Editors’ Note: As part of our ongoing Faces of MoFo series and in celebration of Women’s History Month, Katherine Erbeznik, an associate in the firm’s Tax Practice, discusses how her childhood led her down the path to practice law and how diversity & inclusion allows her career to flourish at MoFo.
Before going to law school, I earned a PhD in Philosophy. When I first arrived at graduate school and heard a professor refer to himself as a “philosopher,” I laughed, thinking that the term was reserved for long-dead men like Aristotle and Plato. But soon I too would refer to myself as a philosopher without any irony for I had by then learned that you get to choose the labels you wear.
My parents divorced was I was one year old and, while my older sister and I regularly saw our father on weekends, our mother was a single mother, sometimes working two or three jobs at a time, and we were among the first latch-key kids we knew. My father had wanted sons and so, even after my brother was born to my stepmom four and half years later and my dad placed all of his athletic ambitions on him, he said he would not raise any “princesses.” Instead, he labeled me as the “scientist” and the “mathematician.” Coached by him and by the time I was five years old, I was telling everyone who asked that I would be going to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Thirteen years later, I headed off to the University of California at Berkeley (rather than MIT), admitted to the College of Chemistry, to pursue my father’s dream of becoming a scientist. It was there, exposed to a larger subset of college-age kids, that I realized I had grown up poor. Raised in a rural suburb outside Sacramento, I had not been aware that, in places other than fashion magazines, clothes had identifiable brands and certain handbags were status symbols. In my pursuit to fit in, I joined a sorority and soon realized that a liberal arts education would be more compatible with a social life than the courses offered by the College of Chemistry.
By the time I arrived at law school, seven years after leaving college and two weeks after defending my dissertation, I had shed the insecurities that come with the labels I grew up with – “latch-key kid,” “girl,” “poor,” etc. Today, I identify as a lawyer, a tax nerd, a queer woman, and a fighter for justice, labels that I have chosen and am proud of. At MoFo, I am allowed to be, and supported in being, all of these.
As a law firm, MoFo is still pretty unique in its sincere embrace of diversity and I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from so many different people, not just in my practice group. I consider Randy Bullard, in the Miami office, Todd Boudreau in the Boston office, Joy MacIntyre in the San Francisco office, and Tony Carbone in the New York office to be my biggest mentors and supporters. MoFo is also unique in its commitment to pro bono and I have had the opportunity to work with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project during my entire tenure at MoFo, regardless of the fact that it has nothing to do with the practice of tax law.
Outside work (and prior to the pandemic), I spent my time boxing – I even fought in an amateur match in late 2018 – and riding horses.