Julia Balas, a corporate partner in MoFo’s Project Finance Group, is based in the Los Angeles and New York offices. Her practice focuses on representing developers of renewable energy projects, and assisting them with all aspects of their project development needs. She also advises clients on matters such as private equity investments, sponsor-backed leveraged buyouts, mergers, debt and equity securities offerings, and commercial lending and structured finance transactions, as well as general corporate matters, corporate governance, and securities law compliance.
What does the International Women’s Day theme “Each for Equal” mean to you?
I see this theme as a way to encourage male allies to facilitate the advancement of women. It’s not enough for women to fight their own fight; men in positions of power should be using their advantages to effect change for women and minority populations. During my time on the Women’s Strategy Committee (WSC) at MoFo, I was impressed with how the firm made sure to include men, but gave the leadership roles to women. By allowing and encouraging men to participate as members on the WSC, the firm gives them the opportunity to learn about issues affecting women at the firm, and to provide support as needed. Ultimately, though, it is the women leaders of the WSC who push women’s initiatives forward.
Tell us about the woman who most influenced your career and how she motivated you.
I don’t know that I can point to one single woman who has shaped my career, because I have always had the privilege of working with exceptional women attorneys.
While it might seem trite, I am influenced and motivated by my mother, who decided to go to law school at age 40, and has been successfully running a law practice in our small town in Connecticut. Without her advice and encouragement, I don’t know that I ever would have made it out of my first year of law school!
But in many ways, I am also motivated by the women who came before me and had to fight tooth and nail to succeed in an industry that had not been welcoming to women, and who paved the way for my generation to find ourselves comfortable in the law firm environment. I regularly remind myself how good I have it in the workplace and how many advantages I have that weren’t available to those earlier generations.
I am also influenced by the women attorneys I work with on a daily basis now: female in-house counsel who command the respect of their colleagues because of the breadth of their knowledge and experience, other female partners who have shown me how to find success in the male-dominated field of renewable energy, and female associates who are still finding their way, but in whom I see promise and potential to be leaders in their field. I find inspiration in all of these women in that they give me hope and encourage me to keep working hard and not get discouraged when faced with challenges.
What are some of the biggest opportunities for women in the workforce today? What changes have you seen over the course of your career that paved the way for women’s advancement?
Women have more opportunities than ever, at least at workplaces that have instituted policies that encourage the retention of women. I have taken two maternity leaves since joining the firm, the first while I was an associate, and the second during which I was promoted to partner, and I took advantage of many such policies. Not only was I able to take six months of maternity leave to bond with my girls, but the firm’s reduced hours policy and expectations before and after going on leave were hugely important to me. They allowed me to handle all of the last-minute things that need to be done before a baby comes and to mentally readjust to the return to the workplace when my leave was complete. Rather than being expected to hit the ground running on multiple deals the day I returned from leave, I was able to ease back in, which gave me the confidence to handle the work-life balance once things did get busy.
I have also seen more women being promoted to leadership positions over the course of my career. While men may be aware of issues affecting women in the workplace, I have found that firms are more likely to implement changes to advance women if there are women in firmwide leadership positions. Over the past several years, MoFo has prioritized diversity in its leadership roles and committees, and the effects of this initiative can be seen in the policies that the firm has implemented.