Today’s interview is with the lovely and very accomplished JL, someone who I think you will really enjoy meeting. JL is a successful attorney who has been able to find the flexibility in maintaining a work/life balance – something I definitely wanted to hear more about. She’s also a fascinating woman with a variety of passions – which include screenwriting and monkeys! And last but not least, she of course has a fabulous wardrobe. Enjoy meeting JL!
Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?
Hi! I’m JL and I currently live on the West Coast, though I’m a Chicagoan at heart. I’m an attorney specializing in employment law and I currently work from home part-time which I juggle with taking care of my 4.5 year old twin girls. Before having twins, I was a full-time attorney in private practice for over ten years with a busy litigation and counseling practice. I’m very fortunate to be able to continue pursuing my career in a more flexible way while my children are young.
You went to some great universities (Georgetown and Stanford) for your undergraduate degree and law school. What would be your advice for others who are just entering the field of law? Do you think its more competitive/difficult today that it was earlier?
Thanks for the compliments! To answer your second question first, I think the practice of law is much more competitive and difficult today than it was when I started. I started practicing in 1998 and, although it sounds archaic now, we communicated with clients and opposing counsel by fax and letters. Yes, we actually sent letters in the mail! Now communications are by email and cell phone and attorneys find themselves being required to be available and accessible 24/7. Never really being able to shut down for the day can definitely take its toll and the issue of work/life balance is what I struggled with the most when I was practicing full-time. The economy has also impacted law firms and there is constant pressure to keep costs down as much as possible. Attorneys today need to be able to hit the ground running and I don’t know that there is as much time and opportunity for on-the-job training like I received as a junior attorney. It also used to be that you would put in your dues, make partner, and be able to ease off a little. That is no longer true. The legal market is so competitive today that even partners are working non-stop and under constant pressure to bring in new business.
I would advise someone entering the legal field today to get as much practical experience as possible while still in law school because this is a great opportunity to “sample” a practice area without being fully committed. A litigation practice is much different on a day-to-day basis than a transactional practice, and there are so many sub-specialties within each that it is important to find the practice area that best suits your skills and personality. Another important factor to consider is law firm culture. I have worked at both large, international law firms and small, local firms and there are advantages and disadvantages to both in terms of training opportunities, level of client contact, responsibility, and support staff. And, within those firms, culture can vary widely based on the attorneys you will be working with so it is important to observe how they work and whether their style meshes with yours.
You also have to decide if you intend to be practicing law for the long-term or if you want to use law as a stepping-stone to another career path. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t apply for a combined JD/MBA when I was in law school. Not only would the MBA have given me a better understanding of client concerns from a business perspective, but it also would have opened many more doors than a law degree alone for a possible career transition.
Do you have any general career advice that you could share?
Find your passion. If you are passionate about what you do, it won’t feel like work. That may sound cliché, but I have found that when I am focusing on the tasks I enjoy and working to my strengths, the time goes by fast and I feel energized even at the end of a long day.
I know that you love Chanel and beautiful clothes in general. Can you share some of your collection? How did you get started?
Chanel has definitely become my favorite luxury brand! The designs are classic and timeless and I can see myself wearing them for years to come and even passing them on to my daughters one day. My current Chanel collection consists of three Jumbo flaps, four Reissue 227s, two Reissue 226s, a Reissue camera bag, a Chevron flap, a CC Pocket Tote, and five Wallet on Chains (WOCs). I also have more pairs of Chanel flats than I can count and a few carefully selected RTW pieces found on sale. My go to bags are my Reissues and WOCs. Reissues are perfect under the radar bags for my fairly casual every day life, and WOCs are ideal for days when I need to be hands free at a park or event.
Besides Chanel, I don’t really “collect” any other luxury brands. I have three LV Zippy wallets because I find them the most functional for every day and I love the assortment of colors! I have sold all of my other designer bags over the years (Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Gucci) to fund my Chanels!
My first designer bag was a Coach bag in high school. That was a big purchase for me at the time and I was able to buy a couple more Coach bags while I was in college. In law school, I moved on to Louis Vuitton and Prada, buying at most one or two bags per year. I bought my first Chanel bag in law school, but didn’t really start collecting Chanel, or any other designer brand, until I was practicing law full-time. Most of my current collection (since I have sold and traded a number of bags over the years) has been built over the last five years.
If you could go back in time to when you first started building a serious closet – what would be the advice you’d tell yourself?
