Don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s an adage we’ve heard all our lives. While it’s great advice, it’s also virtually impossible to follow. We can’t help it. It’s human nature to quickly scan the most obvious visual and make assumptions. It’s something Megan Russo has dealt with her entire life, and most specifically, throughout her legal career.
A beautiful, statuesque blonde, who looks more like a cover girl than a litigator, Russo has had to fight against this perfect image to prove her skill, talent and dedication as a tough and highly successful attorney. And now, that old fight has been resurrected as she transitions into her second career as a mediator.
“The biggest challenge I have faced throughout my career has not been with the law. I know the law, and I know what I’m doing,” she says. “Rather, it’s receiving the respect from some attorneys that – quite frankly – I’ve earned. Having them realize I have the knowledge and experience and that they should perhaps at least hear me out on certain points.”
“And then I think sometimes, not always, it is exacerbated when the person is an older white male,” she adds. “There are times when I can feel them struggling to accept my capabilities and professional status based solely on my gender. It’s a challenge. But especially at this point in my career, it’s frustrating.”
It’s an experience shared by many women in all professions, and one that Russo herself has been dealing with her entire life. While, as she says it’s frustrating, the degree to which it becomes more so seems to parallel her career longevity and professional accomplishments. Something that was somewhat tolerable in high school and college, became less so as she moved through law school where even professors occasionally exhibited barely disguised surprise that the pretty little thing in the second row was actually the top student in his class! As Russo will attest, the level of frustration, sometimes bordering on indignation, grows exponentially with time and her ever-expanding credentials.
“Certainly, I experienced my share of this as a litigator,” she says. “Now, as a mediator, because I’m essentially running the show, I’m actually seeing it more. It is confounding to me. The good news is that to a large degree it’s a generational thing and hopefully we see it waning among younger men.”
The biggest challenge I have faced throughout my career has not been with the law. I know the law, and I know what I’m doing, rather, it’s receiving the respect from some attorneys that – quite frankly – I’ve earned.