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Women in the Law—Putting the client first

Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. | Associate Counsel

KellyReed_WILWhat is a key component to becoming an effective attorney? If you ask people who aren’t attorneys, they will say a love of arguing makes a good lawyer. And how many times have you encountered a proud parent who insists their child is destined for the courtroom because they argue with their parents constantly? But is that what makes a good lawyer in reality? Most lawyers would say that, while being able to formulate a strong argument is a crucial part of the profession, being empathetic to the issues facing others and effective listening are the best traits for a strong client advocate. So, while a love of debating is what often draws students into law school, it is a love of justice and the desire to help others that makes them into successful counsel. Attorney Kelly Reed embodies all of these points of view.

“If you ask my parents why I became a lawyer, they would likely say that I loved to argue and there is a kernel of truth in that I do enjoy discussing and debating different issues. That drove me to attend law school, but more importantly, I like to make sure the right thing happens for people and that their rights are protected.” This desire has driven her to become such a client-focused attorney. Now, many years into her practice of law, Kelly reflects on wisdom shared to her when she was a new attorney. “In the beginning of your career, you’re just so worried about making a living, especially as a plaintiffs’ attorney, because no one is handing you a paycheck, but one day you develop a philosophy and that will become more important than the money. Then suddenly, the money will come from that philosophy.” Kelly’s beliefs can be condensed into a fairly simple mantra: serve your clients and make sure their cases are being handled well and their rights are protected. Above all, ensure that you’re being “real” with your clients.

Unlike some attorneys who don’t invest personal time with their clients, Kelly says that she always takes the time to get to know her clients so she can better represent them. “I always make it a point to explain what is going on in the case to my client because not everyone is sophisticated in legal matters.” Kelly further explains, “people understand more than we give them credit for and it’s been my experience that your clients will appreciate that you are taking the time to include them in your legal strategy and talking to them like an equal.” It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, it’s not really “your” case, it’s your client’s case and that his/her opinion matters.

Once, while working on a low impact rear-end vehicle accident, Kelly was having trouble getting opposing counsel to take the case seriously despite her client having severe injuries. During settlement discussions, the defense offered to settle for $250,000, a paltry sum given the severity of the injuries. Kelly dutifully relayed the offer to her client and warned her of the risks of taking the case to trial, only for her client to insist on rejecting the offer and risking it all by choosing to try the case. While Kelly had her doubts on the wisdom of her client’s decision, she accepted it and rejected the offer, going on to win a $1.8 million verdict. By being her authentic self with her clients and truly caring about their wellbeing, as well as respecting their decisions, Kelly has been able to build a reputation as an attorney who is interested in her clients far beyond the fee that the case will bring.

Kelly admits that being an attorney and constantly focusing on other people’s problems can be mentally draining at times. It’s no secret that the legal profession has a long history of mental health issues; but in recent years, much of the stigma surrounding mental health has lifted allowing a dialogue to develop about correcting the problem. When asked about selfcare, Kelly stated, “If you don’t take care of yourself, you will pay a price. Everyone needs to disconnect sometimes and find something that feeds their soul.” For Kelly, what helps her disconnect from her busy career is music and horses, but she admits that sometimes it is hard to tune work out. “It’s so easy to feel guilt for taking time away from work, but it’s totally necessary in order to be an effective advocate for your clients.” Thus, while Kelly has built a successful practice around her devotion to her clients, she appreciates that sometimes boundaries must be drawn. “ I tell my clients that they can always contact me during the weekends if it’s a true emergency, but I encourage them to ask themselves ‘can this wait till Monday?’” For an attorney who has made her brand about respect and consideration for her clients, she expects the same in return.

Throughout her career, Kelly says she has seen many positive changes in the legal community especially with respect to female attorneys in leadership positions in mass torts and single event cases. Kelly points to groups like Women en Mass (“WEM”), which brings together and empowers women working in the often male-dominated world of mass torts, as a great resource to combine work and self-care. Through WEM, Kelly says she’s been exposed to a wonderful community of women who are looking out for each other and who genuinely want to help each other succeed—an exciting development in the legal community. When asked what advice she would give an attorney just out of law school, she states that mentoring is fundamental to success in the legal profession. “Just work hard and do the best you can for your client, but remember to be kind to yourself and that no one is perfect. Be yourself, be authentic, and you will be an effective advocate.”

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