Sharon R. Markowitz, a partner in the Stinson LLP Minneapolis office, represents clients in a range of litigation matters – including class actions and high-exposure, complex litigation – and counsels clients on how to minimize their litigation risk.
AALM: Tell us about your best female mentor.
SRM: Sheva Sanders, a health care and life sciences partner at Stinson LLP, has been a great mentor to me. The reasons are too many to count, but here are a few: She genuinely cares about her colleagues and her clients as human beings. It’s easy to get caught up in the headiness and sometimes adversarialness of my work. But in my better moments, I am inspired to be more like Sheva. She knows her strengths, she leans into them, and she is not afraid to acknowledge them to others. She knows her weakness and is humble about them, but she doesn’t beat herself up over them.
AALM: Tell us about some of the challenges you’ve overcome in your career.
SRM: For years, I spent almost 100% of my time on bet-the-company litigation arising from the 2008 RMBS crisis. It was awesome. I got to craft complicated legal arguments, weave together expert testimony from a dozen experts, play a leadership role in the joint defense group, and do sophisticated work that attorneys with my tenure are rarely lucky enough to do.
But all good things must come to an end (if you can call anything related to the greatest economic crisis of our lives “a good thing”). And when that litigation ended, I had almost no other work. After that, I had to reinvent myself again and again. During the pandemic, I leveraged my experience dealing with Force Majeure issues. Later, I expanded into some areas of employment litigation while my employment-law colleagues were inundated with vaccine-mandate issues. And so on.
In each case, I had to see the need, call upon my experience to meet that need, and then supplement that experience with an “I-can-learn-anything-and-I-can-enjoy-anything” attitude.
AALM: How do you support future generations of women lawyers?
SRM: I try to develop relationships with female associates early so that they feel comfortable coming to me when they have problems. When they do come to me, I try to be thoughtful in my advice and follow it up with, “What can I do to help?”
I also chair the Women’s Partner Employee Resource Group. One of our primary goals is to improve retention and well-being amongst female associates. For instance, we are planning a series of roundtable events to allow associates to ask questions and hear from female partners about how to make private practice work for them.
I try to show associates how they can have a great life in private practice. Sometimes, that means bragging about how rarely I work on weekends; sometimes, it means confessing how stressful I find an opposing lawyer and how (and why) I am resisting the urge to spiral into needless disputes; sometimes, it means advertising how Stinson has always supported me (including by unquestioningly voting me into the partnership just a few months after I returned from four months of parental leave, on a reduced schedule). I want younger lawyers to see that private practice can be the best job on earth – intellectually, morally, and socially – if they make it so.
AALM: Share a quote or philosophy that has inspired you.
SRM: Sheva Sanders once said, “If you want to succeed, you need to start by defining what success means to you. Otherwise, you may be working toward the wrong goal.” For years, that principle has kept me on the path of a happy career and a happy life – one that is aimed at what feels like success for me and not someone else.