At Vitiello Communications Group, we believe everyone’s story is worth telling. Wonder Women is a blog series that lets me introduce you to amazing businesswomen doing remarkable work. In this series, we amplify the success stories of women who live and work in New Jersey. Their contributions to the Garden State include professional, civic and personal endeavors that enrich our community. Meet Sandra Fava, Partner, Fox Rothschild LLP, a national law firm that has been recognized six times as a “Best Law Firm for Women” by Working Mother magazine. Be sure to catch our new lightning round at the end of the Q&A.
Q: What’s one leadership lesson that’s helped shape your career?
A: A real leader sets an example. They don’t just say “You have to finish this, stay this weekend and get it done!” They’re the ones who are already there on a Saturday with their sleeves rolled up, adding success to the team and organization, building up their teams so others feel invested and valued.
Q: What advice would you give to a woman who aspires to achieve the level of success you’ve achieved?
A: I would offer three pieces of advice: work hard, be authentic, and push boundaries. I often tell others not to forget the value of hard work: showing up, giving it 100%, not taking shortcuts, and being open to new ideas and perspectives. Ask questions and hone your skills at every opportunity. Be who you are. Having integrity and staying true to your values will give you greater longevity in your personal and professional relationships. When you face challenges that may not align with who you are, if you choose staying true to who you are, you’ll get on the path where you are meant to be. I tell young women “Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries. Speak up if you have a great idea that you’re passionate about and keep pushing until someone listens to you.” If you feel like your work isn’t being recognized, but a colleague’s is, maybe ask why and what you can do differently. Persevere until you make it to where you want to be.
Q: What are the three traits that you think are vital to be a Wonder Woman in your industry?
A: To succeed, we must be innovative in our thinking, we need effective but realistic strategies, and we must be compassionate. Plus, you need to have passion in order to practice any area of the law, but specifically family law. The issues are so personal, and the decisions have lasting and often profound impact.
Q: With the type of work you do, how do you replenish your energy?
A: I try to set boundaries between work and personal life. I have a young family, so I want to be present and involved in their lives. I’m available to my clients, but I let them know early on that unless it is really an emergency I probably will not respond after a certain hour during the week, and on the weekends maybe not at all — but you’ll get my attention first thing on Monday. To recharge I might do something as simple as take a walk. Or, I might exercise.
Q: How do you use communication to lead and to grow your career and business?
A: Communication is vital to every relationship. Professionally I make sure that my team knows the expectations, understands the strategy, and asks questions. My clients and I are in constant communication. I believe that promotes assurance that they are receiving the level of service that they need and are being kept in the loop. In growing my business, my most important communication skill is sharing reliable information. Information is everywhere, but not all of it comes from reliable sources, and there are a lot of myths around family law topics. Providing information that’s reliable and relevant to people’s specific situations lets them make informed decisions that deeply impact their lives.
Q: Tell me about a time you used communication to turn a challenging situation into a success.
A: I’ve learned that the most important part of communication is carefully listening. As lawyers we are trained to listen, but we are also trained to react and give an answer. Sometimes you need to do more listening and less reacting because then you’ll have a better answer. My colleagues and I will strategize about how to best approach a legal issue, share and challenge ideas. We try to change mindsets within the group if we are trying to provide an innovative solution. With opposing counsel, I use communication skills to express issues and try to reach a mutual resolution that’s fair to both our clients. In court, I’m constantly using communication skills to advocate my client’s position, weaving in the facts, arguing the law to have the judge see the matter in the way I see it. I’m also a certified mediator so I must listen and communicate with two opposing opinions and come up with an effective solution.
Q: What personal quality fuels your most significant accomplishment?
A: Dissatisfaction. If I’m dissatisfied with the way something is operating—for example, if I don’t like the way my client is being treated, or the way the law treats something—it fuels me to change it. That’s part of why I was attracted to the law. There’s an opportunity to right a wrong. Not everybody may like what comes out of my mouth, but I’m still going to say it because it is important to me and I want my voice heard.
Q: What woman inspires you and why?
A: The first person that pops into my mind is my mother. She has always been an inspiration and role model because she is so strong and brave. She came here from a foreign country not knowing the language and instilled in me and my siblings that hard work is important and you can achieve whatever you set your mind to. Also, congresswoman Mikie Sherrill because her professional background is so inspiring. But if I had to pick one professional woman, it would be Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I think she epitomizes so many things that I aspire to be. She’s blazed a path and continues to set the world on fire with her work. Her story is inspirational with the challenges she faced at a time when women were starting to voice their opinions to fight inequalities that have been prevalent for decades. She has been a leader in that movement and I think she is brilliant. I saw the documentary about her, and it inspired me to start exercising again. I said to myself, “If Justice Ginsburg can get up every morning and do this, I have no excuse!”
New Jersey Lightning Round
From one Jersey girl to another, answer these questions:
Q: Taylor Ham or Pork Roll?
A: Taylor Ham
Q: Wildwood or Seaside Heights?
Q: Yankees or Mets?
Q: Giants or Jets?
Q: Does Central Jersey really exist?
Do you have a question for Sandra or me about using the power of communication to right wrongs? Ask it here in our comments or reach us on Twitter @DivorceNJLaw or @JillVitiello.