Sidley Austin partner Heidi Levine is a little bashful about being super organized—“I don’t know if it’s admirable or nuts,” she said—partly because she doesn’t want female lawyers stereotyped as merely keeping the trains running on time. “I want to make sure we’re not being viewed as organizers instead of leaders.”
There’s not much chance of mistaking Levine’s skills, however. As co-chair of Sidley’s products liability practice group, she works with clients that include pharmaceutical and medical device companies. Court records indicate she has served as lead counsel to Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals and Novo Nordisk in litigation over diabetes medication.
Levine, who also chairs the firm’s New York Committee on the Retention and Promotion of Women, joined Sidley two years ago from DLA Piper, where she practiced for more than two decades, served on its executive committee and was co-chair of its New York mass torts practice.
Levine, 47, and her husband, Ted Berkowitz, a partner at law firm Farrell Fritz, live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with their Tibetan Terrier, Bella. Here’s what Levine’s typical day looks like.
Snoozing With the Phone I set my alarm for 6 every morning, but if I’m being honest, I hit snooze at least once. I take my phone and will look at emails while snooze is on to see if I have to respond to anything immediately. If not, I hit snooze two or three times. My husband gets up at 5:30 a.m. every day, seven days a week. He’s already up reading the paper and having his coffee in the kitchen area. The dog is sleeping in her bed near me. She will sleep until I get up. I’m typically up and getting going by 6:20.
Looks of Disdain I really hesitate to tell anyone that I don’t drink coffee, because I get horrible looks of disdain. I promise I love caffeine. I just have never been a coffee drinker. I drink hot tea and cold tea all day long. I have a hot water pot in my office that’s probably illegal. I typically eat oatmeal when I get to the office.
Morning Work and Workout I get on my laptop in my living room on my couch with the table. My husband is at the kitchen table; I have the living room. The dog just waits until we’re ready to go out. I usually go through all my emails I’ve gotten overnight and in the morning. I send out a few emails to get my team going. I’ll look at my calendar again. All of that takes between 30 minutes to an hour. When I’m at a place where I have a bit of a window, I get dressed and take the dog out, usually for a light jog, sometimes for a fast walk. We like to say our most difficult decision in the morning is whether to run in Riverside Park or Central Park, which is awesome. We’re both avid cyclists. We have a smart trainer with our bikes in the living room and one of us takes turns doing that.
Well-Heeled Then I get ready. My standard outfit is a black dress with a jacket, usually a long jacket. My favorite [brands] are Theory, Cynthia Fields, Tahari and Lafayette 148. About two years ago I decided to give up my beloved high heels, for the most part, and I bought five really nice pairs of flat winter boots in different colors and materials. I wear those all winter. If I’m going into a client meeting, I’ll wear my heels. I have a drawer full of high heels.
Commuting to Meetings I have an eight-minute commute to work—from 79th to 50th Street. I take the subway four stops and walk one block. My day, from the time I walk in the door to the time I leave, is pretty much back-to-back conference calls or in-person meetings. I have very little free space in between, because I usually will fill that space with people who want to talk to me about mentoring, training or some firm committee. I find I’m pretty booked throughout the entire day. I’m probably speaking with clients 25 to 40 percent of the time and with team members 50 to 60 of the time. The rest of the time is on firm initiatives or matters. My daily life is a little different because I don’t have little kids. I try to use some of that time for other positive things like mentoring women in this office. I’m also mentoring a high school student in a legal outreach program.
Quick Bite I’ll usually run out, grab lunch and bring it back up between 12 and 2. I’m probably eating salad, soup or some sushi. I’m a pescatarian. I eat any kind of fish or seafood and any kind of vegetables. I don’t eat anything that walks on land or has identifiable parents.
Forward Motion My goal is to keep things moving forward for the clients and our teams. I don’t want to be the bottleneck. I spend much of my day trying just to move things forward, answering questions or helping direct someone. Since I work with people in other time zones, I still have a number of calls that are at 4, 5 or 6 p.m. I try to have my last call at the 5 o’clock hour so that I can usually leave between 6:30 and 7.
At Home and Online When I get home, I get right back online, so my laptop is up and running and sitting on my coffee table. I have a Microsoft Surface Pro. It’s awesome. I love it. I’ll grab the dog, take her out and check back in. I’ll have some dinner with my husband. We are typical New Yorkers and don’t cook. We each separately may grab something from our local market on the way home. At least two times a week I’ll order out, sometimes Chinese or from the diner. Sometimes we’ll have something in the refrigerator like soup, but it’s pretty bare. We try to have date night on Thursday nights. We’ll go to local places, Crave Fishbar and La Vela. In the evenings we’ll watch our favorite shows. Some that we watch together are “Ray Donovan,” “Billions,” “The Crown” and “The Americans.” We’ll also watch “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” If I’m alone, I’ll watch “Game of Thrones.”
Late Nights Several days a week I will stay up and work until between 11 and 1. It’s when I have no calls, and I can really concentrate. It’s when I get the majority of work done, which includes editing and revising documents, reading briefs, preparing for meetings. I probably pull about five all-nighters a year. I just sometimes get motivated. I usually take the dog out as the last thing if I’m staying up late.
Time-Savers I keep my calendar up-to-date every day. If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist in my life. If someone says, “Can you give me a call? I’m around tomorrow,” I prefer to nail them down on a time, so I can put it in the calendar. If they don’t give me a time, I put it in my calendar in an open space. Keeping it up-to-date means I might have to look at it at midnight for what I have the next day. My assistant prints out my calendar and gives it to me when I walk in in the morning. I also keep email folders very clear and distinct. When I folder it, I’m able to look for that email a month, six months, a year later. I really try to keep a clean email inbox. It doesn’t mean zero emails; it means under 100 emails, usually under 70. They are all answered by the end of the day. The only emails in my inbox are those to which I have not responded or have not required a response. It helps me stay organized and helps me stay sane. I go to sleep with peace of mind.