While she was pregnant, former Squire Patton Boggs associate Kristen Jarvis Johnson did what most women in her situation would not. She went interviewing with other law firms.
Johnson first made headlines nearly two years ago when she left her position as a senior associate in the international dispute resolution group at Squire Patton Boggs in Doha, Qatar, and took to Reddit to vent about what she then dubbed “blatant gender discrimination, sexual harassment and a very clear glass ceiling.”
In January, Johnson found a new home as a senior associate at Winter Haven, Florida-based boutique Taylor & Associates, where she specializes in civil litigation work.
“[It’s] pretty awesome, because they hired me when I was seven months pregnant,” said Johnson in an interview this week as she cradled her almost week-old baby, the third of three boys.
Perhaps it’s only fitting that Johnson’s tenure at her new firm begins almost where her last one left off.
After nearly nine years at Squire Patton Boggs, Johnson left the firm in March 2016. In another interview with The American Lawyer a month after her departure, Johnson said she experienced gender bias and discrimination during her time in Big Law, particularly in relation to her maternity leave in 2014 and 2015. While she received positive performance reviews in both those years, Johnson was passed over for bonuses and left to weigh her options.
Squire Patton Boggs vehemently denied Johnson’s allegations of bias and discrimination. Johnson, for her part, said she can no longer discuss her former firm.
After putting Big Law in her rearview mirror, she worked with her sister on launching a company called Boy Story, which sells lifelike dolls for boys. That opportunity, Johnson said, gave her the ability to step back and regain her time, as well as re-evaluate her priorities in a working environment.
“When you’re at a point where you’ve stopped running intently in a certain path and you have the option of multiple paths in front of you, it’s really refreshing to be able to take that time and reflect on what you want and what you’re looking for,” Johnson said.
But while Boy Story grew into a successful and established company, and Johnson did some writing for Medium, she ultimately missed the practice of law.
“I love being a lawyer,” Johnson said.
In July 2017, she took the Florida bar exam and then began looking for a job. At first, Johnson was hesitant that any firm would want to interview her while she was pregnant, but she put out a few applications.
“Some places would meet me and they weren’t interested at all,” said Johnson, but others were eager to work with her, and that stood out to her as an indicator of a potentially being a place where she would want to be.
“My attitude toward it was kind of like, if they’re not interested in looking at the long-term when they’re meeting me and all they can see is a pregnant woman and they don’t want to work with me, then that is not a place I want to work,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s return to the legal profession comes at a time when the #MeToo movement has forced various industries to tackle issues such as sexual misconduct and gender bias, matters that Johnson spoke out about nearly two years ago.
While she can no longer comment about her own time in Big Law, Johnson said that, after previously sharing her account, she received an outpouring of responses from women, mostly in the legal profession, about how her story resonated with them.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was supporting a movement that’s now happening [of] people speaking out,” Johnson said. “It really is true that, once we are able to have an open discussion about the struggles of women in the workplace … it’s like the floodgates open.”
And that is what she believes is the goal of the #MeToo movement—to get people to speak.
“When people are speaking, then you can talk about problems, and you can address them,” Johnson said. “But if no one is speaking, it’s a lot harder to talk about problems and address them.”
As good as the #MeToo movement is, she said, “it’s not a solution, it’s just a conversation.”
Asked whether she believes women will come forward and speak about their experiences, including some of those in Big Law, Johnson wasn’t too sure, due to the potential ramifications and backlash they may face.
“I think they can’t speak out without it jeopardizing their careers,” Johnson said. “I think it’s just the reality right now that hasn’t been overcome.”