An interview with Shannon Forchheimer
Recently, we sat down with Shannon Forchheimer, the new Lead Attorney for Montage Legal Group in Washington DC, Maryland and Virgina. We discussed her experience in having stepped away from a career in law to raise a family, only to return later with a group that offers the work-life-balance she needed.
1. During your time at Skadden, and Dickstein Shapiro law firms, what was your most successful technique in networking and building trust within the organization?
Entering any new organization is difficult and overwhelming, but going into a large law firm is an experience of its own. Fresh out of law school, naïve and vulnerable, I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly what I was doing. Instead of feigning confidence, I found being honest was the best policy. If I didn’t understand something, I admitted it. If I was feeling overwhelmed, I sought advice. I found that the more honest I was, the more people were willing to mentor and guide me. As a result, I felt like I was playing on a team – that people were there to support me, to build me up, and in turn I would go the extra mile to get the job done. Even having now left both of my law firms, I am proud to say that I carry with me some lifelong friends and mentors.
2. As a professional career woman, was it difficult to leave your legal career? What feelings or challenges did you experience?
At the outset of my legal career, if someone would have told me that I would quit to stay at home with two kids, I would have said you were crazy. I was driven, career oriented, and ambitious. When I got pregnant with my first son, I figured I would have to scale back a bit, but nothing prepared me for the emotions I would feel upon becoming a mother. I tried to make it work, but after having my second son, I knew I had to walk away. The work demands were just too great for me to be the kind of mother I wanted to be. The aftermath was difficult - I felt like such a large part of my identity was taken away from me. I was always Shannon, the lawyer. Then Shannon, the lawyer and mom. When I became just Shannon, the mom, it was a big adjustment. But deep down, I knew it was the right decision.
3. During your time away from the workforce, did you keep your professional network alive? If so, how?
Shortly after I left my job, I started a blog (www.butidohavealawdegree.com). I wasn’t quite sure what my goal with the blog was, but I knew I wanted to reach out to other women in similar situations. It proved to be a godsend. I found a network of women I never expected to encounter - lobbyists for women’s rights, successful mom bloggers, journalists, and, of course, other lawyers. I realized that there were so many possibilities out there, and I was proactive about establishing relationships with women that could mentor me. The blog also brought me some paid, freelance legal jobs, which kept my resume current.
4. What led you to return back to the workforce with Montage Legal? How is this partnership different than your previous experiences, and what excites you most?
Perhaps the best result of the networking from my blog was finding Montage Legal (www.montagelegal.com), a freelance legal network made up almost exclusively of women who have left their law firm jobs to stay at home. This is not your typical temp or contract agency – these are women who are educated and experienced, but left their jobs for reasons similar to mine – because the balance between full time work and family was just too hard. I was so impressed when I came across this company that I wrote a blog post about it, and sure enough, they found me. One thing led to another, and last month, I became the Lead Attorney for the Washington, DC branch of the company, which launched in September.
To me, the whole model is genius. There are so many moms out there who leave their jobs for family reasons, but do want to keep their foot in the door career wise. However, such opportunities are few and far between. Through Montage, these women are banding together, legitimizing their skills, and becoming the ultimate talent pool for law firms that need to hire lawyers on a contract basis. I am thrilled to be part of an organization that empowers women in such a way.
5. Lastly, what advice would you give to women considering a departure from the workforce, with plans to return later?
Ultimately, I think it is important to follow your heart. Your kids will only be young for so long – work will always be there. I don’t want to minimize what a departure from the workforce means – it is a serious thing, not to be taken lightly. But at the end of the day, if you are driven, ambitious, and determined, it is entirely possible to reenter the workforce. Just don’t ever take your eye off of the ball – be cognizant of your resume, your connections, and your goals. The right opportunity may fall right into your lap.
About Shannon Forchheimer
Shannon graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 2005, where she served as a Senior Editor of the Journal of Constitutional Law. Upon graduation, Shannon joined the New York office of Skadden Arps as an associate in the Litigation Department, where she represented clients in complex commercial litigation and government investigations involving RICO, federal securities laws, ERISA, and breach of contract. In 2007, Shannon relocated to Washington, DC, and joined the law firm of Dickstein Shapiro, where she continued to focus her practice on complex litigation, and represented government contractors suing the Government for breach of contract and CERCLA violations.
After the birth of her second son, Shannon left law firm life. While at home full-time with her young sons, Forchheimer started a popular blog, “But I Do Have A Law Degree,” which was voted one of the “Top 5 Lawyer Mom Blogs” by FindLaw’s Legal Blog, Greedy Associates. In 2012, Shannon joined Montage Legal Group as its Lead Attorney for Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia. Shannon lives in Washington DC with her husband and two sons.
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