Attorney At Law Magazine sat down with Hilarie Bass, the winner of the magazine’s 2019/2020 Diversity and Inclusion Award in the latest special issue — 2020 Women in Law.
AALM: How welcoming do you think the South Florida legal community is to women practitioners?
Bass: I don’t believe that the South Florida legal community is any more or less hospitable to women lawyers than other large cities. Women continue to face unique challenges to achieve the same level of success in the legal profession as their similarly competent male colleagues. I recently created the Bass Institute for Diversity and Inclusion because most firms realize that they need to do better in addressing the unconscious biases that infiltrate compensation, elevation and evaluation decisions in law firms, but are unsure as to what they need to do to make things better. The Institute will work with managing partners and CEOs to identify the changes necessary to move the needle in this area.
AALM: How do you try to help fellow women in their career goals?
Bass: I have always tried to go out of my way to assist other women coming up the ladder in the legal profession and believe most women attorneys attempt the same. There are always exceptions where some are more focused on their own advancement, but the same would be true in any group of men.
AALM: Do you find that as a woman you face any challenges that men don’t?
Bass: Of course! Every study ever done of big law reflects, for example, that the compensation gap between men and women is at least 20 percent. A recent study by Major Lindsay and Africa reflected that the gap is highest among equity partners and is as high as 53 percent among partners.
AALM: How are you involved in the legal community and the local community?
Bass: As a young lawyer, I got involved in several community organizations and bar groups. Those activities have provided some of the most satisfying experiences of my career. I have been privileged to serve as chair of the board of United Way of Miami Dade. I just completed my term as president of the American Bar Association, and this past May, I became Chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of Miami.
AALM: What case most defined or redefined your practice?
Bass: Although I had many successful trials involving 100s of millions of dollars over my legal career, I can say categorically that my most important case was representing pro bono two foster children that led to the finding that the more than 20-year ban on gay adoption in the State of Florida was unconstitutional. I still have people approach me on the street to thank me for giving them the ability to have a family. It brings me to tears every time.
AALM: What traits do you think make an attorney exceptional?
Bass: I think the difference between a good attorney and a great one is that a great attorney sees and hears everything from the perspective of how they can help their client achieve their goals. That requires the lawyer to be an exceptional listener and problem solver. Often clients speak to a lawyer thinking they are trying to accomplish one thing and a great lawyer will listen carefully and be able to strategize as to how to achieve those goals in ways the client had not even considered. A great lawyer is not just a practitioner, but a counselor.
AALM: Tell us something about yourself that people would be surprised to learn.
Bass: I was a professional actress in NYC for three years between getting my undergraduate degree and starting law school. I studied with Lee Strasberg, appeared on a soap opera on NBC and acted in a number of off Broadway shows.
AALM: How do you balance your home life and work life?
Bass: I have found that the key to balance is not evaluating it on a daily or even weekly basis. As a trial lawyer, when you are in trial, everything else in your life has to take a back seat. The key is to take the time to make up for last opportunities when things slow down.