Her Firm's Achievements & Results are Measured by the Satisfaction of Her Clients: A Conversation with Attorney Cassie Springer Ayeni
Q: When did you know you would pursue a career in the legal field?
CSA: As early as junior high or high school, I felt the need to advocate for others, to make a point to stand up for the kids who were being bullied or ostracized. I also realized around the same time that I truly enjoyed writing, reasoning, and debating. The law seemed a natural fit: I could use my skills to make a palpable difference in people’s lives. I had settled on a career in law by the time I was 16 and never looked back.
Q: Can you explain what types of cases an ERISA Attorney handles and why you chose this area of law?
CSA: I primarily help people with their employer-sponsored disability benefit claims. ERISA governs all private employer benefit plans, not just pension plans. Many employers provide disability benefit plans in addition to health and pension benefits. In fact, 65% of ERISA litigation is over denied disability benefit claims. The plans are often insured, and clients typically come to me after they stop working, apply for disability benefits to the insurance company, and are denied. I then step in to try to get their disability benefit income restored while they focus on their health.
Q: What is your approach or philosophy to winning or representing a case?
CSA: I lead with kindness. I want to understand truly what my clients have gone through medically, economically, and emotionally to get to this point in their lives, and how I can help. In representing a client, I am there for that person: I am responsive and listen with an open heart. I believe this the secret to winning a case as well – if I am doing my job right, I am painting a picture of the person and the case to help the court appreciate why my client is deserving of their disability benefits. I have the paintbrush and paint ready because I have spent months getting to know my clients and researching the law. And I also aim to be the best-prepared lawyer in the room with the most compelling brief … that helps too.
Q: If we interviewed all your past clients … what is “one” common word that comes up when they describe working with your law firm?
Q: What are some of the most popular topics you are asked to lecture on?
CSA: I speak frequently on ERISA topics, especially in my current role as the co-chair of the ABA’s Employee Benefits Committee. I love presenting to newer attorneys about the fundamentals of ERISA litigation, because I am eager to energize attorneys about how engaging ERISA work is. ERISA is fun! The law is always evolving, providing constant intellectual stimulation, and practicing ERISA law is also a great way to help people in need. I also enjoy speaking to women about re-defining what it means to be a successful litigator, and how to challenge traditional law firm standards to achieve a better work-life balance.
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to pursue a career as an Attorney?
CSA: Any woman who wants to pursue a career as an attorney should make sure that her potential work environment values diversity and inclusion, fosters a sense of belonging, and creates opportunities for women at every turn. If she is unable to find that environment, she should open her own law firm and create those opportunities herself.
Q: How do you maintain a work/life balance?
CSA: Being the owner of my firm allows me to make up the rules: I look to the best practices of progressive companies and pick policies that I believe are imperative to work/life balance for everyone. I figure that everything I need to raise four children and work full-time as an attorney is what everyone at my firm needs too. I offer unlimited PTO, great benefits, four months of fully paid maternity leave, the ability to bring children in to work as needed (in fact I have brought each of my babies into work until they needed another environment), the ability to work from home, and a practical approach to parenting … like closing the office on Halloween and Valentine’s Day so that we can all attend class parties without rushing to or from work. I, of course, avail myself of each of these policies, which is why I created them in the first place. That’s not to say that I don’t wake up early to work for a bit so that I can focus fully on my kids to take them to school, or grab a few hours on the weekend to pound out a brief, but family always comes first, for me and for everyone who works at Springer Ayeni.
Q: What’s one lesson you’ve learned in your career that you can share with our audience?
CSA: I have always learned to be myself. If you are authentic, you are compelling as an advocate and a counselor: you listen and communicate better when you are not spending energy on worrying about how you should come across. I also believe in the power of preparation. If you are committed to doing your best and preparing your utmost, then even a negative outcome cannot be met with regret, but a positive outcome is much more likely. And if you’re nervous before a court appearance or speaking engagement, just take a breath and realize that even in a worst-case scenario, you will survive and move forward … we all do.
Q: What are some of the challenges you feel women face today?
CSA: Looking at women lawyers only, there is much progress to be made. As Joan Williams at the UC Hastings Center for WorkLife Law has analyzed convincingly, women lawyers (and women in other fields too) are asked to “prove it,” then “prove it again.” In other words, women need to do the job before getting the promotion, whereas men are promoted based on potential. This is a major obstacle to women’s promotion and needs to be addressed systematically.
Five Things About Cassie Springer Ayeni
1. If you could talk to one famous person past or present, who would it be and why?
There are so many! But if I had to pick one it would be Harriet Tubman – her courage and vision even in the face of medical problems were and are awe-inspiring.
2. What’s your favorite holiday? Why?
Valentine’s Day! I don’t view it as just a romantic holiday, but as a day to express to those around you how much you care.
3. If you were a superhero, what would your special powers be?
Time-traveling. That would be magical!
4. What app can’t you live without?
Facebook – it has allowed me to make great connections with other lawyer moms – lawmas!
5. Favorite food to eat?
Strawberries. Now, then, forever, and always.