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What Drives Diversity at Quarles & Brady and How Do You Reflect Diversity at the Firm?

Karen Perzan

Diversity at Quarles & Brady is not driven by numeric goals. Diversity is driven by openness to the possibilities and the potential of every person.

My story is an example of Quarles & Brady’s openness in this regard.

My diversity stems in part from my Panamanian roots and the heritage of my Central American relatives and in part from my non-traditional career path. After graduating in 1985 (not a typo), I started my career in a traditional way as a corporate associate at a large New York law firm, but promptly veered onto a non-traditional path. I moved to Tucson, continuing in “BigLaw” with a 35 lawyer firm. Three years later I moved to Paris, embarking on what essentially amounted to a fifteen year maternity leave.

Almost two decades after taking my first bar exam, I passed the Wisconsin exam, resumed practice, and branched out into real estate law. In 2006, Quarles & Brady sought a lateral real estate associate. As a dare to myself (did I still have “the right stuff”) and to the firm (how quickly they would dismiss a non-traditional diverse candidate), I applied. To my continuing delight, the firm was open to the possibilities, saw potential, and took a chance on a non-traditional diverse candidate. Indeed, the firm kept the door open to a full range of career development, and I have been with Quarles & Brady for almost a decade and have become a partner at the firm.

In many ways, my experience with Quarles & Brady was a precursor to the current movement to provide women who have been out of the workforce for a number of years with an opportunity to reenter. It is gratifying that so many law firms and companies have come to see value where Quarles & Brady saw it years ago—in women who valued a career so highly that they were unwilling to give it short shrift while tending to other obligations and decided to, at least temporarily, sacrifice the satisfactions of career development and advancement while tending to those other responsibilities.

A take-away from my experience is that whatever your background or path through life, you can create a successful career for yourself. The keys are finding an organization that you enjoy and appreciate and working with people who believe in your potential and the possibilities you bring to the organization—people like my colleagues at Quarles & Brady.

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Office Location: Milwaukee

Position/Practice Group: Partner/Real Estate

Most memorable Q&B experience: Leading a team on a high dollar value multi- state 97 property transaction and closing it smoothly and on the required closing date.

What do you enjoy the most about working for Q&B? Knowing that everyone at Quarles & Brady is committed to the goals of providing our clients with the highest level of legal service and pulling together as a team to achieve every task. This cooperative attitude makes working at Quarles & Brady a true pleasure.

What is your view of what diversity means at Q&B? Diversity is a method for challenging the firm to continually improve itself and a method for providing complete and well-rounded service to our clients.

How are you helping develop future diverse attorneys? I am a member of the firm’s Diversity Committee. We are always looking at the success of our diverse attorneys and seeking additional ways to assist diverse attorneys in achieving continuing and ever-increasing success and satisfaction in their careers.

What insight could you give to a future diverse attorney? Take the time to understand your personal career goals and the goals of your firm and your practice group. Make sure that these goals are aligned, set out to achieve these goals, ask for help and guidance when you need it, and share your successes with your colleagues.

What are your interests or hobbies? Reading and exercising, neither of which I devote enough time to, watching favorite TV shows with a big polydactyl orange tabby curled up on my lap, which I devote entirely too much time to, and cooking and playing Mah Jongg, both of which I do about once each week.