My first job out of law school was at Consolidated Edison (ConEd), one of the largest energy companies in the United States. It was not a very receptive place for a woman of color in the late 1970s. After that, I spent several years in Albany working in state government for governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo. In fact, I was the first woman of color to serve as counsel to a New York governor.
Through my government service, I had been in touch with David Hoffberg, a Rochester partner at NP, then known as Nixon, Hargrave, Devans & Doyle. David is a wonderful man and was a major mentor and role model in my career, and he recruited me.
I spent the next 14 years at NP, which was a really terrific experience. I loved the work I was doing, and I planned to stay. Then one day, a former colleague from the governor’s office told me that ConEd was looking for a general counsel. I was very happy at NP, and I hadn’t liked ConEd two decades earlier, but my husband encouraged me to meet. I met most of the executive leadership team and quickly realized that becoming general counsel was an amazing opportunity.
I returned to ConEd in 2009, more than 20 years after I first left. And I’m happy to say it was a very different place. The people who were in charge at that point really understood the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion. To be a woman of color in a leadership role providing critical services to the citizens of the most diverse city, probably, in the world—that was exciting.
Probably working for Governor Mario Cuomo. He was the most brilliant lawyer I ever came into contact with—an incredible lawyer and speaker, with integrity above reproach. I was relatively young, and to be counsel to the governor—to be walking into his office and giving him legal advice—I really learned so much from that experience.
I also enjoyed building a great team of lawyers at ConEd and sort of modernizing that department and making it a place that people wanted to work. Even before the pandemic, we were very focused on what I call “work-life fit.” I don’t use the term “work-life balance”—there’s never a balance, but there can be a fit. At ConEd, we knew we couldn’t compete on compensation with places like Google, so we had to offer some of the other things that make talented people want to work with us. We upgraded our technology to allow for more remote work. You can’t have an effective remote workforce if you don’t have the technology to support them. That’s something a lot of companies are learning the hard way now.
One year, my colleague Maggie Clemens and I signed up to play in the partner golf outing. We were the only two women playing, so we were paired with two men. Our foursome won the round, and the prize was a men’s size polo shirt for each winner. Maggie was petite, so I told her to put it on—it fell below her knees! Everyone was a little embarrassed. It was a small thing, but it illustrated some default assumptions that were made about who would participate. It was a funny incident that showed the firm that a culture change was needed. Shortly thereafter, Harry Trueheart asked Kendal Tyre and me to chair the firm’s new diversity committee.
When I arrived at NP, I was an employment lawyer with a government background. I was not a litigator. I was rather unique among the attorneys there. But I found my space, and I was able to thrive at the firm for many years. Really, all my experiences have emphasized the need to be nimble.
Early in my time at the firm, clients were just beginning to ask for anti-harassment trainings. We were representing Estee Lauder at the time, and Chris D’Angelo and I went all over the United States for Estee Lauder delivering the training. The first time we did it, we were terrible, and the feedback was not great. But we continued to evolve the training over time, and eventually, it became spectacular. People loved it.
The best career advice I can give is “take a good, hard look when an opportunity comes knocking.” I didn’t plan my career; I just pursued opportunities as they came. And I just give the firm credit for taking a chance on someone like me, without a typical BigLaw background.
I’m now retired from ConEd, and I’m using some of my free time to serve on the board of Southwest Power Pool, a coalition of electric power providers in 14 states. They are sort of the “air traffic controller” for the power grid in a region that spans more than 500,000 square miles. The companies in these areas work together to address their joint challenges.
It actually takes a fair bit of time because we’re dealing with vital and complex issues. In fact, as I’m writing this, I have a 160-page document waiting for me that I have to review before our next board meeting in a few days.
I’m looking forward to reconnecting with my NP colleagues. I have some good friends I met at Nixon who I’m still in touch with—Connie Boland, Kermitt Brooks, Chris D’Angelo (who I hired to head up the employment law group at ConEd), Ronelle Porter. They were great attorneys at the time and have really grown in their careers.
When COVID-19 restrictions allow for it, I love to spend time with my seven-year-old granddaughter, who lives in Manhattan. And my husband and I spend a lot of time in the hill country of Austin, Texas, where we have a home. I love to play golf and tennis. We were scheduled to attend Wimbledon before the pandemic hit, so I’m hoping we can do that soon as well.
In addition to my board service for Southwest Power Pool, I’m also on the board of the Texas Civil Rights Project. As we started spending more time down there, I wanted to make sure to get involved with a Texas-based nonprofit. That’s been a great experience.