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SPOTLIGHT: Mae O'Malley, '94

Life of a Legal Mom

Photo: Kelly Nicolaisen

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By Sue Pierce

Mae O'Malley was an attorney at a large firm and then in-house corporate counsel. But when she got pregnant, she knew something had to give. “I realized that if I was go-ing to spend any time with my son, I needed a more flexible schedule,” O’Malley says. Three boys later, the Bay Area resident has taken the law into her own hands.

Founded by O’Malley in 2006, Paragon Legal provides on-demand corporate counsel for companies in need of experienced, project-based attorneys, but it also gives its employees something that’s hard to find—part-time work. “There aren’t a lot of good options for reduced hours in the legal world,” O’Malley says. “Moms in particular need a more flexible, more sane way to practice.”

Specializing in technology licensing and corporate transactions, Paragon attorneys work with law firms and in-house legal teams on a project basis, such as when an in-house attorney is on maternity leave or a company needs overflow support for sales contracts at the end of a quarter.

To find her first attorney employee, O’Malley e-mailed local moms’ groups, hoping to reach women she knew had dropped out of the workforce when they became parents. These days, she doesn’t do any recruiting—all attorneys come in on referrals, and each of her 25 employees has more than 10 years of experience. Most are moms.

Annie Tillery, ’88, a mother of two, left an in-house position to start consulting. After nine years, she wanted consistent part-time work. “But it’s almost impossible to start with a company as a part-time attorney,” she said. Annie joined Paragon in January and is happy with both the flexibility and the projects. “Paragon is sensitive to the needs of an attorney who has a life, who has family responsibilities.”

According to O’Malley, more attorneys—and not just parents—are seeing the appeal of project-based work: flexible hours and exposure to a larger variety of clients. Because the San Francisco firm contracts work, O’Malley’s attorneys do not work overtime, and they can take as much time off as they like between assignments.

The big question for the manager of one of the largest women-run law firms in the United States is, does she work more now than she did as an in-house attorney? “No,” she says. “This is a more piecemeal schedule.” She never misses a school pick-up.

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