SPOTLIGHT: Sydney Darling, Restructuring & Bankruptcy Law
What woman in the firm or the business community inspires you and why?
Two women stick out to me when I think about this question – both fellow New Jersey bankruptcy practitioners – Tara Schellhorn and Shoshana Schiff. When people praise me for their false impression that I’m “doing it all,” I always think of Tara and Shoshana. I believe they are the ones actually doing it all; not me. Deep down I realize it’s impossible to excel at work and, particularly as a woman and a mother, excel at home.
We are all striving for some kind of balance.
As attorneys, most of us spend hours of our working day contributing to firm administration, bar associations, volunteer organizations, mentoring, pro bono matters, and so on. As mothers, we spend mornings getting our kids ready for school and out the door, cleaning dishes, making beds, doing laundry, and often fielding emails and calls at the same time. We feel the push and pull of our evening and weekends – work, networking activities, housework, grocery shopping, cooking meals, kids sports, a social life (maybe).
I met both Tara and Shoshana when I was a law clerk for Judge Lyons. Back then, I regarded them both as larger than life. Now, 15 years later, after we’ve served on boards together, been involved in the same cases, and become friends, I admire them tremendously. Their reputations, all they manage to do at work and for their clients, as well as their bar activities and community leadership, challenges me to push the limits of what I think I can or cannot do. And while they inspire me to challenge my limits on the one hand, they would be the first ones to pick me up when I’m feeling down, help me out when I need it, and tell me that I’m doing just fine.
As women in the private practice of law, it’s so important for our sanity to surround ourselves with people who are going through the same struggles and who are honest about their experience, and these two women are those people for me.
And then, sometimes, I pretend I’m Julianna Margulies in The Good Wife.
If you could have dinner with anyone alive or dead, who would it be and why?
My grandmother died when I was a very young lawyer, right before my wedding. We were always very close, and I admired and appreciated her during our time together. She always worked – even in the 1950s and 1960s when it was not common for women. She also managed to take care of her family in the ways that were fully and rigidly expected at that time.
The older I get and the more adversity I face, the more I miss her. She was my biggest advocate, she was fierce, she believed in me and understood me.
What led you to the practice of law and/or to your specific area of law?
My mother is a paralegal. Growing up, I spent a lot of time at her office and listening to her stories about the cases she was working on. She worked for the same attorney for the majority of her career, and I always looked up to him.
As a child, it was the only career I ever thought about. But when I reached college age and had to choose a major, I ignored my instincts and ended up with a B.A. in Communications. When I embarked on that career and was not happy, my mom pushed and pushed for me to take the LSAT. “Maybe I can be a paralegal,” I contemplated. She wouldn’t hear of it. I finally pulled the trigger, and the rest is history. I’ve never (at least seriously) looked back. I enjoy the challenge, the constant mental exercise, and the intellectual growth that comes with practicing law.
I fell into bankruptcy law when, as I was approaching my final year of law school (Fall of 2008), the country fell into a recession. I didn’t even apply to any firms, since I was watching my classmates’ offers get deferred or rescinded as time went on and the economy worsened. I applied for a clerkship with every single federal judge in New Jersey, including the bankruptcy judges. The first interview I got was with Judge Raymond T. Lyons, Jr. (ret.) in the Bankruptcy Court in Trenton. I had never taken a bankruptcy class in law school, but I read some of his recent published opinions and prepared as best I could. Judge Lyons saw something in me on that day, and he continued to believe in me and my abilities throughout my clerkship. Needless to say, I quickly fell in love with bankruptcy law.
How is being a woman lawyer advantageous?
I’m not sure being a woman is advantageous to me as a lawyer, but I think it can be advantageous for firms and clients to include women on their legal teams with the goal of fostering as much diversity as possibly in any given environment.
If I can generalize for a moment, women often offer a different approach or perspective than men and bring unique skills to the table.
What advice (professional or personal) would you give your younger self or the next generation of women leaders?
Two things that the great Liza Walsh said to me many times: (1) Act like you belong; (2) Jealously guard your time; it’s far too valuable to give away unwisely.