IfI had a time machine, I would definitely go back in time and buy Chanel flaps and Van Cleef & Arpels when they were less expensive! My advice would be to emphasize quality over quantity and find what works for you and stick to it. Don’t buy something just because it looks good on someone else or is trendy. I never understood why women owned Chanel flaps in every color of the rainbow, but now I do. If it works for your lifestyle, it is worth buying in multiple colors because that is the bag you will turn to over and over again. I have six Reissues in my collection because they are my favorite Chanel bags. They are casually elegant, low maintenance, and can easily be dressed up or down. So, for me, they are worth the price. I wish I had figured that out years ago and focused on buying Reissues rather than spending money on seasonal bags that I only used for a season and then sold (usually at a loss).
I think my biggest “mistakes” over the years have been buying trendy items that went out of style in a year or even less, and buying more less expensive items rather than investing in higher quality items that were timeless. That was certainly the biggest mistake I made with jewelry. I have purchased a lot of less expensive pieces over the years instead of saving for the truly special pieces. I now only wear my estate jewelry and my Van Cleef pieces and the rest just sit in their boxes. When buying jewelry and handbags now (and to a certain degree even shoes and clothing), I try think in terms of cost per wear and buy only those items that I can see wearing enough to justify the price.
I know that you’re a Chanel ready to wear fan. Can you share some of your tips for snagging it on sale? What have been your best scores?
I only buy ready to wear (RTW) on sale. I wish I could justify it at full price, but I can’t. After winging it during my first attempt at buying RTW last winter, I am now very methodical about how I buy on sale. I try to visit a boutique to look at the collection at least a few weeks before the sales start and I try on everything I am interested in so I know my sizes. I have found that sizes can vary widely. I am one size in fitted jackets, but a different size in sweaters and knit dresses, so knowing sizes in advance is very important. Then I make a list of style numbers and decide which pieces I want to target.
Since I live in an area where items sell out quickly, even at full price, I have cultivated relationships with SAs in other parts of the country to help me during sale time. If I email or text them the items I am looking for, they can often pull things for me on presale. I have been very fortunate and have been able to find a few great pieces during the last two sale seasons. My favorites are the four knit dresses I found during the Spring sale which are incredibly comfortable and wearable, and a jeweled cardigan I found during the last Winter sale. My best deal is a cardigan I got for 75% off from Bergdorf Goodman! That was the direct result of developing a relationship with a sales associate and asking him to text me pictures of anything that showed up in my size. It is a great sweater!
What are some of your all time, favorite items in your closet? How about the most worn?
My favorites are my Chanel ready to wear pieces, Tory Burch sweaters, M Missoni dresses, Nanette Lepore dresses, and Rebecca Taylor tops. I love anything with details that make a piece special and I’m a sucker for embellishment! All of these designers incorporate unique details into their pieces, often with metallic threading, interesting fabrics and textures, beading, or sequins.
My most worn items are my denim and black skirts, Chanel Reissue flaps, Chanel flats, and Van Cleef jewelry. Along with a nice top or sweater, that is pretty much my daily uniform since my life is pretty casual working from home and running my girls around to various classes and play dates.
What are you loving lately?
So many things! I am loving Tory Burch clothing! I started buying more Tory Burch over the last two years and really love her pieces! They are classic, well made, and fairly affordable. I found that I was buying a lot of pieces that I would use for one season and then donate, so now I am trying to focus on buying pieces that I can see wearing for at least the next few years and Tory Burch has become of my favorites! Many of the pieces have a Chanel-vibe, but at a much more affordable price point, especially considering that Tory Burch has regular sale events so I am able to purchase most items at a discount.
I am also loving Tom Ford fragrances and cosmetics. I just bought the new Lys Fume and Jonquille de Nuit. Both are gorgeous floral scents! I also love Tom Ford lipsticks. They have an amazing Vanilla scent and are moist and long-lasting. And my new Tom Ford Bronzer brush is the most luxurious and soft brush I have ever used!
I love Chanel cosmetics. Chanel has the best eye shadow palettes, blushes, eye liners, and nail polishes. I am a cosmetics junky! (I was voted “Most Likely To Wear Makeup” at my all-girls high school in Chicago!) Even my daughters are obsessed with lip gloss and often sneak into my purse to “borrow” my Chanel Glossimer!
