“I absolutely enjoy the opportunity to help people, to advocate passionately for a cause –”

Name: Patricia Brown Holmes

Title: Managing Partner

Company: Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP (“RSHC”)

Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP (“RSHC”)
Sonya:  When did you first realize that you wanted to become an attorney? What first drew you to a career as an attorney? What do you enjoy most about your career now?

Patricia: ​I saw Justice Bertina Lampkin, who was then a brand-new lawyer, perform a sensitive examination of a rape victim, which led to a conviction. Later, I was convinced by friends to take the LSAT on a dare, which I did. I was admitted to several topnotch law schools but chose to attend U of Illinois because I was already there—and had met my now husband—couldn’t leave the romance. 😄 I absolutely enjoy the opportunity to help people, to advocate passionately for a cause—that thing that led my friends to convince me to go to law school in the first place.  I was always the one they looked to for help, and I always came through. Helping people brings me joy.

Sonya: Have there been specific people (real or fictional) or pivotal situations/events that have inspired you, helped shape your career?

Patricia: There are so many pivotal situations—not enough time to discuss. But the pivotal point in bringing me into law firm life and leaving the bench was a call from my partner, Ron Safer. He convinced me to retire from the bench and join his firm to help with diversity initiatives. He is a staunch advocate of diversity and inclusion in the profession. Together we have done so much to spark conversation, enhance sensitivities, and change attitudes about diverse lawyers. Our firm is extremely diverse—we beat all national diversity metrics. Our culture of inclusion is exemplary. Working with diverse lawyers has helped shape my law firm career significantly. I am able to mentor, train and promote diverse lawyers in ways that are unparalleled elsewhere.

Sonya: Are there particular traits that you believe successful attorneys share? Traits that you believe you have yourself and which you look for in hiring for your firm?

Patricia: Successful attorneys have a “can-do” attitude. They don’t take “no” for an answer—ever. They are curious, tenacious, intelligent, judicious, fair, earnest, honest, smart, wise, professional, friendly, and kind.  Yes, I think I fit the bill most days. 😄

Sonya: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? What would you like your legacy to be in your company/law department? In the legal profession?

Patricia: I am most proud of having become the youngest African-American female judge in the state of Illinois, and then the first African-American female to have her name on the door and to be managing partner of a non-minority or female owned national law firm. I hope my legacy includes having mentored and paved a way for there to be lots more after me—I may have been the first, but I don’t want to be the only.

Sonya: Have you had mentors/sponsors? Have you acted as a mentor/sponsor to others? Is mentorship/sponsorship important? How? Why?

Patricia: Definitely had plenty of mentors and sponsors – too numerous to name. (And I don’t want to leave anyone out.) They are pillars of legal society in Chicago, across the state of Illinois and elsewhere—including New York, Washington, DC, Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Canada. My “board of directors” has always been available for advice and counsel, support, direction, commiseration, and simply a good ol’ pat on the back every once in a while. Nothing like knowing one can get good advice on any topic at any time.  And I always heed the advice—it has gotten me where I am today. It is critical to have mentors and sponsors and even more critical to listen, weigh advice, and walk the path.

Sonya: Think about the legal profession over the course of the next ten years. What do you see as the big changes that are coming which you believe will most significantly impact the profession and the role of the GC/in-house legal department?

Patricia: Given the current coronavirus threats and the COVID19 disease, the practice of law will change significantly over the next two years, and then will be on a different path for the foreseeable future. Just like law firms switched from the staid skirts and dresses, suits and ties even on weekends, to a business casual model with open space workplaces—it will have to adapt and accommodate the new coronavirus threats. Big Law has proven it can be just as impactful in a remote work setting. As in-house legal departments move to permanent remote work (ala Nationwide), more clients will want to pay lower rates; hence, firms will have to cut expenses. Commercial real estate may suffer. The open-faced settings will be no more. More work from home. More hoteling. More “Zoom” style meetings. More “Zoom” court appearances where there is no real “need” to physically appear in court. Reconfigured courtrooms that will have juries spread out and jury rooms that accommodate social distancing. Fewer opportunities for human interaction…until there is a cure or vaccine.  Sigh.

Sonya: Describe a significant challenge you have faced in your life or career. How did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?

Patricia: ​I overcame stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma with a prognosis of 6 months to live, when my kids were very young. I have been in remission for over 20 years now, but it still impacts my life in so many ways. I beat it with diet, medicine, prayer, yoga, faith and good old-fashioned luck. I am grateful every day for waking up and being able to experience life in every facet. I have changed in that I do NOT waste any precious time doing anything unpleasant or that I might later regret doing—I cannot get that time back, so I try my best daily to use it wisely. I spend as much time as I can with friends and family, laughing and enjoying.

Sonya: What does Diversity & Inclusion mean to you? How important is D&I to you personally? As a GC? To your company/legal department? What advice do you have for GCs and others seeking to make a positive impact on the progress of D&I in their organizations and in the legal profession?

Patricia: D&I is extremely important—as a female African-American I tend to be the one who feels the microinequities most—I am highly sensitive to issues of inclusion as well as hidden biases. I have garnered the credibility and cache to speak up and make changes. I am provocative. I ask questions. I try to make sure people are thoughtful and receptive to ideas of diversity and inclusion of everyone. I advise lawyers to speak up where they see issues. White men can ask about diversity and demand it just like diverse people—often with even more impact. It is only when we all row in the same direction on D&I that we will get anywhere.

Sonya: If you were not a lawyer at your firm (or at any law firm, or even a lawyer at all), what career do you think you would most like to pursue?

Patricia: As a kid I wanted to be a pediatrician. I love science and thinking through issues from a scientific lens. I would probably be a doctor. In the alternative, if being a billionaire were a profession, I would be that. 😊

Sonya: Knowing what you know now about being a lawyer, if you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be? At what point in your past would you give yourself that advice?

Patricia: My advice to my younger self would be to “do you!”  I would have done that at the outset. I probably started being authentically me sooner than others anticipated, which garnered me a reputation of being very “straightforward and direct.” Translation—I stood up for myself and pointed out transgressions. It took a lot of courage and moxie—but it was worth it in the long run.

Sonya: Tell me something fun about yourself. A personal skill or hobby that, while not directly related to your day job, that you feel makes you more well-rounded, helps you be better at your day job, and/or helps relax and focus you to do your job better.

Patricia: ​I love to cook—you name it, I can make it.  I used to bake a lot as well, but don’t have the time.  Plus, I’ve got more of a salty than sweet tooth, so I only occasionally bake cookies or cakes from scratch these days. I also love to sew; I recently helped a lawyer friend’s 8th grade daughter learn to cut patterns and sew a beautiful first-day-of-school outfit.  She wore it to the great praise and admiration of her friends.  Very satisfying and fun!

Sonya: Hashtag/Brand yourself in 5 words or less (For example, mine is #SelfiesWithSonya 😊 )

Patricia: #ProudtobeRSHC

Patricia Brown Holmes