to control my schedule and speak up when something just didn’t fit with my family demands. Raising wonderful children, while building a successful career, has been my greatest (but most rewarding) challenge.
Tara’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
Succeeding as a young woman lawyer is not easy. There are tradeoffs required for success. Concentrate on doing excellent work, even when you think it may not be noticed. Hard work and attention to detail will be rewarded. Remember, you won’t do everything well right away, so stay open to constructive criticism. Professional growth requires self-confidence, along with the ability to change and transform.