On September 18, 2020, amidst a global pandemic, civil unrest, and political nightmare, this country lost Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a fierce advocate and tireless champion of women’s rights. I spent the next several days reading her decisions, fiery dissents, and reflections on her career. Of everything I read, one interview answer struck me the most: “real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”
Despite feeling an unrelenting obligation to advocate, even at a young age, I never seriously considered the possibility of becoming an attorney. More accurately, I did not believe becoming an attorney was within reach. I was a small-town kid who did not fully understand what I could achieve. During my senior year of college, I was provided the life-altering opportunity to intern at the local county prosecutor’s office. It took me one day at that internship to understand.
I do not remember the exact moment I felt brave enough to tell my parents I wanted to pursue law school, but I will never forget how my mother showed up for me once I did. “We will just take this one step at a time. Together, we will figure out what we need to do first and only worry about that step. Then, we will figure out what we need to do next.” After reading Justice Ginsburg’s approach to change, I realized this one moment with my mother had the most profound impact in the development of my legal career.
I graduated from William Mitchell in an incredibly difficult job market and was so fortunate to land one of those few coveted litigation positions immediately after I was sworn in. I did not know anything about workers’ compensation, but I knew I would figure it out, one step at a time. I spent that time learning the law and how to practice with tenacity and grace from some of the best attorneys I have met. I loved the adrenaline of advocacy and litigation, but I felt a pull to shift my career when I was about to have my first baby. As I contemplated the change away from advocacy toward accepting a position as a mediator/arbitrator for the state of Minnesota, several people told me it was the wrong career move and would negatively affect my forward progression. It was an incredibly difficult decision, but I relied on the trusty “one step at a time” mantra.
While still navigating how to conduct arbitrations and write decisions as a neutral, I was given an opportunity to conduct a mediation. That one mediation turned into two, and two turned into hundreds. A new passion was ignited. Before long, I was mediating all day, every day. It also did not go unnoticed that a young woman was breaking into a very male-dominated mediation practice, and that came with its own challenges. I tried to embrace those challenges. I was hyper-focused on becoming the most effective mediator I could. My colleagues were amazing mentors and friends, and I thought my career there would be long.
Everything changed in an instant the day I found out I was paid at a step below the male colleagues who were hired around the same time. After failed attempts at equalizing my pay, I was left to decide whether to ignore the inequity I uncovered or disrupt a career I loved. That feeling of unrelenting obligation and advocacy crept back. As a mother to two small girls, as a friend to many women lawyers who have shared similar experiences along the way, and to those that come after me, it was not really a decision at all.
I left that job feeling terrified about what that meant for my career and what my colleagues and clients might perceive. I found strength in my conviction. I took a deep breath and a big leap of faith as I registered Tyroler Law and Mediation. Without knowing anyone else who was able to succeed after this type of move, I mustered up confidence and marched forward so that I could continue to do what I love, mediate cases, and fight for pay equity at the same time. Two years later, I can now step back and see how all of these small steps built the foundation for a thriving mediation practice, a practice that I am passionate about and humbled by, and an opportunity to make real and impactful change.
Today, while exhausted by all that is 2020, I feel deep sensational gratitude for the patience and wisdom of the women who laid the foundation before I even knew what was within reach.
Molly Tyroler ’10 is owner of Tyroler Law and Mediation in Woodbury, Minnesota.
This article appeared in Mitchell Hamline’s Winter 2020 Magazine. We welcome reflections from alumni to share their personal experiences with the profession of law. If you have a story you’d like to submit, please send about 650 words to firstname.lastname@example.org.