September 21, 2014

Is There a Better Exit Strategy Than Death?—Part I: The Interviews: Roxanne Jensen—Balancing Work and Family While Staying Engaged and Challenged

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. This is the third part of a 5-part series on Legal Connection. Click here for the introduction, click here for an interview with Kyle Velte, and stay tuned for more interviews.

Sandgrund-JensenBy Ronald M. Sandgrund, Esq., InQ.

InQ.: Roxanne, how old were you when you first felt that practicing law was what you wanted do as a career? How old were you when you first had serious thoughts about exiting the full-time practice of law? What prompted this change in your thinking?

Roxanne: I first thought I wanted to practice law when I was 22, and I started practicing full-time at 25. I continued to practice full-time until I was 38, when I had my first child. At 42, I had my third child and recognized that my firm’s international law practice was changing, becoming highly specialized, and that significant travel was required to put the right person in the right place at the right time for the clients. I thought I would try to find a way to regulate my work schedule more significantly, perhaps by teaming with lawyers who could handle a more significant travel load.

InQ.: So, what happened?

Roxanne: At some point, after having three kids, I simply realized that for our family, I needed to be more present. Although every family is different, my kids needed me to commit to a career path that would require less travel. My law practice at Morrison & Foerster absolutely and justifiably required significant travel responsibilities. My initial plan was to do contract work for lawyers until the kids were a bit older. I was able to start doing contract work pretty much right away, mostly for my former law partners.

InQ.: How did that go?

Roxanne: The plan worked, but I wasn’t satisfied without having more entrepreneurial, creative input into my work. So, I started looking around for a more committing framework, with less travel obligations—something more focused and sustained than project work, with long-term goals, and seeing matters or ideas through to completion. Contract work often doesn’t fill that need. Meanwhile, I missed practice in Big Law terribly—and I still miss it. The quality of practice and the caliber of my colleagues were unmatched. I’ll never find more fulfillment in a job than I did at Morrison & Foerster, including my several years as its Denver managing partner. I thought many times about re-engaging in the practice, but I knew the travel obligations would overwhelm me and my family.

InQ.: It seems that you gave some thought to reversing course; did you do so?

Roxanne: No, I didn’t, but I changed course again to find something more committing. In 2007, I left the practice of law and joined a national legal recruiting firm, to start their division for Lateral Partners and Firm Mergers. I grew that division very profitably. However, over time, I recognized that adding owners to law firms was not a staffing issue, but a strategic one. I exited the recruiting world to join the consulting world in 2011. I currently own EvolveLaw, a strategic consulting LLC, helping law firms set and execute growth strategies (including mergers and acquisitions) and refine their business models in a changing and challenging legal services marketplace. I also am a managing director with Catapult Growth Partners, a professional services consulting group that provides strategic planning, business development, and executive recruiting services.

InQ.: Some obstacles that lawyers face when retreating from full-time practice include not being able to imagine life not practicing law full-time, fearing not being able to fill the time, and dreading not having enough money. What do you think of each of these suggested impediments?

Roxanne: For me, there are always creative professional possibilities; I’ve never felt limited to practicing law, or concerned about how to fill my time. Being valued financially and professionally is important, so of course I have felt some need to use my gifts and experience well to serve and be compensated appropriately.

InQ.: How did your significant other react during the course of you exploring options other than the full-time practice of law?

Roxanne: Despite being by nature somewhat less entrepreneurial than I, my spouse has been fabulously supportive while I’ve remade myself professionally.

InQ.: Did any tensions arise between you and others, including your children, co-workers, and significant other, as a result of you withdrawing from the full-time practice of law?

Roxanne: No.

InQ.: Looking back, what, if anything, would you do differently?

Roxanne: I would think more entrepreneurially and creatively right away, instead of “ramping down” my practice by doing contract work.

InQ.: What assumptions did you make that turned out to be mostly or wholly incorrect?

Roxanne: I assumed my highest and best use would be in legal practice, when my training and gifts were in fact suited for a broad range of possibilities.

InQ.: How happy were you when practicing law full-time versus how happy are you now?

Roxanne: I loved the practice of law; but I’m also very happy now, using my many years of practice and management and my strategic thinking skills to help firms position well in the market.

InQ.: How much did financial considerations influence your decision to retreat from the full-time practice of law?

Roxanne: Not at all.

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