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July 6, 2009 5:34 PM

Quinn Emanuel's Susan Estrich Redefines Multitasking

Posted by Rachel Breitman

Estrich Forget work/life balance. Susan Estrich juggles so many jobs, it's more like work-work balance.

Estrich wears three hats--lawyer at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, professor at the University of Southern California's law school, and political commentator on television and in syndicated newspaper columns. She says the ability to work from home at night makes it easier to balance all three.

Estrich, a former campaign manager for Michael Dukakis and professor at Harvard Law School-where she was the youngest woman faculty member to receive tenure--recently became an equity partner at Quinn Emanuel, where she had been of counsel for the last year and a half. She took time out of her busy schedule to talk about multitasking.

What brought you to Quinn Emanuel originally?

Kathleen Sullivan, the chair of the appellate practice here, and I have worked together for two decades. We were young professors at Harvard Law School, and we would write briefs for professors Alan Dershowitz and Larry Tribe. She encouraged me to come work here.  I also know John Quinn. We went to law school together, and he was my advocate when I ran for president of Harvard Law Review.

How many hours do you put in on a typical day at the firm?

I work more hours than many associates. But I often work from home, so I can have dinner with my son, who is 16. Then I can turn on my computer and go back to work for several hours.

What types of matters are you currently handling?

I have probably reviewed every discovery motion in the Mattel Bratz case. I am kind of a brief doctor, handling critical motions on the case. I also am working on an appeal of a criminal tax fraud case that I had brought with me from my previous job, representing a Muslim businessman convicted of tax fraud [because the government deemed his charity as sympathetic to Muslim militants].

Will your work change, now that you are a partner?

It depends how many more hours I can stay awake.  I will be editing motions in more cases. I would also like to do more work on associate training and development. As a professor, I know that associates have a tremendous amount to learn, and I've been thinking about how to teach it to them in the most efficient way.

How do you balance your media career with your work at the law firm?

I write syndicated columns [which appear in over 150 publications around the country]. I've been doing that for 15 years. But I write in the morning before I come to work, and I am so used to it by now that I think in 750-word articles.

And how do you find time for your continued role in academia?

I teach at USC from 1 to 6 p.m., both undergraduate and law school classes. I have TAs for the undergrad classes, which helps a lot. My offices are just nine blocks apart, which also makes it possible to run back and forth.

Is there ever a conflict of interest between the issues you've written about (from Israel to gay marriage) and your legal representation of clients?

Every now and then, a case I'm working on comes up when I'm on TV. I was on Fox Business News the day Arlen Specter switched parties. Someone [called him a traitor and] compared him to Bratz designer Carter Bryant. So I said I couldn't comment on that.

But are potential clients ever concerned about your outspoken political beliefs?

The truth of the matter is that I am not an activist, I am a commentator. And lawyers do that all the time. People who are looking for legal help care more about your legal skills than your party affiliation.

What  changes do you see at law firms in terms of the roles women play there today?

When I started out, there were law firms that literally said, "We filled our woman's spot already." They had just one spot! But today, I don't think the law culture cares about race, religion, or gender. The problem for women today is workload. The enormous difficulty is finding balance in a profession that is so hours-driven. It's hard for a woman to figure out, in the 2,500 hours they have to bill, when they've got time to have a child. I could not possibly have done all I'm doing now ten years ago, because I had small children then. But my kids are in high school and college now, so it's easier.

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this is exactly what is wrong with law firms. they hire a worker bee like this to do grunt work, and they lay off the grunts.

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