South Florida attorneys Mara Geronemus and Lisa Jerles founded All Before Dinner, a networking group for working moms, in 2019. Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with the founders to discuss the origins of the group and how it differs from traditional networking group as well as their plans for expansion nationwide.
AALM: What prompted the founding of All Before Dinner?
LJJ: Mara and I were frustrated by traditional networking models that were very time intensive and difficult on working moms trying to get their work done in enough time to make the carpool line.
MG: We were at a point in our careers where we were bringing in a lot of business and had a lot of business to refer, and we wanted that business to go to women across all industries.
AALM: Tell us how networking fell short for you as a mother and professional before All Before Dinner.
MG: During my career, I have gone from being part of large law firms to working for myself. As a solo practitioner, I found myself missing the informal networking opportunities that come with being physically present in an office. Being on my own, it is important to me to build a cadre of professionals to support my business.
AALM: How did you seek to make All Before Dinner work better for working moms?
MG: When we created the program, we were very intentional about striking a balance between getting together regularly and doing it in a way that was not too time consuming for a busy working mom. We know networking takes time, and we wanted our time well spent. This is why all of our monthly networking meetings are virtual.
LJJ: As an attorney in a very aggressive practice area, I often felt the need to (metaphorically) stuff my kids in a closet while at work. But the reality is that motherhood is an asset, not a liability, and Mara and I wanted a space to showcase that superpower.
AALM: Why did you decide to launch a networking group for all professionals rather than just attorneys? What are the benefits?
MG: Lisa and I get the majority of our referrals from businesses and individuals, not just lawyers. So from a personal standpoint, it made sense for us to bring together women across all industries.
LJJ: Mara and I are both connectors. We constantly get asked for referrals across all areas. We want to prioritize referring working moms, no matter what kind of business.
AALM: What innovations has your group created during the pandemic that you will continue to use looking ahead?
LJJ: We initially conceived of a local membership group that combined in-person and virtual events. However, shortly after our launch in November 2019, we, along with the rest of the world, had to pivot to a fully online model. Over the last 18 months our focus on business referrals and personal and professional development has resonated with women all over the country. We have members in five states and recently launched a local chapter in Chicago.
AALM: What are some upcoming changes to the group you’re excited to share with us?
MG: We are building an All Before Dinner chapter in Chicago. This will be our first local chapter outside of South Florida. We are also slowly testing out in-person events in South Florida and hope to be in person in Chicago and other areas in 2022!
AALM: In your career, what steps have you seen taken to help working mothers better succeed professionally? What are some steps you think law firms could take toward this end?
LJJ: Allowing remote work is critical to supporting working moms. Kluger Kaplan has a “just get your work done” mentality, which I found very helpful. Litigation is a difficult job for a working mom because it’s high conflict and it’s hard to just turn that off and get in the carpool line. I think that’s why a lot of moms burn out. Having a group of working moms with a variety of professional and life experiences who I can turn to for support has been very helpful.
AALM: How do you find balance or order in your professional and personal lives? Any tips for other working mother attorneys?
LJJ: Some days I am a great mom, some days I am a great lawyer. It’s very rarely the same day! I spend a lot of time on my calendar trying to decide what to prioritize and what to delegate or cancel. I have tried to be really intentional about when I respond to emails because if people see me working late at night, they will expect responses late at night. The reality is that sometimes I work at odd hours so I can be in the pickup line or drive to baseball practice. I often use email timers so that emails go out during business hours.
MG: Running two businesses and being a hands-on mother to three children doesn’t leave me with a lot of free time, so I have to be very careful about what I put on my plate. I’ve learned that it’s important to say no and to set aside personal time for me as well. Like many working mother attorneys, not all days feel balanced or orderly. Some days, work demands more of my attention, and at other times, my family does. And that’s OK.