I also love scented candles, which I have all over the house, and my Missoni for Target home pieces. I know that collection came out over a year ago, but I still appreciate how the pieces brighten up my kitchen and family room! My daughters are probably some of the few 4-year olds who can identify Missoni! They even had their own Missoni for Target dresses!
What are some lessons on style/shopping/budgeting that you’ve learned over the years?
I have a far from perfect figure and have had to learn what works on my body and what doesn’t. There are some styles I am simply too curvy or too short to wear. I look and feel the best in dresses and skirts so I rarely wear pants or jeans. I have also learned, especially with young children, that comfort is key. I no longer have the luxury of wearing three-inch heels since I am often pushing a stroller and chasing after two 4.5 year olds, so I buy flats and low wedges. I also can’t wear restrictive clothing, but I refuse to be in sweats or yoga pants when I am out of the house. I strive for casual chic and usually end up wearing a dress or a skirt with a nice top and cardigan. I am comfortable, but I still feel put together.
I have also learned that shopping really is a sport and requires a strategy. (One of my favorite mugs from Sex and The City reads “Shopping is My Cardio”). I do my research in advance and make a wish list. For Chanel, this research is key because if I am not on a list for a bag, it will often sell out. Then, to the extent possible, I wait for sales and promotions before I buy. Since I can’t really get Chanel bags or Van Cleef jewelry at a discount, I try to save everywhere else I can. I rarely pay full price for any clothing. Recently, there have been a flood of Friends and Family sales which are great for buying current season pieces at a discount. I also buy most of my handbags and shoes from Neiman’s or Saks so that I can get points and I take advantage of double and triple points and 6-month no interest promotions. Earning gift cards at least gives me the illusion of “saving” money on those items that never go on sale.
I know that you have a passion for theatre and screenwriting! Can you share some details behind this, and what you’re trying to do? How has the experience been as a new writer trying to break into a very difficult industry?
Growing up in Chicago, I was exposed to the arts at an early age. I remember seeing Sandy Duncan in Peter Pan and Yul Brynner in The King and I. I wanted nothing more than to be on stage performing, and I started performing in community theater in high school. It was a great experience! At Georgetown, I worked with a student-run theater group and had the opportunity to learn about the work that went on behind the scenes and found both a love and aptitude for producing and directing. I continued producing and directing throughout law school and it was great to have a creative outlet to offset the intensity of studying. Once I started practicing law, I had less time for theater, but still managed to serve on the board of directors of a local theater group and direct two productions. Eventually, though, the practice of law became too all-consuming and I no longer had the time to devote to more creative endeavors.
Over the last three years, I’ve been rekindling my passion for the arts by studying screenwriting. I won a fellowship to study with Writers Boot Camp and this led to writing my first television pilot for an original legal drama about four female attorneys struggling to balance life, love, and the pursuit of litigation. I wanted to write from my experience and to accurately portray the realities of the legal profession, but still bring out some of the day-to-day humor in practicing law. I can honestly say that no case is ever boring, that every time I think I’ve seen it all, I’m surprised yet again, and that I have met some of the most interesting and eccentric “characters” ever in the course of my practice. I have since written a pilot for another original legal drama, and a sitcom pilot. I would love to be able to transition to writing professionally for television. As a new writer, though, it is very difficult to try to break into Hollywood and have original material produced, especially a television series. I’ve been working with a manager and I had the opportunity to meet with a network and a production company about one of my pilots, but do not yet have any of my work in development. Whenever I get discouraged, though, I try to remind myself that it will take just one “yes” from the right person at the right time to make my dream a reality and, until then, I have to keep on writing!
Finally…please share something surprising about yourself!
I have an obsession with monkeys! It all started with Ross’s pet monkey, Marcel, on Friends and ever since then my husband and I have been collecting unique monkey items for our home. We have everything from figurines to vintage posters to lamps to tables and cabinets with monkey details. Two great designers for these items are Maitland Smith and Theodore Alexander. Fortunately, I have been able to find some of the pieces discounted on eBay. Of course, everyone we know is aware of this addiction and we continue to receive monkey items as gifts even though our house is now fully decorated!
I think JL is such an interesting and all around cool woman. I love that she’s somebody who has continually pursued her passions – in her work, her family, and her other interests. I hope that one day we can all see one of JL’s pilots on TV – I know I would watch it! Thank you JL for sharing some of your fascinating life and beautiful wardrobe with us today, and happy early Thanksgiving for those who are celebrating!