used my married name, and then when I
got divorced 10 years ago, I went back to
my maiden name. There were definitely
clubs in Cincinnati that didn’t have women.
People thought I was the paralegal and
the secretary; people called me Ruthie. I
was lucky I worked at the same firm as my
husband—it was a large firm—and they
didn’t care who you were related to. … But
at a lot of firms, if two people got married,
the wife left. I had my daughter in ’ 84. I left
the firm because I couldn’t work part time.
That was a struggle for years, to get part
time accepted in this city. Maternity leave
was a struggle.
Q: How did you end up in Chicago after
A: I was a blank slate; I didn’t know
where to go. This sounds very
nonfeminist: I was dating someone
who was going to Chicago; it turned
out I wasn’t dating him by the time I
graduated, but it was a big city and it was
as good as any. I interviewed in Boston,
but it was a very competitive market and
they weren’t paying competitively. New
York scared me because it was so big and
I’d never been there. I mean, I was from
another country! So Chicago seemed
kind of manageable and they were
paying well, and lots of firms were eager
for Harvard graduates, so I went there.
That’s a terrible way to pick a job.
Q: And then what brought you to
A: I married someone from my law school
class, and we decided Chicago was too
big to raise a family. It wasn’t like our
home cities. We wanted a place where
we could live in the suburbs and drive
to downtown and not be running for the
train. Two people in his law firm died of
a heart attack running for a train—died
on the L platform—in one year. We didn’t
want that kind of a lifestyle. We were
from middle-size cities like Cincinnati,
where you could live in a suburb and
have a normal life. We actually went out
and spent weekends in cities—Louisville,
Indianapolis, Columbus, Cincinnati—and
we decided on Cincinnati.
Q: How did you wind up at Kohnen &
A: They have a really nice tax practice;
it’s a substantial percentage of the firm
and I was looking for a firm where the tax
practice would be highly valued. [Also]
it had an outstanding international tax
practice. It was a good fit for me with
my international background, and they
were looking for someone to extend into
Canada. I have some connections in
Toronto, and they would like to reach out
there. … That’s a nice synergy for us.
Q: Is there a different feel in the U.S. and
A: Yes, you could talk endlessly about the
differences and similarities.
Q: Such as? Is the Canadian personality
different from that of the U.S.?
A: I’m not gonna go there. Not gonna
Q: You have a strong public service ethic.
A: The thing I’m currently interested in is a
program called Dress for Success. It suits
women who are underprivileged—maybe
they’ve been incarcerated, maybe they’re
impoverished—but they’re currently
unemployed, and they’re referred to us
for suits and interviewing skills. When
they get their job, they come back and
get their second suit and we give them
further training on job skills, budgeting.
… So they get continuing education
through our program, and we have a
resale shop where they can buy clothes
inexpensively. I’m on the board of the
resale shop. We do a fashion show with
our graduates, and they tell their stories.
It’s so inspiring. These women are former
drug addicts; they have such stories
of hardship, and [yet] they go on: They
get their GEDs and sometimes [go to]
college. What they can do from abusive
backgrounds, incarcerations. … We get
lawyers to volunteer their time to get their
[criminal] backgrounds expunged. There’s
a program to help refinance mortgages,
so that’s something that I can help with.
Q: Must be rewarding to watch these
women change their lives.
A: It’s wonderful. I say to myself, why
can’t I do more with what I have? With
everything I got on a silver platter, why
can’t I do more? Everything was given to
me, and these women have to struggle so
hard for everything.
Q: Can you give an example of a case
that was both rewarding and a struggle?
A: In the 1990s, in addition to my regular
estate planning, I did quite a bit of elder
law work, including Medicaid planning,
which generally meant helping middle-class couples set aside assets so that when
one spouse went to a nursing home the
other spouse would not be impoverished.
… In the late 1990s, in an ill-conceived
effort to reduce Medicaid planning,
Congress passed a law making it a crime to
advise a client of all the financial options.
It was called the "Granny's Lawyer Goes
to Jail" law. Such a law would be similar
to criminalizing advice for tax avoidance,
as opposed to tax evasion. The New York
State Bar Association challenged the law
and won. I do not personally know of any
Medicaid attorney who stopped giving
advice during this period, but I am sure
that the law had a chilling effect.
During this time, I was in the Cincinnati
office of [a] Columbus-based firm. A
partner in the Columbus office, who did
not know the substance of my work but
was morally opposed to it, demanded that
I stop. Irate, I protested to the managing
partner of my office. He simply asked that
I write two paragraphs supporting my
position. I angrily argued that I should
not have to defend my work. He calmly
repeated his request; he needed something
to send to Columbus. I complied and heard
nothing more of the matter.
Medicaid planning is a firmly established
specialty these days. I was proud and
immensely gratified that my managing
partner stood up for me in the early days
of Medicaid planning. I also learned a
valuable lesson from him: It is not enough
to shout that you are right (even when
you are); you have to be willing to give the
"other side" something that they need, or
think they need … if only to allow them to
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ROUNDING ON WH Y SHE BECAME
A LAWYER AND HOW SHE BRINGS
THE OTHER SIDE AROUND