Ann Murphy is no longer mistaken for a secretary, but she certainly remembers those days.
There was the time, for instance, when she was working with a village clerk on a bond issuance.
“At the end of the call, she said to me, ‘Happy secretary’s day,’ and I realized that’s what she thought about a woman in the legal profession. It wasn’t being a lawyer. It was being a secretary or, maybe, a paralegal,” said Murphy, an equity partner at Quarles & Brady in Milwaukee. “Now, it’s really exciting to see the assumption is you see a woman and she is a lawyer. That’s really exciting over 36 years to see that change.”
It’s part of the reason why she used her time on the firm’s executive committee to develop a parental-leave policy, why she advocated for flexible hours, and why she helped form the Quarles & Brady Women in Leadership program, which evaluates and accounts for all the firm’s action plans, policies and initiatives affecting women.
“I think when I started we had 100 lawyers. I was the sixth woman who was hired. And I was the first woman on the executive committee,” said Murphy, who spent 15 years on the committee and was the office managing partner for a dozen years after that.
“I was just so proud of that. This was 20 years ago, when there weren’t that many women in that kind of position, especially an elected position. It’s helpful to have women in those positions. I feel like we’re in this together.”
When she saw colleagues struggling to balance the demands of work and family, she reached out.
“People would come to me, especially women when it was just a difficult time, when they had small kids and they were sick or their trial schedule was taking them out of town and they had a lot of things to try to juggle,” Murphy said. “It was just that person and me, and no one else knew about it. But we had a lot of those meetings, and we talked about ways to navigate and adapt. And I’ve heard back from people, and they were successful in the firm and they worked through it. I think those are just some of the most rewarding parts of my career.”
Katie Maloney Perhach is not surprised.
“I don’t know that she would consider herself a trailblazer,” said Perhach, managing partner for Quarles & Brady’s Milwaukee office. “Ann is so humble; she’s so quick to shine the spotlight on other people.”