The 2023 WIPL Awards: Law Firm Lifetime Achievement
In August, Blank Rome announced that partner Sheila G. Riesel was recognized in Corporate Counsel's 2023 Women, Influence & Power in Law Awards ("WIPL"), which honor general counsel, in-house leaders, and law firm partners who have demonstrated a commitment to advancing the empowerment of women in law. Sheila was one of five women recognized in the "Lifetime Achievement" category within the "Law Firm Awards" section.
Below is Sheila's honoree profile, as published in Corporate Counsel.
Sheila Riesel, Blank Rome
What was your route to the top?
When I entered the legal profession, the path for women was circumscribed, yet this limitation ironically provided me with extraordinary opportunities. In law school, I was one of only eight women in a class of 250 and entering private practice wasn’t an option because firms didn’t hire women. As a result, I entered the public sector and spent nearly eight years there between the Corporation Counsel’s Office in NYC and then the Federal Defenders Unit of Legal Aid arguing enumerable appeals in the Second Circuit and three times in the U.S. Supreme Court. This alternative route equipped me with more experience litigating than most of the partners for whom I ultimately worked when I eventually entered private practice. The rest has been history.
Looking back, what do you wish you had known when you started out in the legal profession?
I grew up in an era where women were not often professionals and demure behavior was of the highest value. I remember constantly hearing: “Be self-effacing and modest,” “Don’t blow your own horn,” “If you do a good job, you will be recognized,” and “It is unseemly for a woman to assert herself.” Looking back, I have learned that it is important to let people know – in an appropriate way – of your skills and what you can accomplish. Reticence is not a good quality in a matrimonial attorney or any attorney. One needs to be self-confident in her abilities and let them be known. Volunteer, take risks on a task that is new; a great idea. It is the best way to grow.
What is the best leadership advice you’ve given or received, and why do you think it was effective?
As matrimonial litigators, we function in a combative environment, and it can be easy to personalize hostile interactions. One needs to be careful not to let that happen. Respectful interactions make the job less stressful and clear the way for focus. Every case can produce a potential referral source, and completing a case in which you have worked to diffuse negativity can pay back in multiples.
Another important part of matrimonial representation that is sometimes lost is truly understanding the client’s needs beyond the bottom line. Even the masters of the universe who we represent are rocked by the divorce experience. It is critical to have empathy for the people you’re helping so that they understand that you care beyond just doing your job.