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Women In Law With Antonia Hays


Loredana Lohan: Hey everyone! Welcome back to another episode of Coffee&Chat. We have been gone for a little while because it has just been a busy year so far. But I’m very excited about this episode because we have managing partner attorney Antonia hays who is going to be speaking about her experience as a woman in law, going through law school, and everything in between. So, you can do a little bit of an introduction, who are you, where are you from?

Antonia Hays: Great! I’m Antonia Hays. I am a co-owner of Hays Firm LLC. I was born in Rochester New York. Did not spent very much time there. My folks came to Chicago early 70s, actually mid to late 70s. I have been in the Chicagoland area for most of my life with some sporadic moves around.

L: I actually had no idea that you were born in New York.
A: You didn’t?
L: No, I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned that.

A: I was born in Rochester, New York. My dad and mom came to this country the year I was born in ’74 from Croatia, and my dad came here to play professional soccer so that’s what brought us here to the States and Rochester he played for – the reason it was Rochester, New York is because a professional team there.

L: Did your parents end up going to college or were you a first generation student?
A: No, I am the first generation college grad and obviously then law school, and whatever followed they’re from.

L: What was that experience like not having the typical guidance as someone whose parents maybe have gone to for year universities?

A: I essentially did the decision making all of that on my own. I didn’t really have very many role models. My entire extended family still till this day is in Croatia so it was very intimate my mom, my dad, myself, and we had obviously in Chicago there’s a lot of different ethnic communities and Croatians happen to be one of them, as I’m sure you understand as a Romanian.
L: Yes.

A: So in any event, the answer to your question is I really did a lot of that on my own. There was one particular friend who had a dad. He was an attorney and I remember going to his office just to sort of talk to him. I specifically remember going to the high-rise and going up on to whatever floor it was. It had that sort of notion of opening up. I went into his office and it was all Cherrywood and dark and big desk,

L: like exactly what you would picture in your mind.
A: and especially then, you know, that was quite a few years ago, and I remember thinking oh, I wanna sit at a desk like this, with a big chair, it felt very powerful despite the fact— whether it was or it wasn’t isn’t relevant— but from my perspective it was some thing that I was like I think I wanna do this.

L: Did you decide that you wanted to go into this career early on? It sounds like you kind of knew from more of a younger age or when did you discover that?
A: That’s a good question. I am not really sure. I remember my parents, I remember arguing with my parents all the time, and they would say to me “oh you should be a lawyer, you know how to argue that’s all you know how to do, you should be a lawyer” and and somewhere that’s stuck, and I really felt like it was and I really like that the sort of reasoning aspect. I love the rational, the logical, despite being also being very emotional, I really like using that part of my mind, so yeah.

L: So you are growing up and you have this cool experience where you got to go in and see a law firm in person. So, how did you end up thinking about law school like where you wanted to go? Did you know you wanted to stay in Chicago or were you thinking about going back to New York?

A: No. I went to undergrad at Loyola University and simply it’s expensive to go to school. To not only go to undergrad but law school and I ended up getting a nice sizable scholarship from Loyola as an undergrad to go to Loyola Law School, so that was really the nail in the coffin for me so to speak on where I was gonna go. I thought about going out East to D.C. because I was a political science major and I love politics but that didn’t pan out so here I am.

L: I feel like a big factor in a lot of students, like I’m looking at law schools and it’s a lot weighed on scholarships because it is double the price of undergrad, which is almost not even that common of a known thing like my parents had no idea, and I was like well that kind of layers down where you wanna go.
A: It really does. Yeah, it’s definitely a consideration I mean it’s a huge consideration the cost.

L: To what extent do you think that your law school impacted your future like success in your career, because I know a lot of people think that you have to go to a top-five law school in order to get good networking.

A: I definitely disagree with that. I disagree to the extent that I’m a firm believer of you can go anywhere and make the best of the situation. It is truly I think I made very good relationship with my professors in law school. Like I said I was very sort of independently driven with not a lot of mentorship and not a lot of guidance, so building those relationships at that time I thought was very beneficial.

L: So where did you start working once you got a law school? What was your first big girl job?
A: I think my first big girl job and I’m pretty sure about this, my first big girl job was at a midsize law firm.
L: What is midsize for anyone who doesn’t know.

A: I would say midsize is about 35 attorneys. I had great mentors there. Really really great mentors who really helped me with my writing. I would say that that first job really honed my writing skills which I think are imperative for lawyering. You would give a law partner your brief, they would tell you to write a brief tell you here’s the situation write some thing up, and that’s before sort of editing online, red lining, and things like that. It was literally a red pen on paper and just scratching it out so that was very humbling.
L: Yeah, I was gonna say.

