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Home / 2012 Women in the Law / Riley makes bold move to create practice group

Riley makes bold move to create practice group

Leigh Riley, Foley & Lardner LLP

Law degree received from: University of Pennsylvania Law School, 1995

Staff photo by Kevin Harnack

Leigh Riley doesn’t mind being the squeaky wheel. She’ll even rebuild the entire wheel, if that’s what it takes.

As a partner at Foley & Lardner LLP, Riley listened to the grumblings of her fellow employee benefits and executive compensation practioners about their level of representation at the firm. The group was part of a tax division but wanted its own division.

“It was something we stewed about for years,” Riley said, “and finally I was fed up with it and said, ‘You know what, you never get anything unless you ask for it, so let’s go ask.’”

With the backing of the 16 other attorneys on her team, Riley drew up a business plan and budget and presented the firm’s managing partner with the plan to reestablish an employee benefits and executive compensation division.

The bold move worked. Riley has served as chairperson of the division for the past year and a half. The group’s greater visibility in the firm has lead to new clients for the team, an expanded Web presence, and, as one of Riley’s personal goals, the addition of more females to the division (Riley was the lone female associate in the group when she was hired in 1997).

The effort is rooted in the gumption that Riley said she expects from her team members and mentees, as well.

In addition to taking on several mentorships for female attorneys at Foley, Riley also has offered guidance to Charity McCarthy, an employment benefits attorney at Melli Law SC who approached Riley at a State Bar event years ago. Although the two are at different firms and technically in competition, McCarthy said Riley’s intelligence and understanding have been invaluable to her career.

Riley was generous with her time, McCarthy said, when approached for counsel on instituting an employment benefits practice area.

“She’s been great as a sounding board,” McCarthy said, “someone who understands these complex issues and is really generous with her time to let me bounce ideas off her.”


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