GERALD PAULING IN TEN
A chat with Gerald L. Pauling, II, the personal and professional
In the first of a series of articles spotlighting high-profile and influential executives, I was fortunate enough to get an hour with Mr. Gerald Pauling of Chicago, Illinois. Originally, from Winston Salem, North Carolina, Gerald is a partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, whose law practice focuses on employment litigation and labor-management relations. In keeping with his strong commitment to stewardship, his community work focuses on improving diversity and the quality of life for those who are disadvantaged.
Gerald is the Executive Board Chair of Teen Living Programs where I am also a Board Member. He is highly regarded as a practitioner and leader within the legal community. He has been featured in Diversity & The Bar magazine as a “Cutting Edge Labor and Employment Practitioner.” He was recognized as one of the “Top 100 Diverse Executive & Emerging Leaders Under 50” by Diversity MBA Magazine. He was also selected by Law Bulletin Publishing Company as one of Illinois “40 Under Forty to Watch.” In 2008, Gerald was a Fellow in the Leadership Greater Chicago Fellowship Program, a 10-month fellowship program affording 30 participants (Fellows) an opportunity to study the particular challenges that face Chicago, to meet and converse with city, state and federal leaders to discuss issues affecting Chicago, and to become part of a diverse network of leaders working to make a difference in Chicago and in the nation. Most recently, Gerald was named as a Chicago United Business Leader of Color for 2011.
I hope you find the interview as captivating and enlightening as I did. During our discussion, Gerald shared his thoughts on several topics:
- Making the most of time and opportunities
- Defining your individual success
- Building credibility
- And much more…
I interviewed Gerald over lunch during a sunny day in Chicago.
SC: Where did you grow up and how did it shape you as a person?
GP: I grew up in Winston Salem, North Carolina. My upbringing by today’s standards was very modest and very traditional. I spent a lot of time in the South as a kid and I think the way it affected me was by making me a person to whom good stewardship is very important. Wasting opportunities, resources or anything was unacceptable. It is important for me make the most of the opportunities and resources put before me.
SC: Why did you choose a career in Law?
GP: Mainly because writing and communication have always been a strong suit for me. Law is an area where it is all about how you communicate with people whether it’s judges, clients or adversaries. It’s really about how you articulate your messages. So it fits really nicely with my personal attributes.
SC: Do you think your personal approach to life lead you to choose labor law?
GP: I’m a litigator and handle employment matters for employers. I think that if I decided to become a corporate lawyer, my focus on stewardship would be just as important. I don’t know if my personal approach is very much affected by the area of law I practice, but I do make sure to spend a lot of time with my clients to understand their needs in order to make sure I’m doing the best job I can do for them.
“Whenever you do anything, do it as though your legacy depended on it because it probably does.”
SC: When was your first exposure to the field of law?
GP: Probably very late. I didn’t have lawyers in my family nor was I familiar with the law environment in college. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a lawyer, so I decided fairly late. There was a lawyer who visited the University of Illinois during my undergrad and he spoke about careers in law and UCLA Law School. We connected and spoke about professional and personal aspirations. He also shared his views on the difference attorneys can make in the field and the community and it really resonated with me.
SC: Did you begin your career with a clearly defined plan or career path?
GP: I didn’t have a plan beyond passing the bar and obtaining a position at a law firm. My professors really provided great insight into what the law profession was like. One professor was a partner in a Chicago Law firm and made a connection for me to obtain an internship during a summer in Chicago. I was able to travel to Chicago and meet some other lawyers and understand what they do. Even when I started at Seyfarth, I only knew I wanted to work in employment law and be a Partner in the firm because it represented the ultimate success you can achieve in the law firm environment. It was a path I had chosen and intended to be successful at, so that became the plan. The path to partner guided a lot of my career decisions and required me to make the most of the opportunities along the way.
SC: How much, if any, has your career changed you?
GP: I think it has provided me with opportunities that I couldn’t have imagined before beginning my career. This year, Chicago United selected me as one of 45 Business Leaders of Color Across Chicago. My career and position here at Seyfarth made it possible because it put me in place to work with clients and build relationships. Some of those clients, competitors or peers thought enough of my contributions and performance to nominate me for that recognition. My professional opportunities have changed the life I’ve been able to live, but I don’t believe my career has changed the core of who I am.
SC: If you had a magic clock, would you speed time forward or turn it back, and why?
GP: I would probably turn it back in order to do things better. Certainly to revisit relationships that I could have cherished more – personal and professional. Especially to have more time to learn from different people who’s paths I crossed who have now gone on.
SC: You dedicate a significant amount of your time to non-profit initiatives. Why?
GP: I think it’s related to the stewardship concept we talked about. I also think to whom much is given, much is required. It’s important that when you’re blessed to be in a particular place at a particular moment, that you to understand what that reason is and how to make the most of that opportunity. All with the realization that there’s an expectation that you do your best to be your best.
“Don’t be afraid to stand out from your peers.”
Just when you think…..you can’t do one more thing, you realize that it’s only one more thing and that if it’s worth it to you, you can do it.
Looking back now…..I can say the challenges that I faced – the tough moments – really did make me a better person and a better professional. Looking back, I really understand and see where I grew stronger because of a particular challenge or obstacle. It’s hard in the moment to realize that you are growing or becoming a stronger person but you can see it in hindsight. Now, I have great confidence in me and my ability to get it done.
Whenever……you do anything, do it as though your legacy depended on it, because it probably does. When you’re someone who tries their best or gives their best, then that’s your legacy. You can’t go through life without making mistakes, but everyone has a legacy and you need to be mindful of what it’s going to be. But when you approach things by giving the best of yourself at that moment, that’s the most anyone can want for you or expect of you. If I can instill in my children a little voice that says “do your best, give your best, be your best” then I’ve done my job as their father. That’s a great legacy.¶
“To whom much is given, much is required.”