Getting to know Madame Vice Chair: An interview with Julie Neubauer
Mary: Julie, it’s such pleasure and honor to be interviewing you as the 2015-16 Vice Chair of this great committee! We go a long way back, at least in my opinion. The first time I met you, you were a law student and you crashed our business meeting after our Spring Outreach Reception at the NIU College of Law. What year was that, anyway? And what were your first impressions of the Standing Committee on Women and the Law?
Julie: Yes time does fly. As law student, there was always some sort of reception that we were enticed to attend with food and drink. That day was different. That day was a presentation and reception sponsored by the ISBA Standing Committee on Women and the Law. As President of the NIU COL Women’s Law Caucus I had rallied my group to attend. Little did I know then that I was beginning a journey of mentorship that would sustain as my career evolved.
My immediate impression of the WATL Committee (as I have come to call it) was that it was fun group! All the women attorneys seemed to really enjoy each other’s company. Everyone was welcoming and kind to me at the reception and I was invited to join the group for dinner and to attend the business meeting the following morning. I was impressed at how such a jovial group the night before could buckle down for business the next morning. I was inspired and knew this was group to which I wanted to belong.
Mary: Obviously you’re very active in the ISBA. How did you first become involved in the bar association? What are your areas of interest in the ISBA?
Julie: The summer after my first year of law school I clerked for attorneys Bob and Barbara Downs in their family law practice in Chicago. That summer Bob happened to be installed as ISBA President. One of my first projects for Bob as a summer clerk was to rally support for an issue that was to be on the Agenda for the Assembly----whether to back the Supreme Court requiring reporting of pro bono service at the time of ARC registration renewal. Little did I know then that I would be talking to people who I have since come to know as the influential echelon of the ISBA. Bob invited me to attend the Annual Meeting to participate in his installation as President. He told me to choose one committee and to sit in on their business meeting. I choose the Standing Committee on Women & the Law.
I clerked for Downs Law Offices my second summer and was hired on full time after passing the Bar in 2007. Bob was tremendously supportive of my further involvement in the ISBA and, with his support, I was appointed to the Standing Committee on Women & the Law and the Young Lawyers Division my first year of practice. I also was elected to the Assembly for the first time soon thereafter. Eventually, I aged off of YLD, but I remain on the Assembly and am now Vice Chair of WATL and am the Secretary of the Diversity Leadership Council.
As my practice area remains Family Law, I hope one day to be appointed to the Family Law Section Council.
Mary: Are you a homegrown Chicagoan or are you a transplant?
Julie: I was born in Lombard, Illinois, but was raised mostly in Arlington Heights. I have actually come full circle and have now made my own home in Lombard once again.
It was all by happenstance, but this community is truly where I belong. My neighbors are some of my best friends and this is where I found the love of my life as well. He literally lived down the street!
In addition to my law practice and involvement in the ISBA, I am Vice President of the Board of Directors for a startup community-owned grocery store called the Prairie Food Co-op that is going to open in Lombard. It has been a tremendously rewarding experience to be part of a democratically operated company that is dedicated to fulfilling a need of the community in which I live.
Mary: What schools did you attend, up to and including law school, and what were your areas of study?
Julie: My undergraduate degree is from the University of Iowa. To my father’s initial dismay, his hard-earned money went to my earning a liberal arts degree in the “fluffy” double major of Sociology and Religion. He once said to me after working for a few years in non-profit social service organization that it “is possible to both help people and make some money, you know”! Eventually my career path evolved to a point where law school was natural step. It wasn’t for the money, but I’ll admit, it’s nice to no longer live on ramen and sleep on a futon anymore!
I was living in Rockford at the time I decided to go to law school, so Northern Illinois University was a logical choice. I only applied to one school, and the rest is history.
Mary: Who would you say were and are the biggest influences on your life and why?
