Attorney at Work’s new “Women in Law” series honors Women’s History Month with a focus on successful women lawyers who have carved a path for themselves in the legal industry and beyond. This week: the Boston Globe Media Partners’ Heather Stevenson.
Heather L. Stevenson
Heather L. Stevenson went on hiatus from law practice for about five years after deciding to open a juice bar in Boston with her husband. She says she didn’t hate what she was doing, she only wanted more satisfaction in her life. Now she is Deputy General Counsel to Boston Globe Media Partners, the parent company of The Boston Globe, Boston.com and STAT. Below, we talk with Heather about her path to success.
How did you get started in the legal profession?
Heather L. Stevenson: I began my career as a litigation associate with the New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell. The cases I worked on were huge. Huge money. Huge teams. It was the type of litigation that gets covered in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. The law was complex and the facts messy. I did my fair share of document review, as all litigation associates did at the time. But I also did work I found challenging and interesting. I attended depositions, drafted dispositive motions, prepared outlines for oral argument, and attended the hearings. Given the size of the cases and that I only stayed with the firm for three years, I covered a great amount of substance.
What made you interested in doing something different?
HLS: I could have continued doing what I was doing for another few years and would’ve been just fine. Over time, however, when I imagined myself looking back on my career 30 or 40 years into the future, I didn’t want my life to have been spent at a firm. I was curious about too many things. I was annoyed by the bureaucracy and hierarchical structure. And I despise inefficiency, which is built into both. I wanted to be really excited about the work that I do. And my husband and I had long joked about opening a food business. The joke gradually became a serious idea after we identified a gap in the Boston market for a juice bar. I’m from Boston and my husband had family there, so it made sense. In 2014, we moved to Boston and opened Thirst Juice Co., a plant-based juice and smoothie bar, in the financial district.
How did you find your way back to the practice of law?
HLS: In August 2017, our son was born and I thought I would run the business while caring for him full-time. That plan worked exactly as well as one would expect. I loved being a mother but did not love being at home all the time, especially while trying to run a business. Plus, I was starting to miss thinking like a lawyer. In late November 2017, I decided I would take the February Massachusetts bar exam and then try to find a job the following fall, around our son’s first birthday. The job primarily involved reviewing and negotiating contracts. The role was legal counsel for the parent company of The Boston Globe.
How do you define success?
HLS: My decision to quit my job as a litigation associate at a top international firm in order to open a juice bar defined and shaped my career in ways that were both expected and totally surprising, and it set me on the path to success as a lawyer — the path I am still on today. Leaving the practice of law helped me redefine what success looks like for me, and it helped me unwind my self-worth from my identity as a lawyer. I learned the most important part of the oft-repeated phrase “you can be whatever you want to be” is the part about doing what I want and being who I want to be and not — as I had previously assumed — chasing goals that others aspired to, simply because those opportunities seemed available to me. I also get to put my son to bed and have dinner with my husband nearly every night. I run daily. And, weather permitting, I get outside for a few minutes in the middle of every day. Because the value that I create for my employer is no longer directly correlated to the number of hours I work, I have opportunities to increase the amount of value I deliver beyond just performing additional billable hours. That is more rewarding and it allows room for me to live the life I want outside of work.
What advice do you have for women lawyers or law students?
HLS: Life can’t be “figured out.” Life is constantly evolving. You can adjust as you go, and you can change your mind. Knowing that you can always pivot to make things better is what success looks like.
Inspiring Stories From Women in Law
Read more about Heather and 22 other inspiring stories from accomplished women lawyers in Women in Law: Discovering the True Meaning of Success available on Amazon.
Proceeds go to Ms. JD, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the success of women in law school and the legal profession.