As a part of our Women in Law special issue, Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with Kelly Olivier and Allyson West, the founders of The Themis Group. This women-founded, women-run trial attorney group plans to focus on cases from women from all communities, including BIPOC, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals. It will additionally take on cases from allies who are advocating for and on behalf of women. The group operates within Hale & Monico in the Chicagoland area.
AALM: Why launch an all-woman trial group geared toward women? What’s your inspiration? What do you hope to accomplish?
Olivier: We have seen a gap in the market here locally in Chicago, and nationally – there are no all-woman trial firms, or even trial groups, geared toward women. In our personal lives, we often seek out all-woman professional groups, e.g. all-woman medical groups and all-woman design groups, but we have yet to see that translate to the legal field. Further, as our careers have progressed, we have noticed a lack of women trial attorneys both during litigation and in the courtroom. We hope that by founding Themis and creating a safe space for women, we not only prove that women’s superpowers – humility, empathy, and compassion – make Themis an excellent choice for our clients, but that we also inspire more women attorneys to join the field of trial attorneys and remain in the courtroom as their careers progress.
AALM: How did you two come to work together? How do you balance each other?
West: We began working together over 10 years ago at our first job out of law school. Since then we have worked together on and off at various different firms and governmental agencies. We are able to recognize each other’s respective strengths – I am the ice and Kelly is the fire – and we are close friends, so we know which person is better suited to handle a particular situation.
AALM: Tell us about the rest of your team and how you’re building it.
Olivier: We are incredibly grateful to have the full support of our founding partner, Andy Hale, along with all our other colleagues. We are especially fortunate that our fellow female trial attorneys at Hale and Monico, Barrett Boudreaux and Jennifer Bitoy, are joining us in this venture. Between the four of us, we have tried more than 150 jury trials. As time goes on and Themis (hopefully) grows, we look forward to adding more talented women trial attorneys to our group.
AALM: Where do you hope to see the Themis Group in five years? In 10?
West: We hope that within the next five years women in the Chicagoland area identify Themis as a trial group that is best poised to understand and advocate for women. In 10 years, we hope to become a household name in the Chicagoland legal community, and see Themis-inspired groups across the country.
AALM: What drew you to the practice of law?
West: I always enjoyed problem solving and advocating for others, but for me it was a life event that sparked my decision to pursue a career in law. When I was in high school, I had a family friend who tragically and suddenly lost his father. This event in life changed the way I thought about what it meant to have a career–My friend’s mother did not work outside the home and when she lost her husband she struggled to navigate supporting her family. I knew at this moment that I wanted a career that was not only meaningful but also a profession that provided for any family I later decided to have.
Olivier: I have always loved public speaking, and proving a point. I also love advocating for others. I was in middle school when I “decided” I wanted to become a lawyer, and fortunately my interest for law grew to a passion as my life and professional career progressed.
AALM: Tell us about some of the best lessons you’ve learned throughout your career.
West: Do not be discouraged easily. Early in my career, I had a partner tell me that I needed to think very hard about the type of lawyer I wanted to be. Whether it was the type of lawyer who let losing a trial discourage them or the type of lawyer that used a defeat as an opportunity to learn, grow as an advocate and most importantly reinvent themselves in the courtroom during that next argument, that next trial.
Olivier: Years ago, I was feeling intimidated and unsure of myself practicing in an area of law where I was often one of the youngest attorneys in the room. When I voiced my insecurities to my boss/partner at the time, he gave me the best advice that I have continued to implement to this day: it does not matter who you are, how old you are, or how long you have been practicing law, because none of that matters if you are not the most prepared person in the room. Being prepared is something that cannot be overstated, and it is how you can ensure you always walk away with your head held high, regardless of the result.
AALM: How is your practice different today than you envisioned in law school?
West: Fortunately, it is very similar to what I envisioned and hoped it would be like when I was in law school. Being able to actually litigate cases from start to finish was what I wanted to do when I was in law school and thankfully that is the type of work I get to do.
Olivier: I feel very fortunate to be practicing law exactly in the manner I envisioned. Too often young lawyers (myself included) are “warned” that they will rarely receive any trial experience once they begin practicing – my career has proven the opposite of that. To now be founding a women-run, women-focused trial group with not just my colleague, but genuine close friend Allyson, is truly beyond even my law school dreams.
AALM: Tell us about some of your mentors or legal heroes.
West: I have had the great fortune of working with many great mentors throughout my career. One of the partners that I worked with from my first job out of law school taught me how to successfully pick a jury. Determining the individual jurors who identify most with you and most with your client was a skill that he helped me learn and practice. Additionally, I have recently had the opportunity to work on a case with a female attorney who has become a very valuable mentor. Through sharing her experiences, providing advice on the founding of Themis and encouraging me to always advocate for what I think is important (even if everyone else in the room disagrees), I have learned you should never be afraid to ask for a seat at the table.
Olivier: RBG is obviously a favorite, and I was honored to meet and interview Gloria Allred for CosmoGirl magazine while in college. Both have done so much instrumental work for women and women attorneys. As for mentors, we are blessed to have fantastic partners at Hale and Monico that help us be our best and improve every day. However, the mentor that has had the most impact on my career is my former boss/partner that gave me the crucial advice (above) of always being the most prepared – beyond his practical and legal expertise that he shared with me, he showed me compassion and stood up for me during some very difficult times both personally and professionally. I hope to one day pay forward the mentorship and kindness he gave to me, because it remains priceless to this day.
AALM: Looking back on your professional career to date, is there anything you’d change if you could?
West: Looking back on my career thus far, I do not think I would change anything. Even with missteps along the way, whether it was a loss in the courtroom or criticism from a superior, I think I have only learned from my experiences and it has helped shape the type of litigator I am today.
Olivier: I have to echo Allyson here – every opportunity, every challenge, every mistake, brought me to where I am today. I would not change a thing!
AALM: What are some of your hobbies outside of the office? How do you unwind?
West: Spending time with my husband and two little boys is what I most enjoy doing with my time outside of the office. Additionally, exercising whether it be running or high intensity training is something that always helps me to destress and refocus.
Olivier: Another similar answer to Allyson (this is probably why we are friends) – I love spending time with my husband and son, our family and friends, and I, too, enjoy exercising (add in yoga) to unwind. As for hobbies, wine is a true passion of mine – it combines all the things I love: history, geography, food, travel, and wine itself! I took the Level I sommelier test through the Guild of Sommeliers years ago just for fun, and to this day I love planning tastings for friends and adding a visit to a wine region into any travel plan.