Julia Strickland, Leading Californian Litigator, on Getting to the Top in Law

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It’s a big challenge to represent the top financial institutions in the world. It’s even more challenging when most of these firms are in New York and you are based in Los Angeles.

But one remarkable attorney accomplishes this task and succeeds with distinction. Julia Strickland stands at the pinnacle as the class action defense litigator and source for compliance and regulatory advice for the financial industry. No one in California represents as many high-profile financial institutions as her—and no one is more successful in defending those firms in class actions and in dealings with state and federal regulators.

Her impressive roster of clients includes American Express, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, Discover, HSBC, Sallie Mae, PayPal and many others. She manages the Los Angeles office of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP. She has been at Stroock since 1978 and was the first summer associate in the Los Angeles office in 1977. She is a member of the Firm’s Executive Committee. She oversees fifteen attorneys in her Class Action/Financial Services Group.  

Julia was recognized by the Daily Journal as a “Top Woman Lawyer” for 2012, and she has been honored as one of California’s “Top Women Litigators” six times and repeatedly listed by the Daily Journal in the “Rainmakers” issue based on her very substantial practice (over $15 million per year). She was also named by the Los Angeles Times as one of ‘Southern California’s Best Lawyers’ for 2010, 2011 and 2012.  

We spoke to Julia about how she broke through the glass ceiling; the sacrifices she made in order to become a Partner; and her advice for women working in male dominated environments.

What kind of litigation work do you carry out for your banking and finance clients?

My practice focuses on the defense and settlement of class actions, and the litigation, regulatory and business issues confronting large companies though all stages of the process. I have defended hundreds of complex and class actions. I have argued twice to the California Supreme Court as lead counsel on issues of critical concern in connection with the defense of class actions and I obtained landmark rulings with respect to the standards for nationwide certification of class actions and holding that California's Consumers Legal Remedies Act does not apply to credit transactions. I also successfully handled matters before federal appellate courts throughout the nation, prevailing on issues including preemption, choice of law and arbitration.

Why do you think there are so few female Partners in leading law firms? 

I wish I knew the answer to that question. I think part of it is that practicing law requires such a huge time commitment and energy that I think women may perceive that the intensity is difficult to balance with the other factors in their life that women find important.

Women try to find balance in ways that men don’t necessarily do -- women strive for a balanced professional and personal life and generally prioritize balance more than men.

Women may perceive it’s harder to achieve that balance when practicing law at a level of a major law firm.

In what ways has being a woman helped and/or hindered your career? 

I don’t know that it has made any difference. I entered the practice when not very many women were in law, and there were certainly times when male clients were not accustomed to speaking with women in the field, which may have been a hindrance. However, there are certain qualities women have in terms of relationship-building that men don’t always have which helps with relationship-building.

At this point in time the field is basically neutralized. If you are good at what you do, nobody really cares about your gender. But that’s not how it was when I started in 1978.

How did you break through the glass ceiling? What sacrifices did you have to make in order to become a Partner? 

Dedication to what I was doing, the perception that I was dedicated to what I was doing. It is impossible to truly understand what you sacrifice. 

Everyone makes life choices, any time you choose to do a demanding thing, you probably give up something. But it’s impossible to identify, the sacrifices are intangible.

In any event, I don’t look at it as making sacrifices. I’ve gained a lot by doing what I’ve done. The choice I’ve made has been more benefit than detriment. 

Was there a particular case which helped to boost your career? 

My career has been boosted by a constellation of cases in my practice area.

Is there anything you'd like to get off your chest about being a woman in a senior position in Law? 

No, other than I would like more talented women to see it through.

Is there any advice you would like to give to other women who work in male dominated industries? 

Yes. They should not think of it from the perspective as being a woman, but rather think about your performance as an employee.

Don’t think of yourself as different, you are part of a team and your gender should hardly matter.

Do you have any role models or mentors? 

I certainty had mentors early in my career. The original managing partner in our office, who was male, was a wonderful mentor. He was really focused on my success, and was a great example of how to practice law in the right way. As for a role model, my mother was a tremendous inspiration early in my life. I was raised by a single mother, who made it very clear that women needed to be independent and self-sufficient. She provided an important role model at a time when women didn’t all share that point of view.

Is there anything we haven't asked you but you would like to share with our community? 

Law is a wonderful career for women. It is a very merit-driven career choice and the ability to succeed is something that comes from within you. It’s a challenging career and there are days when it’s tempting to give it up, but it’s extremely rewarding. 

It’s a tough road, but you find your way if you stick with it. Life is choices.

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