A: I was very humbled my first year— not even my first year, I would say my first seven years I was very humbled. Oh yes, I think it takes about seven years to really get comfortable to be an attorney, especially a litigator. I came out of the box, I was thrown into court without knowing anything about it, how to approach, I mean nothing.
L: Nerve-wrecking.
A: Yes, very nerve-wrecking. It was often, you know, your hearts racing, you’re nervous I mean that still happens today I think if you care about what you’re doing there should always be a little butterfly in your stomach that keeps you on your toes. So that was the first job.

L: That sounds intense.
A: It was very intense. I don’t know if it’s — I wonder today you’ll have to let us know what it’s like.
L: In four years.
A: Depending on where you end up.

L: Very true. Okay so moving a conversation along, how do you think your personal life and your career started to merge as you got more into the law?

A: Okay that’s an interesting question, okay. Well, when I was working at this midsize firm I met— well I didn’t meet Andy, it was a re-meeting of Andy who is my partner and spouse here at Hays Firm. We reconnected. We knew each other in undergrad. We reconnected when I was a new attorney and Andy had talked about potentially going to law school. So he went to law school while I was a first year attorney, two years maybe into it, so we came together both knowing that we would be both practicing law at some point. And then I went on to smaller firms. I did some dabbling in different areas of law always kind of maintaining being a litigator, and then when Andy finished law school, took the bar, he worked for a smaller firm for a minute, and then one day we just decided that it was time. We had two little kids at home and we decided that we would start our own firm without a client. And that’s what we did.

L: What was your first step after deciding this is what we wanna do, let’s partner together let’s start our own firm.
A: I was working at that time when he left his job for the firm and we sort of— I had to have some sort of income while you’re starting a new firm, so I kept that going for a minute and then my third child, Thomas, was on his way and we decided that I just started to work from home. I left my job and I was working from home behind the screen, big belly, and helping Andy kind of navigate this new business that we decided to create.

L: So kind of on the topic of children, you have so much going on you’re leaving your job it’s like the security of it and jumping into something new. For those of you who don’t know Mrs. Hays does have four children and that’s a lot—
A: It is!

L: At the same time as having a career, so how did you manage all of that? Did you end up leaving and then coming back or what was kind of the dynamic?

A: It was… I have always had a toe in the work. It has been in varying degrees. I’ve always been involved behind the scenes in someway, even if my physical presence wasn’t felt. I was always doing work on the side, helping sort of figure out how to manage the business and the kids. I never did it alone. Maybe I got to law school alone, but I never did this part alone. There was always my mom was in the background helping me with my children. We decided to live nearby them when the girls were little and we started our firm, so I had support in that way. Always had people in my life that were able to help us to do it because I don’t think we could’ve done it without having some support.

L: No, that’s great to hear because a lot of young women think that you either be a career woman or you be a family woman and there’s no in between because it sounds incredibly challenging to balance.
A: It is! I would not say that it’s easy to balance, and I don’t mean to give that impression.
L: No, it’s honest!

A: In fact, it’s been very very difficult very, challenging most of the time, and is really required a level of flexibility and being very nimble, because this situation, a small business changes all the time as you’ve seen in the short time that you’ve been here. Things are, you know, constantly influx. Things are constantly influx when you have a small business and you have to be able to jump in where you’re needed when you’re needed.

L: Do you think that this desire for flexibility was the reason that you kind of retracted to this area of law?

A: I think having our own business is more so what led us into the desire for— the ability to be super flexible. You don’t just walk out that door and shut the door and be done for the day, and most attorneys that I know are hard, hard-working people. For a lot of attorneys I think it’s true that a lot of them take their work home with them for better or for worse, I mean you know that could be for worse, but when it’s your own business you don’t really have a choice. They’re meshed, especially since I work with my spouse, you know, that’s a whole different caboodle.

L: Thank you very much. I think this was a great conversation. I learned a lot and I’m sure that the viewers did as well.
A: I always like chatting with you.
L: Aw, thanks. In the future episode we’re thinking about talking more specifically about the attitude towards women in law and the specific experiences, and being encourage or discourage by different people. That’s a whole other conversation, but that’s something that we’re definitely thinking about doing. Let us know if you have any questions that you would like answered.
A: Yeah, that’s a great idea, yeah. Happy to do that.
L: And thank you for listening to this episode.
A: Thank you.
L: Cheers!
A: Cheers!
L: And have a good day everyone!
A: Bye!

*both salute with mugs*