The minute I heard Lindley Fraley’s voice, I knew I had found the perfect choice for this month’s Profile of Success. I was connected with Lindley after my post on Professional Networks and the example of Montage Legal Group, based in Southern California. After chatting with the co-founders, they suggested Lindley, for her choices, her attitude, her ability and what I came to find out, her incredible and contagious level of optimism. Not only is she a great inspiration for women who are trying to find pave their own path to success but she clearly shows the power of optimism and positive thinking that I have spoken about in my recent posts and last week on Caroline Casey.
Lindley is a lawyer, 35, married, with two young children. Like many lawyers we all know, she kind of backed into law after getting an undergraduate degree in public policy and planning at the University of Southern California. After graduating, she quickly realized that there weren’t too many jobs in this field without a masters degree. She did some thinking and law school seemed like a good option. Fast forward, she completed the LSAT, got admission to Berkley, finished with a law degree, a job at a prestigious law firm, Latham and Watkins, hefty student loans and having met the man she would later marry. Productive! She admits that it was hard not to be lured to the high starting salaries and perks at these firms, especially when you have loans to pay back. And so she began her career.
However, quickly she learned that there was a reason for the high salary. While the people were nice, she had a hard time dealing with the crazy hours, crazy pressure, and crazy lifestyle. The only saving grace was that her partner was there too! But after two years she realized that she was more comfortable in a smaller firm with a better lifestyle and so she left began practicing employment litigation at Payne and Fears.
But then came kids. Lindley knew from the beginning that she wanted to continue working but wanted more flex time, didn’t want a full-time nanny for her child and wanted to reduce her hours. This was new at Payne and Fears, so Lindley was charged with coming up with a proposal and presenting it to senior management for approval. However, before that happened, her daughter decided to arrive 6 weeks early. So as she delivered, frantically on her blackberry trying to tie up loose ends with clients, she waited for approval of her new role. (Her daughter spent 2 weeks in the NICU and was thankfully fine, and she got the flex-time so needed.)
Good? Yes. But not for long, 6 months to be exact. Her husband, Steve, who had always suffered from sleep apnea and night terrors, after a series of tests, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Everything stopped. Despite a new born, a new role at work (and one for her husband too), all energy and emotion turned to finding the right care for Steve. After admittedly reading everything she could on the Internet and sending herself into a panic (as we all do), they found help at UCLA and met Dr. Liau, a compassionate, responsive and brilliant neurosurgeon that helped them immensely. Her husband was operated on, and all visible signs of the tumor were removed. Luckily, no chemotherapy or radiation was needed, his doctor remains optimistic and quarterly MRI’s are taken to monitor.
As Lindley tells me about her husband's illness, I am amazed. She is so strong, so optimistic and so upbeat. Her voice never wavered, she didn’t sound bitter, angry, no "me"? So I asked how she can sound so cheery? Lindley spoke candidly that there certainly were those day at the beginning. Especially since she had lost her father while at USC to cancer, and felt like she was living the nightmare again. However she was resolved to stay strong in front of her husband and managed to keep her emotions confined to tearful conversations with her sister (plug for sisters).
Lindley and I talked about the profound effect her husband’s illness had on her. While she was clearly always an optimist, she talked honestly about how her experiences had changed her. She was a planner, as a young girl she planned her whole life, saw how she wanted it to unfold and just assumed it would. Now she makes every attempt to live life each day for what it is because truly anything can happen. With this change in attitude, it was clear to her that her job was too much for her to shoulder. Even though she was officially working part-time, “70% in 3 ½ days”, it was usually more and she she was ready for a change. She loved working and knew leaving the law was not what she wanted, she just needed to be more in control of her schedule.
Lindley thought about her options and her skills carefull and would suggest that for anyone looking to make a change. She took a mediation course, thinking it was “kinder” and less adversarial than the litigation she was currently doing. She and her spouse realized that with a few lifestyle adjustments they could live on his salary. They were saddled, as many people in California are, with a large mortgage and that they couldn’t change. But there were other places they could spend less. She jokes that their three year old is a bit of terror in restaurants so that easily eliminated the cost of eating out! She has the support of her Mom for childcare, another savings, and in 2009, she gave notice at her firm, and decided that she would try human resources consulting based on her employment law experience. But first she took 3 months off to just clear her head and soak up the California sunshine.
Happy to start working again, Lindley started the necessary networking and business development to fill her consulting pipeline. The problem though was that it took money she was trying not to spend and time away from her daughter. Not ideal. But enter Montage Legal Group. She was introduced to founders Laurie Rowan and Erin Giglia though a friend and former collegue. Montage Legal Group is a network of experienced freelance attorneys who have left law firms to achieve a work-life balance. Here, Lindley found a place that challenged her academically, an empathetic and supportive environment, a steady flow of work, and finally a schedule that she could execute comfortably without the guilt that she was letting someone down.
This all came in handy as Lindley hit her next obstacle. Secondary infertility. They desperately wanted a second a child and found that once again things in their life were not going as planned. Lots of doctors appointments, fertility monitoring and a failed round of IVF that revealed she had a few health issues of her own. But after treating these, a frozen embryo and 38 weeks later, she now has a beautiful 3 month old that she happily fed as we spoke. She is very clear that this would not have been easy without her work at Montage giving her the flexibility and support she needed.
After a few years of turmoil, Lindley is finally enjoying the path she has taken professionally and the life choices she has made. Simply put, she just wants to be happy. Gone are the dreams of “just making partner”, or having the big house and the perfect life. She now appreciates time with her family, doing everyday activities with her kids, time with her husband and knows that up to 20 hours of work a week gives her the best chance of making it all work. She tries to live up to her motto of “enjoying everyday because you don’t know what will happen tomorrow”, but honestly, after talking with Lindley, you can’t help but feel that what ever does happen, it will be great.
Do you know anybody that would make a great profile of success? Let me know, I would love to know.