Christine Hollis: Opening Legal Doors

Christine E. Hollis
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Attorney at Law Magazine writer Susan Cushing recently had the pleasure of speaking with Christine Hollis who recently joined the Chicago law firm of Freeborn & Peters LLP as the Director of Attorney Recruiting, Development and Diversity.

AALM: How long have you been with Freeborn? What first brought you into the group? 

Hollis: I recently joined the firm in February. It’s cliché to say, but the people are what finalized my decision to join the firm. I’m a native Chicagoan and knew of Freeborn as a respected and established firm in the industry since the start of my career. What intrigued me about the role was the opportunity to create a department and recruiting process based on my years of experience and expertise in attorney recruiting. The excitement of creating something is what brought me in the door; the people are what made me want to stay!

AALM: In your new role, what do you most hope to accomplish?

Hollis: I hope to create a streamlined and highly functional recruiting process that not only makes the hiring and integration process seamless for new hires but increase diversity and top legal talent throughout the firm. My goal is to add to the already well respected Freeborn brand and increase the firm’s footprint nationally.

AALM: What is the secret to acquiring the best recruits?

Hollis: I can’t give away my secret formula….but what I can share is that people want to enjoy coming to work. Having a pleasant and collegial environment on top of getting interesting and challenging cases on which to work will always yield positive results. Luckily, I’m with a firm that has already established itself as a powerhouse in both regards.

AALM: You have worked hard to promote more diversity in the legal profession. What inroads have been made and what role have you played?

Hollis: It was by accident that I found my career path, and I was extremely lucky to have a mentor (Attorney/MBA/Entrepreneur, Ginger R. Wilson) who led by example and showed me how to navigate the legal market as a woman of color. Walking through the doors she opened for me and sitting at the tables she pulled my chair up to, I saw the need for mentorship and sponsorship of people of color in the legal field. I maintained a diverse candidate pipeline throughout my career (many candidates who have since become personal friends), expanded my network to be one of inclusion and mirrored the example I was shown by always holding the door and pulling up the chair of those who are climbing the ladder after me. We still have a long way to go when it comes to diversity in upper levels of legal management and partnership ranks, but if I can be a resource for anyone (whether it be job advice or a friendly ear), then I make sure I’m accessible. I have had the pleasure of meeting many diverse attorneys at the start of their careers, when they’re looking for jobs as first years or seeking new roles as associates or partners, and I make sure to maintain those connections throughout my career and theirs. I’m proud to see where many have gone and I’m happy that I played some part in helping them during their journey.

AALM: What changes do you most believe need to be implemented in the corporate and legal industries to assist women in attaining leadership roles?

Hollis: There has been a large surge of law firms adopting the Mansfield Rule when it comes to promoting women and attorneys of color. This is certainly helpful in addressing the need for more diversity in leadership positions. I’m also an advocate of what I like to call “attorney sponsorship.” Often we talk about mentorship when it comes to diverse and female attorneys, but I always push for “sponsorship.” Someone who is of the old guard, who will take a vested interest in the success and accomplishment of female and diverse attorneys. A sponsor is someone who will ensure that you’re at least “in the room where it happens!” People have to know who you are and know your work, so it’s important that women are visible members of the firm and practice. The visibility of women attorneys is strengthened when they have a sponsoring partner who is invested in both their and the firm’s success.

Often we talk about mentorship when it comes to diverse and female attorneys, but I always push for “sponsorship.” Someone who is of the old guard, who will take a vested interest in the success and accomplishment of female and diverse attorneys.

AALM: You are a multi-award winner in your recruiting efforts. To what to you attribute such consistent recognition?

Hollis: I began my career under the tutelage of a strong mentor and former boss (Ginger Wilson) who instilled in me the work ethic of an entrepreneur. So, I have always been highly response with a strong sense of urgency. That work ethic is what helped me optimize the robust market we experienced at the height of the real estate boom and weather market downturns like we saw after the bubble burst. Displaying an equal amount of responsiveness to both candidates and clients allowed me to forge strong relationships in the legal market on both sides of the employment spectrum and gave me a strong network to tap into when I made the move from agency to law firm recruiting.

AALM: What advice do you have for women in law and in the business sphere?

Hollis: Don’t let your foot off the gas! It’s easy to get complacent or have a sense of imposter syndrome. Know that what you want, what you aspire to be and the success you seek is attainable. I’m a strong advocate for goal setting and mapping out the steps/benchmarks to help you achieve. Put your plan together, define the steps you need to get you there and get to work. You got this!

AALLM: Tell us a little about yourself and life outside the law.

Hollis: I am a native Chicagoan (born and bred) and love the city! Many of my close friends are those that I’ve known since childhood. It amazes me how we all went out of state for college/grad school, but ultimately returned home to start our careers and families. Something that’s somewhat surprising about me is that even through I’m in a very social and interactive career, I’m actually an introvert. So, after my work is done, I’m a home body and like being alone (as much as one can be with a family) and recharging in silence. I am passionate about mentoring young women of color – hoping to provide them with a similar experience I had with Ginger at the beginning of my career.

AALM: Do you have children? If so, how do you balance career/family?

Hollis: I have two kids (two and four years old), and yes, it’s as hectic as it sounds! I am very fortunate to have a husband who is extremely supportive of my career and equally invested in the household and child rearing duties of our lives. Though legal recruiting is not a 9-5 job, it is a mobile one – where I can recruit and take calls anywhere. My husband and I have worked out a schedule where we have the flexibility to stay at work or attend after work events as necessary and the other picks up the slack when needed. But, like most working mothers, I still rely on daycare and have to find creative ways to work within the confines of those limitations when it comes to sick kids and even navigating the recent COVID-19 school closures. I am also a staunch advocate of solo vacations (or staycations). We all need time where we can center and nurture ourselves – times where you’re not someone’s wife, someone’s mother or someone’s boss/employee – when your sole focus is yourself. My best advice for balancing career and family is to ensure you carve out time (no matter how small) where you’re only focused on yourself and your own happiness. It’s important to never lose sight of who you are and what brings you personal joy, because in the end you are responsible for your own happiness!

AALM: Is there a particular book or movie that in any way influenced your law career or how you view our legal system?

Hollis: I have always enjoyed books with a strong female protagonist, and though not focused on the legal field, “Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office” by Jennifer Lancaster provided me much needed laughs and situational levity when I was navigating my way through corporate America.

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