MoFo Women Spotlight: Julie O’Neill and Beth Tunstall

Editors’ Note: MoFo’s Women’s Strategy Committee (WSC) comprises both male and female partners and associates who strive to foster women attorneys development and professional success. In a recent program hosted by the WSC, Boston-based finance associate Maria Strickland interviewed privacy partner Julie O’Neill and finance partner Beth Tunstall. In these excerpts, Julie and Beth discuss their backgrounds and what they like most about their practices.

Maria: Julie, tell us a little bit about your professional background and what brought you to MoFo and how long you’ve been here.

Julie: Thanks, Maria. I’ve been at MoFo for about ten and a half years now, having lateraled over from another firm. I’m a member of the Privacy & Data Security Group. I worked for MoFo remotely from my home in the Boston area and was affiliated with the Washington, D.C. office until we opened the Boston office about a year ago.

I started my legal career at the Federal Trade Commission, investigating alleged consumer protection violations. After about five years I moved to private practice, where I did the same thing on the other side, doing a lot of counseling on advertising and marketing issues and defending clients before the FTC and state AGs on consumer protection matters. About 18 years ago, the FTC, and—to a lesser extent—state AGs, really started focusing on privacy as a consumer protection issue. At that point my practice turned more toward privacy work. The bulk of my practice now is privacy. About 25% of it is other consumer protection work.

Maria: What’s your favorite thing about your practice area?

Julie: I love my practice area for so many reasons. Our privacy group consists of about 60 attorneys across all of our offices, and I love being able to work with all of them all the time.

I also appreciate the fact that my practice area affords me the opportunity to work with a lot with other practice groups. The practice is so varied. Every day is different.

Right now I’m working on a couple of due diligence deals with our corporate colleagues. I’m also representing a client before the Federal Trade Commission on a privacy matter with one of my litigation colleagues. Just the breadth of the work, the diversity of the work. It keeps thing so interesting.

Maria: Do you have any advice for attorneys who are looking to get into this practice area?

Julie: My advice crosses practice areas. We’ve had associates from other practice groups join privacy over the years, and my advice is always: Take initiative, educate yourselves. Find ways to add value.

An easy way to do that in privacy, for example, is to sign up to get press releases from the Federal Trade Commission and think about whether you could write a Client Alert about the issue or draft an email to your colleagues that makes the development easy to describe to their clients. That’s one way to demonstrate your interest. It’s not really privacy specific.

Maria: Great, thank you. So, Beth, tell us a little bit about your path, how long you’ve been at MoFo.

Beth: I’ve been at MoFo for almost a year. A group of us came over to the Boston office from another firm in February 2019. I’ve been a practicing finance law for just about 19 years. My path to the practice of finance law was a little windy. I started my legal career practicing residential real estate law, and thereafter I moved into the real estate finance group. Lucky for me, an opportunity to represent this up-and-coming financial institution arose, and I just fell in love with the work instantly.

Maria: So, do you feel that your practice area kind of chose you?

Beth: Absolutely. Sometimes you’re just at the right place at the right time, and I had that good fortune.

Maria: What’s your favorite thing about the practice area?

Beth:  There are a few things. When you represent a financial institution that you believe in, you see the work that they’re doing—the companies they’re investing in—you have a unique opportunity to feel like you are part of the solution. There’s a lot of gratification that comes along with feeling like you’re helping with the progression of, for example, a life sciences company..

Also, I always feel like getting a new term sheet is a brand new day. It gives you the opportunity to look at that last deal and assess what transpired (and how you can improve).

Maria: Do you have any advice to give any attorneys who are interested in learning more about the practice area or getting into it?

Beth: In the transactional world, whether you’re working with a partner or other associates, commit to organization, commit to processes, because those are what you’re going to build your practice upon. Once you have those fundamental skills, you can have that robust case load, you can have autonomy in the future because you’ve really committed to that practice.

Maria: Back to Julie. Can you tell us a little bit about your path to partnership at MoFo?

Julie: I took a very winding path to partnership at MoFo. The firm gave me a lot of flexibility. I was a single parent for more than 10 years, and MoFo let me work remotely on reduced hours as of counsel to accommodate my need for flexibility around child care. So I was probably the oldest new partner in my partnership class a few years ago. The firm accommodated me and my colleagues let me keep my fingers in the work, let me still be part of the team and gave me the opportunity to eventually make partner.

Maria: Did you have a mentor or sponsor who helped you along that path?

Julie: I did. The head of MoFo’s privacy group, Miriam Wugmeister, has been my mentor, really giving me a lot of incredibly valuable feedback about how to build my brand within the firm and outside of the firm. I think having exposure to so many different people within MoFo made a big difference in my ability to make partner.

Maria: Do you have any advice for associates who are trying to find a mentor or sponsor and build that relationships?

Julie: I would say don’t be shy. I can’t think of any of us who wouldn’t welcome the opportunity to be an informal or formal mentor. The firm has a formal mentorship program, the Odyssey Program. I participate in that, but I also try to spend a fair amount of time with the associates in our group. If you find somebody you feel comfortable with, even if they’re not in your practice group or office, reach out and get the sort of guidance that can really help grow your career. We’ve got a wonderful group of partners and of counsel at MoFo so there are a lot of opportunities.

Maria: That’s great. So, Beth, now that you’ve been here a year, what has your experience been as a lateral partner?

Beth: For me, it has been amazing. From the day we stepped through the doors of our new office, the commitment, sacrifice, and dedication of the partners across MoFo has been impressive.

Maria: What do you think sets MoFo apart from other firms?

Beth: It’s really the culture and the people. It’s genuine, people want you to succeed, and they check in with you to make sure that you’re going to hit those goals and to see how they can help.

Maria: What surprised you the most about joining the firm?

Beth: Just the openness of and the resources that are here. The opportunities I’ve been given have been fantastic. I always say if you want to institute change, be a decision maker. Being a part of various committees of which I am a member is something I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

Maria: Do you have any advice on laterals, whether they’re associates or partners, about how to integrate with the firm and really feel part of the team?

Beth: I would say be a joiner, raise your hand. Even if it’s outside of your comfort zone, raise your hand. You’re going to meet people make connections in the firm, and potentially create opportunities.

Maria: What is something that you wish you realized when you were first starting out?

Beth: As a first year associate, you may feel that you’re being pulled in a thousand different directions, but whatever the assignment is, whatever the deadline, you’re going to get through it. Sometimes, when you have so much to do, you get lost in the chaos. Just take that deep breath and have confidence in yourself. You’re going to get it done.

Julie: My advice would be to really own your work, really take responsibility for it. I think the folks you’re working with, whether they’re more senior associates or of counsel or partners, will really appreciate that. For example, if you’re copied on an email that a partner sends to a client, when the client writes back with an answer, let the partner know you’re on it. Just own it and come up with a proposed response. It’s just one example, but I think really showing you’re invested and care is important.

Learn more about the Women’s Strategy Committee and Morrison & Forester’s commitment to the advancement of women in the legal profession here.