Making an Impact

We Chat With a Few Female Attorneys at Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti LLP To Discuss Practicing Law, Mentorships and More

Article by Emily O'Brien

Photography by Poppy & Co. by Kelsey Huffer

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

Boulder has been home to Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti LLP (BHGR) for nearly 20 years. In 2001, BHGR opened its doors as a boutique law firm with just a handful of attorneys. Today, BHGR has a robust commercial law practice that encompasses many facets of law including construction, real estate, general corporate, employment, criminal, private client services and more. That same firm has also grown to more than 40 attorneys with offices across the nation: Denver, Colorado, Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Irvine and San Diego, California. BHGR has always been deeply rooted and invested in the greater Boulder community by way of the firm but also the team members themselves. Many of the firm's attorneys and staff serve on local boards, sit on councils, and are as active in athletics and all the incredible outdoor opportunities our area has to offer. 

Today we sit down with four of its female attorneys to discuss practicing law, mentorships and the complexities of being female in a male-dominated industry. The women include:

Kathleen Alt – first female equity partner/first female member of management committee

Sally Berg – equity partner

Juliana Massaro – special counsel

Yasmina Shaush – associate

What drew you to practice law?

KA: I initially went to law school to study environmental and animal law and to have a meaningful career giving back to society. I discovered that I was uniquely suited for criminal defense work and all that entails. Ever since I was a kid, I defended the underdog and spoke out against injustice.

YS: I was drawn to the problem-solving nature of law. Whether assisting a client through civil litigation, the purchase and sale of real estate, or entity formation, attorneys assist clients by finding practical solutions to their needs.

Can you speak to any challenges you’ve faced as you’ve developed your career? How did you overcome them?

SB: I feel that in many ways our industry, particularly litigation, is challenging for women and mothers. I recall that when I started practice in Texas, I couldn’t wear suit pants to the local federal court—had to wear a skirt and hose. Another time, an opposing counsel thought I was the paralegal on the case instead of the lead attorney.  All that said, I have been able to take this in stride and challenge the cultural biases in a way that, I hope, paves the way for the next generation of women. 

YS: I’m a first-generation American and the first attorney in my family. Throughout my undergraduate studies and law schools, I did not have a roadmap to help me navigate the pathway of career development. To overcome this, I sought out mentorship early and often, starting with my professors and in my internships and externships.

What values do you most admire at BHGR and why?

SB: I love the diverse group of lawyers and the wide skill sets that we have. We have always had a team and collaborative mentality which is to the benefit of the clients and process. 

JM: I value the collegial atmosphere and the focus on work-life balance.

What kind of mentorship have you received over the years that's inspired you to keep going?  

YS: I found my mentor by looking up to partners and senior associates at BHGR who not only practiced in my fields, but also created the type of professional and personal balance that I sought to achieve in my career. Ask yourself, is this person doing what I want to be doing in five years or 10 years? If so, what do I need to do to get there?

JM: The most effective mentors early on were those that not only took the time to pass on their knowledge, but also impressed upon me that I was capable and could truly succeed if I chose to. Getting a pat on the back is nice, but a great mentor is someone who also takes the time to push, to challenge, to raise the bar, and expect results.

How is it being a woman in law and/or your legal practice? How are some ways the industry could improve to make it more accessible and fairer for women to be seen and valued in this space? 

KA: Working in employment and criminal defense law, I see firsthand the challenges that gender, race, and economic disadvantage pose to individuals, our community, and the legal profession. There are now more women on average entering law school each year than men. The profession is changing from the bottom up. I would like to see more women in leadership positions. Mentoring of future leaders is key.

JM: I am, undoubtedly, a beneficiary of the battles fought and won by women that came before me as I’ve not only worked in spaces formerly reserved only for men but achieved professional success as a result of such inclusion. Going forward, the focus for the industry needs to be inclusion of all groups that have been excluded from these spaces by appointing leaders who are women, people of color, transgender people, and other historically excluded people.

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