Cleveland Business Connects

For immediate release (October 6, 2017) Media Contact: Judy Abelman Email: Phone: 440.725.8861...

Photo by Thomas Skernivitz

Since working with some of the area’s most prestigious law firms, Mary Reid has provided legal counsel for construction firm Donley’s Inc. Throughout her career she has maintained —and relishes — her responsibilities as a mom.  

Q: You started as a paralegal with Baker & Hostetler in 1986. When had you become interested in law and what attracted you?

A: I became interested in law during my undergraduate years at The American University in Washington. I realized that I would not be able to afford to live in DC and pay for law school, so I moved back to Cleveland. Since I was going to commit to three or more years of law school and was paying for it myself, I wanted to make sure that this was really a field in which I wanted to work. Fortunately, I had a tremendous experience at Baker & Hostetler working with the intellectual property group. This experience solidified my interest in proceeding with law. In fact, I went to law school at night for the first year and continued to work fulltime at Baker & Hostetler during the day. As for what attracted me to law, it is always new, always intriguing, and you have an opportunity to effect real change. It may be change for just one person, but for that one person, the change can be significant.

Q: Following graduation from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, you joined Benesch, Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff.

A: The six years I spent at Benesch were amazing, both personally and professionally. I learned so much about the practice of law from the attorneys at Benesch, and in particular how to integrate the law with the business needs of the clients. I also made many friends who have remained my friends since leaving Benesch in 1996. My time at Benesch was filled with hard work, long hours, and a lot of learning from others. However, it was all worth it. I learned how to be an effective lawyer, to consider my clients’ needs and how to meet those needs within the bounds of the law, and how to effectively organize my time to be most productive. 

Q: You started working part-time in 1996, when your oldest daughter was 9 months old. What was it like mixing work and raising a family?

A: Working part-time while my daughters were growing up allowed me to continue working in a career that I love while also being able to oversee homework, be available for my children, and volunteer at their schools. Moreover, I was able to model for my children that you can work and have a family and be effective in both areas. My poor daughters probably know more about the law than most children do, as their father is an attorney as well. We would debate cases over the dinner table, much to my daughters’ dismay. 

Q: Did you have to sacrifice anything while working part-time?

A: I did have to give up certain things in order to raise my kids, such as switching from a partner-track position with a prominent law firm to a part-time position … and I would absolutely do it all over again. My daughters are both strong, intelligent, and competent young women, and I think that part of the reason for that is that I was very involved during their childhood. My younger daughter is now a senior in high school, and I look forward to seeing her move out into the world when she goes to college next fall. I also think that continuing to work part-time helped me demonstrate to my children that you can work in a professional career.

Q: How do you prioritize your work-life balance?

A: Technology has played a key role in enabling me to prioritize my work-life balance. In law, a lot of the job involves research on the computer, writing on a computer, and talking to people on the phone. Technological advances in cell phones and wireless internet access allow me to do all of this from my home for the same cost as being in the office. It is not a substitute for being in the office, but it does allow me to complete my work at home if I have to leave for family reasons. Donley’s has been wonderful about ensuring that I and other employees can use available technologies to create a work-life balance.

Q: How did you wind up at Donley’s?

A: One of my former partners at Benesch did work for Donley’s and introduced me to the senior management group. They were looking for someone who could handle legal matters as well as manage the HR function. As my background was in labor and employment law, and I had handled HR and legal at other places, it seemed like a good match of need with skills. It is one of the best decisions I have made. As I said previously, I have been able to continue to raise my children while working in a career I love, and Donley’s has given me a place to grow personally and professionally. I have been here for nine years now and really appreciate the opportunities that I have had with Donley’s. Donley’s is also very involved in helping women move forward in the construction industry, with several women in senior management positions, and Donley’s has a long history of involvement with the National Association of Women in Construction.

Q: What’s a typical workweek like in the construction industry?

A: For me, a typical workweek usually involves reviewing contracts with our clients, our subcontractors, and/or our suppliers to work out mutually acceptable terms, handling any issues that may arise on a project that could have legal implications, ensuring compliance with governmental requirements, management of pending litigation, and working closely with our senior management on strategic initiatives. 

Q: What is it like working in the male-dominated construction industry?

A: I don’t think there is anything unique about being a female attorney in the construction industry. I sometimes think that men in the construction industry have a bad reputation as people who don’t respect women and treat them as objects, e.g., construction workers whistling at females passing by. I have found the people in the construction industry, both men and women, to be respectful of women and to value competence over gender.

Q: Did you benefit from mentors while advancing your career?

A: I had the most wonderful mentor during my years at Benesch who helped me understand what it means to be a good attorney, as well as helping me understand the specific issues associated with being a female attorney especially in the labor and employment field. My mentor, Peggy Kennedy, was a partner in the labor and employment group at Benesch, and she was always available to help me work through issues, as well as helping me understand the importance of establishing a good network. I looked up to her as a role model of how to balance work and home, and she taught me not to worry about the little things.

Q: Have you since tried to repay the favor? If so, why is that important?

A: Absolutely! I try to help people in general, and particularly women, who are newer to my field or my industry, understand the legal and construction fields and help them achieve all of their goals. I also help them see that goals can change over time and that it is okay to change goals throughout your life. The more women who help to mentor other young women to become responsible members of the community in both work and family lives, the better the chances that my own daughters will find wonderful mentors who will motivate and help them, as my mentor motivated and helped me. 

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