THE FEMININE TECHNIQUE
In this candid interview with a celebrated attorney, who made partner in the New York office of one of the largest international law firms in the country at the age of 36, Carmita Alonso discusses the delicate symphony she conducts daily to balance her life as a leader in the industry, a mother of two, and a physically/spiritually healthy person.
Originally planning to be a lawyer, our Editor-in-Chief, Sam Desmond, has spent over a decade admiring Carmita Alonso, along with legions of other millenial women, for her brilliance and beauty and in her profile of Carmita, now shares with HiConcept's readers what it really takes to make it to and stay at the top.
As a recent college graduate with an air-tight, five-year plan where I would go to law school and secure my job for the next forty years by the age of 25, newly appointed partner at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen, & Loewy LLP, Carmita Alonso, was my idol as she was for the legions of other girls I worked with. Glowing in a feature article by New York magazine for having been named partner at the age of 36, absolutely gorgeous, a triathlete, renowned for lightning speed legal prowess, and a Madison Avenue fashionista, Carmita set the bar high. During the FDBL Christmas party my first year as paralegal, a half dozen of us sat together at the midtown Hilton’s posh ballroom half (maybe full) drunkenly wondering aloud how perfect Carmita was with a pair of Louboutins and two cherub sons to boot.
Flash forward to nearly a decade later and my neat plan had turned into a (still unfinished) Masters in English Literature, a long battle with mental illness, leaving my beloved Manhattan to fall in love with my husband’s country hometown, and unexpected happiness as a stay-at-home dog mom. Going back to Hanover Square, where FDBL’s top reigning New York office is seated, it was still as impressive, perhaps less intimidating, than I had remembered.
And Carmita Alonso was even more laureled and lovely as I envisioned. Growing from her role as partner, Carmita won a coveted seat on the Executive Committee where she leads firm-wide (over 40 offices around the world and nearly 3,500 employees) initiatives on professional best practices and can better enact family-balance policies she’s always fought for her team to afford. As the mother of two young boys, Teddy and Harry, aged 11 and 9 respectively, Carmita knows the struggle all too well, “Balance is an elusive concept. A lot of times you just have to go to where the fire is burning hottest. What my children might not be presented in abundance of time together, I make up for by giving them quality time together. When I’m with them, I am there. I am fully present. I used to answer messages at the dinner table, but now they know when I am with them, they have my full attention. My goal is for them to see their mother as passionate and dedicated in all her endeavors, so they will be too.”
The journey to her corner office overlooking Liberty Harbor started over forty years ago coming from a Cuban/Spanish family in Brockton, Massachusetts, entering Providence College on a scholarship, attending George Washington Law School, and joining FDBL’s in 2000. For many, becoming partner at a top, international law firm would signify the apex of their career, but not for Carmita Alonso. In the decade she has been partner, her team has not only expanded, but elevated with three associates on her team also rising to partner and many attorneys and paralegals starting families or pursuing lifelong dreams in tandem with their careers at FDBL. “At our firm, there’s no limit to what you can achieve as a paralegal or an attorney if you have the right mentality. Corporate immigration impacts a person’s career and family life on such a strong scale. In our branch of the law, the cornerstone of your success is genuinely caring about people’s lives as well as their livelihood—true empathy. These characteristics also make for great parents and making the firm as cognizant of the special needs of working parents is one I hold dear.”
Indeed, ‘corporate NYC law firm’ and ‘quality work/life balance’ are concepts seemingly at odds with each other, but FDBL, with partners like Carmita at the helm have been understanding in logistical issues of moving to a new city to accompany a spouse or the most dire of cases like post-partum depression. “We want to retain, but also cultivate talent. Management understands family can cause the need to relocate and telecommuting is something that can work for both parties.”
In interviewing Carmita, it is striking how the roles of parent and partner mirror each other. In both, simply giving edicts without concrete behavioral examples (i.e. walking the talk) is essential to progress, “With my boys, I teach them to treat everyone with kindness, where no one is treated less than, but this also means checking myself when I might become too ‘bossy.’ So I make it a point to correct my behavior when I don’t live up to my words. With my team and now the wider spectrum as a member of the Executive Committee, it is crucial I also make time for my family because it’s hollow advocacy otherwise.”
While Carmita’s career at FDBL is the culmination of the dreams of ‘80s career women (and ‘90s career women who idolized Carrie Bradshaw’s closet), her personal success as a mother is what makes her an enduring idol for young women whose trepidation would keep them from their pursuit, but Carmita’s bold example fortifies their resolve.