TMA Talks – Episode 6 with Julie Cvek Curley and Erica R. Aisner

Scott Stuart: This is TMA Talks, where we talk everything TMA. I am Scott Stuart, CEO of The Turnaround Management Association, and today with me are Erica Aisner and Julie Curley, who have recently formed, along with Dawn Kirby, the Law Firm of Kirby Aisner & Curley in New York, one of the very few all-women firms and on the precipice of our TMA now conference, the National Organization of Women in two weeks in Chicago. I thought this would be a hugely opportune time to talk about women empowerment, as we did in a recent TMA Talks with Carrianne Basler of IWIRC in AlixPartners.

Scott Stuart: So, today I want to talk to you women about what it’s like to be out there and be brave enough to start a women only firm in New York, in a market that’s so very much dominated by males and what brought you to this decision for the three of you to go out together and form this firm.

Erica Aisner: I think the time was just right for us. It’s something that we’ve toyed with for many years. For myself, being a bankruptcy attorney I think to a certain extent I’m a little bit risk averse but that’s a personal thing for me. With these two incredible women by my side, we’ve worked together for fifteen years, I know them professionally and personally and there’s nobody else that I would choose to take on this adventure with other than them. So, with the three of us as a team, we’re excited to take the next step in our careers and the response from our friends, from colleagues has been overwhelmingly supportive and encouraging, and it’s just making us even more excited to take this leap.

Scott Stuart: So, was it more scary to set out and form your own law firm, which is scary [inaudible 00:02:12] itself, or was it equally as scary knowing that you’re three women who not was [inaudible 00:02:17] respected as you are, have formed a firm that is a women only firm, and that is a distinguishing feature that people are going to take notice?

Julie Curley: I think they’re both scary concepts. I think, as Erica said, because we’re [inaudible 00:02:32] councils, we are, Erica says risk averse, I think I would say it as risk aware so we know [inaudible 00:02:41] pit falls and of course opening up any business is risky because there is a lot of unknown, so that does require, I know you said brave before, we are brave in doing that. But, I think, as far as being women, there are challenges and we had since [inaudible 00:02:58] announced, then when we opened our doors and the amount of feedback, we had hoped that we would get support from our colleagues and other professionals but the amounts and level of support, words of encouragement where they went above and beyond what we had expected. We had hoped that we’d have a lot of support from professionals, from attorneys, accountants, the judges and the trustee’s office. But, the amount of support, it’s just been-

Erica Aisner: Overwhelming.

Julie Curley: Overwhelming. And the fear I think is always going to be is and thing that will continue to keep not only us as women but any other business owner is continued revenue. Well, the phone rang, “when’s the next case coming from?”, and that’s the thing that will continue to… that we have fear about but its not… we’re not alone in that, any other business owner always has that fear.

Scott Stuart: We at TMA celebrate diversity and certainly international organizations of women is a prominent part of that. So, it’s always wonderful to be in a room where empowered women like yourselves, demonstrate in a very celebratory way, that you’re proud professionals first, even though that you are empowered women.

Scott Stuart: Do you think that as women you’ll have to face the question more than you care to about being women forming a firm and being a women only firm? Or it’s moved beyond that. I mean it’s always makes discussions on this.

Erica Aisner: I think that we have always had to overcome that sense of doubt perhaps, that those in the room would have about us, about our capabilities because we’re women. And I don’t think that changes because we’re a women only firm. So, we’re used to that. We’ve been dealing that our whole career. That’s not going to change. I can only hope that as we continue to practice and do good work and gain the respect of the bench and the bar, that will dissipate a bit. But, the truth of it is, is that there are a lot of opportunities out there for women owned businesses and so, it’s not the reason that we chose to open our doors with just three women, but it’s certainly an advantage that we intend to explore at every term because every small business owner needs to take advantage of every opportunity that’s out there and we’re going to continue to that for ourselves, for our clients and for our futures.

Scott Stuart: I’d like to think the answer to this next question is no. But, do you think that being a women owned law firm exclusively will be perceived this time as an impediment? Do you think you’ll face challenges as a result of that, irrelevant as it should be?

Erica Aisner: You know what, I think that there’s a lawyer for every client and that has to do with your experience, your personality. It is really a relationship fit and so that’s going to be the case no matter what. We’re going to be the right lawyers for certain clients and we’re not going to be the right lawyers for other clients. And so, we’re going to have to prove ourselves, the way we always have and the way we will continue to and for those people that don’t want to do business with us because we’re women, well then that’s… maybe that’s their missed opportunity.

Scott Stuart: That’s a good way to look at it [crosstalk 00:06:38] in my opinion.

Scott Stuart: So, what would you tell younger women professionals who are entering this market, what advice would you have for them, giving your experience both of the last fifteen years and what you’re about to embark on with your new law firm?

Erica Aisner: Well I would say to always be aware of how you are perceived in your industry. To always strive to do great work and make a great impression because it’s… you never know who’s watching and who’s paying attention and the respect that you earn and your reputation is something that’s incredibly precious. It’s really hard to create that reputation, it’s really easy to tarnish it and so it’s something that we take very seriously, we work very hard at and I think you can never take your eye off of that because it’s when you do that the bad things can happen.

Julie Curley: I think what I would add to that is to be the best professional that you can be because when you do that people don’t view you as being a female, you really eliminate that gender stereotype. So, Erica and I worked… and Dawn as well worked so hard at being the best professional we can be over the past course of our careers that now our colleagues don’t see us as those female attorneys. That they see us as the good attorneys who know how to handle a case to get things done and the people they think of when they need to [inaudible 00:08:23]. So, don’t block yourself in as a female, don’t give yourself that glass ceiling, just be the best professional you can be and then you’ll-

Erica Aisner: The rest will follow.

Julie Curley: Yeah. The rest will follow [crosstalk 00:08:36].

Scott Stuart: Would you consider yourselves mentors to your younger one?

Erica Aisner: I’d like to think so. I’ve has such incredible mentors throughout my career. I continue to have great mentors, both male and female. There are attorneys and members of the bar and bench, yourself included who we look to for advice, professional advice and if I can pass that on to younger attorneys then I could consider myself very lucky.

Julie Curley: Yeah. I’m involved in the county bar association locally and I do try to take an active role with the newly admitted lawyers action and helping the younger attorneys on their career, just giving them points and suggestions on what to do and what not to do, how to be taken seriously and it all really centers about just being a good worker, using your head, being smart and working hard because once you start getting sloppy, that’s when it all falls through.

Scott Stuart: Well, I really appreciate [crosstalk 00:09:43] your time today and congratulations the firm is Kirby Aisner and Curley in Scarsdale, New York. We [inaudible 00:09:51] proud of you and we hope here at TMA that we can help you be even more successful. But, thank you for taking time to speak today-

Julie Curley: Thank you for interviewing us. This is such a great opportunity. [crosstalk 00:10:02] I really appreciate it.

Scott Stuart: Thank you and congratulations.

Erica Aisner: Thank you.

Scott Stuart: This is TMA Talks. I’m Scott Stuart. Until next time.

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