Employment attorney, business counselor and founder of the Prinz Law Firm, Kristen Prinz was recently named president of the International Women’s Forum in Chicago. Attorney at Law Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with Prinz to talk about her new appointment, her career and other aspects of her life.
AALM: How long have you been involved with the International Women’s Forum (IWF) and in what capacity?
KP: I have been a member of IWF since 2012. I chaired the nominating committee for the Chicago forum in 2018 and was nominated as president of the Chicago forum in 2020 and started my year of service as president in June 2021.
AALM: Why do you feel this is an important organization with which to be so involved?
KP: IWF is a global organization comprised of the top women in business, the arts, politics and philanthropy. IWF supports and elevates women leaders in business, civic life, and other professional fields. It is the organization’s mission to advance women in leadership and equality worldwide. I am especially grateful for the strong forum in Chicago that is committed to equity and equality, personal growth and development, and leveraging our power as leaders to promote women at all levels. I continue to learn so much from the women in my forum, the women across the world I have met through IWF, and the speakers and programming put on by IWF locally and globally.
AALM: What goals/plans do you have for IWF during your term?
KP: My goals are (1) to continue building on the efforts of my predecessors to open up more avenues to power and influence for women leaders in Chicago, especially women of color who are the least represented in positions of power; (2) to build greater connections with forums across the globe so that we can work together for greater impact; and (3) to create more opportunities for personal and professional development for our forum members in Chicago.
I am also focused on providing support to our members who are struggling to maintain grace in leading their organizations through national social change, significant uncertainty, and ongoing global turmoil.
AALM: What prompted you to launch your own firm?
KP: I was naïve enough to think I could be a better boss and provide a better service than where I worked in the past. The service part was easy because of my background working as a waitress, a bartender, and in retail. Great service is about anticipating client needs and exceeding expectations. But being a good manager is hard. And being a good leader is even harder. I thought I knew how to be good because I had experienced so much bad. I have learned over the years that being a good leader means continuously working on being a better person and treating your employees as if they are your best clients (which should include all of your clients).
AALM: What makes your firm unique?
KP: My firm is entrepreneurial, meaning we are always looking to grow in a variety of ways, even when doing so poses challenges. We are creative and strategic in how we approach problem-solving. Instead of following a formula, we curate practical solutions for our clients.
We are relationship-focused, meaning we invest in really understanding each other, our clients, and our other stakeholders. Among employment firms, our practice is unique because we represent both businesses and employees, which provides us a comprehensive and less biased perspective into the field.
AALM: How would you describe your management style?
KP: Aspirational and empowering. Aspirational in that I aspire to learn and improve every day (with the understanding that there are a lot of missteps), and try to manage my team to learn, develop, grow, and get better every day. I think a key component of growth is awareness—understanding how you need to grow and what you need to do to attain that growth. That’s a constant focus of mine. I also strive to be empowering by giving my team the autonomy to accomplish their work with minimal interference, but in knowledge that they always have me for support and guidance.
AALM: Please describe the culture of your firm. What special initiatives/policies have you put in place to make this a positive work environment?
KP: We try to be as collaborative as possible, whether we’re working on a litigation matter, brainstorming with our intake about how to respond to a call, or launching a new marketing initiative. We are constantly striving to grow more in new ways, oftentimes through group trainings or professional development. As a team, we have undergone the Kolbe natural tendencies process, we have learned about personal finance, and are now engaged in a program to better manage the firm. We also try to take small breaks from work together, through regular group outings or happy hours.
AALM: Did you have a mentor or someone who paved the way for you as a woman in the legal community?
KP: At the end of my law school career, I met Sara Sirotzky, an amazing insurance executive who was starting law school as a back-up in case she was ever forced to retire because she plans to work until she is 100 years old. Sara became a friend and sponsor and has had an oversized influence on me personally and professionally. She told me where I needed to get involved in Chicago and she sponsored me for membership in some of the most elite organizations in Chicago. She is a force of nature who unabashedly promotes her friends, is generous with her time, and is one of the best salespeople you will ever meet.
AALM: Do you feel you have experienced special challenges as a woman?
KP: There are definitely special challenges for women, and even more so for women of color. But challenges are also opportunities. Being underestimated is the greatest gift an attorney can receive.
AALM: What advice would you offer a law student regarding building a successful career in law?
KP: Swim upstream. Don’t follow a mold of what people expect you to be. Create your own, better way of getting things done.
AALM: Please tell us about a case you’ve handled over the course of your career that significantly impacted your career.
KP: I tried a whistleblower case and got a $10 million verdict for my client. That case really brought home for me that litigation is for the attorneys. It was an amazing symphonic event for me and my team, but it was a horrible emotional roller coaster for the client. I learned how hard litigation is on the litigants and how, no matter the outcome, the personal impact for most litigants is not usually worth the financial outcome.
AALM: What are you most proud of professionally or personally?
KP: My family, my team at work, and my friendships. I am not always the best in any of those relationships, but these are the people who inspire me to strive to be better every day.
AALM: Tell us about your life outside the law.
KP: I’m unsure if it’s really “outside” my work in law, but I never really stop networking, either at structured events, in organizations I am part of, or informally. I really enjoy meeting new people and learning about their ideas. I also try to find time to read. I enjoy fiction, as well as books in the fields of entrepreneurship, psychology, and business. Traveling of course is a passion. I try to take a few meaningful trips a year. And of course, I love spending time with my kids. They make me laugh and give me perspective.
AALM: Tell us about a book, movie or event that changed your perspective on the practice of law.
KP: Carol Dweck’s book Mindset and attending Bell Leadership program were both formative for me.