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Lois Boyd, CAO, Fenwick & West LLP, and LAMA founding member and past president

( 57 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
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When opportunity knocks, Lois Boyd answers. As Chief Administrative Officer of Fenwick & West LLP and a founding member of the Legal Assistant Managers Association, her career has flourished through a series of unexpected opportunities.

Ms. Boyd, 51, initially planned to become a juvenile justice attorney but realized early on in her career that she preferred management to the practice of law. Fenwick has about 275 attorneys, with offices in Mountain View and San Francisco, and Ms. Boyd's job involves overseeing administrative issues in all areas.


"I oversee all of the administrative and financial operations of the firm," she said. "My career history is serendipitous, I guess you'd say."

Ms. Boyd started her career as a paralegal, and her first management job was as a paralegal manager. It was during her time as a paralegal manager that she decided managers in law firms needed an association of their own.

The Association of Legal Administrators, or ALA, had a more narrow focus in the early 1980s, and as a paralegal manager, Ms. Boyd was not eligible for membership. The ALA was made up of the top administrators in law firms then, although now the organization includes paralegal managers and others as well.

Because paralegal departments generate revenue in law firms, Ms. Boyd and others felt the managers of such departments needed an association of their own. They created the Legal Assistant Managers Association, or LAMA. The group changed its name last year to the International Paralegal Management Association, with the less catchy acronym, IPMA.

Originally from Oregon, Ms. Boyd was at the University of Illinois when one of her professors suggested she become a paralegal to see if she would enjoy the practice of law before committing to law school. She spent 12 years as a paralegal at San Francisco's McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen (now Bingham McCutchen), learning most of her paralegal skills on the job. She started managing the paralegal department soon after joining the firm.

She said juggling budgets and managing personnel was a challenge at first and that she supplemented her on-the-job learning with management and accounting courses.

"Once you get yourself immersed, you really do start to learn and understand how it operates," she said when asked about the challenge of learning to keep the firm's books. "And to be fair, law firms are not terribly complex as organizations, as financial organizations. There are very few levers you can pull. They're pretty straightforward; there's just not a lot complexity to it, I mean, in the scheme of the world, in terms of corporate structures and so forth. So once you get a grasp of it, it's…well you can learn it."

One day Ms. Boyd realized she loved working in the legal profession but didn't want to go to law school.

"My advice is to be opportunistic," she said. "When opportunities come your way, go for it. Because you don't really know where it's going to lead."

If Ms. Boyd hadn't seized the opportunity to take the managerial job, she may have ended up an unhappy attorney.

"I realized I was far better suited to management than the practice. And that, in fairness, was based upon observing the practice in a corporate law firm," she said. "It's not that I didn't find it interesting or intellectually challenging or stimulating, but I recognized that perhaps with the exception of litigation, it's a pretty introspective profession. You spend a lot of time on your own pouring over documents and writing and so forth."

Ms. Boyd advises paralegals who would like to get on the management track to try to get a position managing paralegals. And don't be afraid to take risks or even leave the profession to explore other areas.

After 12 years at Bingham McCutchen, Ms. Boyd decided to do something completely different and accepted a job as business manager of a Presbyterian church. She liked the church work but after two years decided she missed the legal profession. When she started asking around about jobs, Ms. Boyd feared her unusual two-year absence in the nonprofit sector would hurt her chances. It didn't.

She joined Latham & Watkins as an office administrator. Bingham Mcutchen called to ask if she was interested in the CAO/executive director position at the firm. So she went back to Bingham McCutchen for 12 more years until accepting her current CAO position at Fenwick.

Ms. Boyd said she was lucky to have had mentors along the way but said she suspects these days it would hard to get to her position without a post-graduate degree.

"I feel like I had a lot of wonderful opportunities and people who believed in me, and I was able to pursue them and so it turned out pretty well," she said.

Ms. Boyd is still interested in juvenile justice and mentors a young woman through a volunteer program called Invest in Kids, which sponsors troubled children with potential to finish high school and go to college. Ms. Boyd laughs when asked if her interest in juvenile justice was because she was a juvenile delinquent.

"No, I was a good girl. Boring, boring, boring," she said. "You know maybe some day I'll have the opportunity to be the bad girl, but I think it can wait."

Fenwick & West LLP.

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