Tuft, Lach, Jerabek & O’Connell PLLC is a haven for families seeking experienced and compassionate advocacy during troubled times. The firm’s named partners are preeminent family law practitioners and leaders in the profession, and all fellows of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Tuft is also a bastion of diversity and inclusion in the practice of law, offering like opportunities for professional development and advancement to all who join their ranks.
Tuft’s three women lawyers spoke about the differences and similarities marking their personal journeys in the law, revealing how things in the profession have changed, and where there is still room for growth.
SUSAN LACH: BROADS INC.
That’s how a Colorado newspaper referred to Lach and her firm partner, also a woman, when they opened a family law practice in Fort Collins nearly 40 years ago. “That’s what other attorneys were calling our firm, and the newspaper picked it up,” Lach said. “That was the joke. We knew we’d have to work three to four times harder than the other lawyers we graduated with and were practicing at the time, just to be considered marginally on par. When I went to law school, I was one of 30 women in a class of 300. When I talk to the young women in our firm and across the profession, I realize their experience and perspective is completely different from mine. We’ve ‘come a long way, baby,’ but in some ways, not really. We have much more work to do.”
A highly decorated lawyer and fierce courtroom advocate, Lach has irrefutably earned her place as a leader among peers of both genders. She is also a champion of women in law and proud of the work she has done to pave the way for those coming behind her.
Lach raised four children during her career, principally as a single mother. “I look back now and think, ‘How did I do it?’ My two children who now have children of their own are saying, ‘How did you do that?’ It’s nice to be appreciated, even 700 years later,” she laughed. “Maybe the house didn’t have to be clean all the time. You learn to give things up. I was at a women lawyer’s conference a couple of years ago, where a woman was juggling a lot of balls while speaking about work/life balance. She said that when you have all the balls in the air, you have to allow yourself to let one go. Forgive yourself for not being Super Woman. I agree with that position. I also remember she said to embrace your half-assedness! I loved that.”
Lach has high praise for her firm partners who share her commitment to a culture that fosters the best in people by honoring their humanity. “Women in this field are often penalized for being mothers. Somehow, it is still a black mark against you, especially in big firms, if you take time off to have children. It’s always been puzzling to me, since having children is how we continue the population into the future. It’s not like it’s just a woman thing. The three men who are my partners are all pretty phenomenal. They all have strong, impassioned professional wives, and they all have children. We all look out for each other, and we talk about our associates with concern and care, and discuss how we can bring them along in the profession. The same culture flows to our staff. We allow everyone to work around their kids as much as we can.”
Concern and care are also words frequently used in connection with client representation in the emotionally charged areas of family law, juvenile law and estate planning. “We care about what happens to our clients. I think it’s one of the really good things about our firm, that we care a lot, and we help anchor each other and keep our professional balance.”
LETTY M-S VAN ERT
Letty Van Ert graduated from William Mitchell College of Law, cum laude, in a class made up of slightly more women than men. She joined the firm 10 years ago as a second-year law student and stayed on to become an associate practicing in the areas of family law as well as estate and probate law. “I’m so glad to have had these professionals to work with and rely upon,” she stated. “I like to be collaborative and talk about cases with the partners. We have a wealth of resources here in knowledge and experience that I can pass on to my clients. It made a huge difference early in my career. The job market was terrible when I started out, and a lot of my classmates couldn’t find positions and had to go out on their own. The leadership and opportunities I’ve had here have allowed me to take cases and gain experience I never would have had.”
The firm’s human-centric culture has also been vital to Van Ert’s success, as she has experienced several life-changing events during her tenure. Within a 10-month period between her second and third years of practice, Van Ert lost both parents and had her first child. Her second baby followed three years later. “The firm was so supportive, not just in helping me be a lawyer, but as a human being. They backed me the whole time and supported me through these life challenges.”
Van Ert’s remarkable character and perseverance, combined with the support of her colleagues, helped her to remain in her profession and use her life experiences to help others. Losing her parents at a young age has heightened her compassion for the people she represents, as she is genuinely able to connect with clients who are experiencing loss, whether through divorce or the death of a loved one. “My experience of caring for and losing my parents helps me to understand what my clients are feeling during times of loss. I can also connect with clients a generation ahead of me because I’ve already experienced some of the things they are facing. My hope is that I can be an anchor to them in an uncertain time. I hope it’s made me a better lawyer.”
The first career Lindsey O’Connell aspired to when she was a young girl was to be our nation’s first woman POTUS. Ultimately, she decided her calling was in the law, but hanging in her office is a sign that says: “Women belong in the House, Senate, and the Oval Office.”
O’Connell joined Tuft three years ago after graduating magna cum laude from William Mitchell College of Law. She practices primarily in the area of family law. Throughout her educational journey, she encountered many women who inspired her achievement, who “helped shape the person I am today and confirmed to me that women deserve more than just ‘a seat at the table.’”
She also commented on the impact Lach’s leadership has had on her career. “Susan paved the way in many ways for women lawyers. Her experience is quite different than mine, and she went through things that I will never have to. It is because of her, and women like her, that we are experiencing less gender inequality in the legal field. It is inspiring to work with her and to see her in action.”
In a firm where having a personal life is not only encouraged, but considered crucial to delivering the highest level of professional service, O’Connell expressed her appreciation for her colleagues of both genders. But working among other women enhances her experience in a special way. “Women can be each other’s biggest support, and women can be each other’s worst critics. I feel very lucky to have worked with great women in my career that have chosen to be supportive, encouraging, and who have motivated me. I surround myself with these women in my personal life, too. I think that it’s important to remember that we are in this together and that we need to be standing around in circles hyping each other up, and not tearing each other down.”