Megan P. Norris is a principal in Miller Canfield PLC's Detroit office. She chairs the firm's managing directors and leads the firm's employment and labor group. She counsels her clients on all day-to-day employment matters, ranging from helping to determine appropriate discipline to advising them on conducting sexual harassment investigations to developing plans of action for handling difficult employees. In the courtroom, she defends her clients against employment-related claims, including discrimination, harassment, tort claims such as intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation. She also provides training on the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act, as well as such areas as discipline and discharge and sexual harassment.
Q: How did you break into what many consider to be an old boys’ network?
A: To be honest, I just never thought about it that way. It was clear to me that I was often the only woman in the room, but I did not act like I should be treated any differently, and ultimately most people didn’t treat me any differently. That’s not to say that I was one of the guys — I don’t golf, drink beer after work, or do some of the other things that my male colleagues did together — but I did not make an issue of being a woman and acted like I didn’t expect them to make an issue of it either.
Q: Describe a time you encountered sexism in your career and tell us how you handled it.
My most memorable incident did not involve me as an attorney, but rather me as a client. My parents were having their will done just after I got married. I had decided to keep my maiden name, but the attorney drafting the will insisted that although I might still be using my name professionally, my legal name had changed. Notwithstanding my confirmation that my name had not changed, he insisted on giving them a will in which all of their worldly goods are left to my brother and a woman who does not exist.
Several years later, an attorney referred a woman to me because she needed advice on how to keep her name. The attorney was dumbfounded that all you need to do to keep your name is ... not change it. In all of these situations, I try very hard not to take offense and not to attribute any improper motive to the person, but also to not apologize for what I am doing or suggest that tnorriheir position is understandable. I try to just laugh and educate at the same time.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring female attorney?
A: For anyone, female or otherwise, choices have to be made. We need to understand what those choices are — Do I live close to the office so I can spend more time at work and still have time at home? Do I use day care or have a nanny or stay home part-time? Do I have dinners with my family or spend my evenings on practice development? How many hours do I work? — but also understand the ramifications of the choices. Less commitment almost always equals less money and a longer track for advancement. These ramifications are not unreasonable; law firms are businesses and are paid in large part based on how hard attorneys work. So we need to make the choices and then be comfortable with the ramifications.