Profiles in Transition

Issue June 2007 By Roberta Holland

Self-confidence and an open mind are the keys to weathering career transitions big or small.  Lawyers who have conquered recent job changes cite those qualities, regardless of whether their transition was re-entering the field after a long hiatus or launching their own practice.

 Starting a family shifts focus, career path for housing advocate Joyce C. Gerber has made a career out of rolling with the punches. After working as a housing advocate and earning a master’s degree in urban and environmental policy from Tufts University, Gerber embarked on a legal career at the age of 30.

 Gerber found out she was pregnant with her first child during her third year of law school at Northeastern University. She passed the bar but never took a job as a lawyer, opting instead to stay home with her son and then later, a daughter, too.

 “I always intended to go back,” Gerber said. When her children began school, Gerber started laying the groundwork for a return to work on a part-time basis.

 “I reconnected with my career counselor at Northeastern,” said Gerber, 42, who graduated from law school in 1998. The counselors helped her rework her resume and boosted her confidence. She also reconnected with law school classmates, networking and “telling everybody I knew I was looking for a job.”

 While Gerber went into law initially to work in real estate and urban development, she wound up at a small general practice in Boston in 2004 through a job-sharing arrangement. She spent much of her yearand- a-half at that first firm “just relearning how to work,” Gerber said. Her Northeastern contacts then led her to her current job as an associate with Jeanne C. Kantianis PC in Newton.

 Gerber is happy with her new niche in family law. She believes she was lucky to find her position since part-time legal opportunities are rare. But she said solo practitioners could gain much-needed help with just a small training investment. “This is a great arrangement for somebody coming back in,” Gerber said.

 Journalist from Trinidad finds comfort level as solo practitioner Making a different kind of transition is Belinda A. Taylor, a former television and print journalist from Trinidad who is building up her solo practice in Brockton. Like Gerber, Taylor, 42, also pursued her law degree later in life. She moved to the United States in the late 1980s for her husband’s job as a professor, and the couple eventually landed in Boston. Taylor received her law degree from Boston College Law School in 1996.

 After two years with the Middlesex County district attorney’s office, Taylor worked as a staff attorney in Boston Juvenile Court. Taylor decided to hang her own shingle in 2002, to have more control over her schedule and her career direction. But Taylor said it was not a decision she made lightly, and only now feels completely comfortable being a solo practitioner. “When you’re solo, it’s a tremendous amount of responsibility to have somebody’s case and you’re completely responsible for it,” said Taylor, a Milton resident. “It’s all on you. But it also gives you the ability to pick and choose what you want to do as an attorney.”

 Taylor focused on care and protection cases, which she first got into through court appointments, and grew the practice through referrals. Recently named regional coordinator for Plymouth County by the Committee for Public Counsel Services, Taylor said she never considered doing care and protection cases until she saw how many people were dealing with the issue. Seeing things in degrees rather than as black and white has helped her succeed as she moved from one area of the law to another. “I look at all this as maturing in the law,” Taylor said. “As I grow, I’m able to adapt a little more easily.”

 After stint as Worcester clerk of courts, a happy return to firm life Francis A. Ford is taking a leap in the other direction. A longtime solo practitioner, Ford just finished a four-year term as clerk of courts in Worcester County and is now returning to life in a firm. A graduate of Holy Cross, Ford worked as deputy clerk in Worcester County while he attended Suffolk University Law School at night. An experienced litigator and political activist, Ford received his law degree from Suffolk in 1978.

 Ford said he intended to return to his solo practice after finishing his term as clerk of courts, but was lured back to firm life by Fletcher, Tilton & Whipple PC. Ford, immediate past president of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, said he was drawn to the firm because it puts a premium on community involvement. He knew his activities in politics and with the bar would be not only tolerated but encouraged.

 Additionally, Ford said it was a good time to join back up with a firm. His contemporaries are now calling him for help with estate planning and other needs. Instead of having to turn them away, he can refer them to another member of his firm. Other perks of firm life, like an IT department, have helped as well. “For me at this stage in my life, this is perfect,” he said.

 Ford said he tries to approach career shifts with an open mind. “I happen to embrace change,” Ford said. “Change is a good thing. It was good to move on (from private practice) and it was good to do public service. Not everyone can.” While these three attorneys have chosen different paths, they share an open-minded attitude about their careers.

 “There are so many opportunities and places you probably never thought you’d work in law school,” Taylor said. “The idea of staying with one firm or one area of the law, I think that’s out the window.”