Julie: I have so many influences on my life----family, friends, my mother, of course. Limiting that question to the realm of my legal career, the following people come to mind immediately:
Professor Jeffery Parness, who just happened to mention in passing during a Civil Procedure lecture that the First Vice President of the ISBA was a family law attorney in Chicago. Remembering that side bar, I approached him at finals and he connected me with Bob Downs, who hired me that summer.
Bob Downs, for his belief in me as a new attorney and for his introducing me to the ISBA.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Myra Bradwell and Mary Ann McMorrow, just for being themselves.
Sandra Crawford, Sharon Eiseman, E. Lynn Grayson, Annemarie Kill and you, Mary, for exemplifying the kind of attorney and woman I aspire to be and by mentoring and supporting me along the way.
Mary: Julie, you don’t know how much that means to me that you feel that way not only about me but about those remarkable other women you mentioned! Whom do you consider the most influential woman in your life and why?
Julie: The most influential woman in my life is my sister, Lisa. She is my best friend, my rock, my confidante and she pushes me to be the best person I can be. She has picked me up off the ground in my darkest times and raised me up even further during the best of times. I do and have done the same for her.
Mary: When did you decide to become an attorney? Was there a specific event or individual who made an impact on you to reach that decision?
Julie: I decided to become an attorney after about five years working for a domestic violence prevention and intervention agency in Rockford. I had the opportunity to counsel women who were in abusive relationships, but were not without resources and not in a position to need emergency shelter. I was able to establish long terms counseling relationships with many clients and participated in their road to empowerment, safety and freedom from abuse. That road often involved divorce proceedings or obtaining an Order of Protection.
For some time I teetered between furthering my education to become a therapist or to become an attorney. It was my experience with two very special women, former clients who I will not name, that led me to law. Both women asked me to be present as an advocate and source of support during their divorce proceedings and I witnessed how that process could be both a path to freedom when their advocates understood the dynamics of domestic abuse and how that process could be misused to further entrap and control them when their advocates failed to properly protect them. As a therapist, I could counsel people and provide emotional support, but I could do nothing about the real problem for those who were abused, as that problem stems from outside of them. As an attorney, I could be the voice for those who were abused and better offer the opportunity for them to achieve safety and independence. So, I chose law.
Mary: You already told me about how you landed your first job out of law school. Do you have any tips for our new law school graduates?
Julie: All I can say is pay attention to your professors and nurture that professional network. Get out there and join the professional organizations that make sense for your career.
Mary: If you had to say you have a passion for some area of the law, what would it be?
Julie: I wouldn’t say I have a “passion” for being a divorce lawyer. However, I do have a passion for using my role as a family law attorney to provide the opportunity for people who are often going through the most difficult emotional struggle of their lives, to come out of it financially secure, safe and ready for the next stage of life. To help a person transition through the loss of a marriage toward the future with a sense of possibility is very rewarding indeed.
Mary: What do you and your partner, Neil, enjoy doing in your leisure time? Your lives have changed a bit in the last year, haven’t they? You have an addition to your family and he is darling! Tell us about that blessed event. And tell us, now, what you enjoy doing in your leisure time?
Julie: My love, Neil, and I now live together rather than down the street from one another. His daughter, Olivia, is with us part time and has become instant friends with the neighbors on our street. We were also recently blessed with the birth of our son, Cole. He arrived April 29th and is truly our joy. I am just about to finish up my maternity leave and am back to work at the end of July. So, needless to say, our free time is family time these days and we love every minute of it!
Mary: Julie, our Committee Vice Chair, attorney, and new mother, what does the future hold for you? Your dreams and goals?
Julie: My dream and goal is to somehow try to make time for it all. Work/life balance is more of a priority than ever now. As an officer of WATL, I can continue to work toward this balance not only for me, but for women attorneys as a group.
Mary: Julie, thank you so much for taking time from your busy life to share “your story” with our readers. I wish you all the best in this next chapter of your wonderful life!