Michelle Friends is the Executive Director at Denver-based law firm Fairfield and Woods, P.C. where she oversees all aspects of the firm’s administrative functions. She is also very active in the Legal Marketing Association and is currently the Treasurer Elect of the International Board. Learn more about her in this Women Who Wow profile.
Why did you choose your profession?
Sometimes I think it chose me. I went to school originally to be a marketer. Fun story, I actually finished high school early and started college during my junior year. Since I started so early I did not declare a major. I took my first marketing class in my official freshman year of college (two years after I started) and knew that was what I wanted to do. I thought I would get to work on big campaigns for big brands, but it was not so sexy at first. Most jobs were sales, but one job led to the next and I found myself working for my first law firm about 10 years ago. It was the first marketing job that did not require me to sell anything, which I loved. The variety in my job is what keeps me here, particularly now that I am the Executive Director, and its no secret that I simply love working at Fairfield and Woods. We have a great firm, and I am very proud that I have been part of that for so long.
Tell us about a woman you look up to and why. Do you have a mentor?
There is one particular group of women that I look up to. It is no secret that I was part of a LMA Chapter President’s Committee that bonded from day one. Nathalie Daum, Jill Huse, Kelly MacKinnon, Cynthia Voth and Erin Hawk are all women that I have looked up to since I was lucky enough to meet them in October of 2013. Each of them have taken time to mentor me through the years. Each of them are honest and direct, something I believe is hard for women. We tend to worry too much about upsetting each other, but not these women, they always shoot me straight. Sometimes things are hard to hear, but I know each of them come from a place of support and love.
Any advice to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
Sadly, my advice is not all women support women, but don’t get down on yourself about that. You will find your squad, it just takes time.
What do you wish you could tell your younger self?
Do not stay at a bad a job. You will succeed. I had a very bad job early on with a very bad woman boss. She would threaten to fire me often, usually when I did something good and got attention from outside the department (Once another department nominated me for employee of the month, which I got. She was furious). I finally quit without another job, a very scary decision, and I look back and wish I had done it sooner. We spend too much time at work to have people beat up on us. There are good companies out there, with good leaders. That experience makes me a better leader now. I never want anyone in our firm to hate coming to work. I work hard to show our team that they are appreciated, and I try to be accessible to everyone (even during COVID).
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Read every email as if the person sending it was happy and smiling when they sent it. That was years ago, but very applicable to today’s online world.
How do you achieve work/life balance?
That is a tough one now. I love what I do, so it is hard for me to find the balance. I love music and have missed concerts, because they were such an escape, even on a week night. I am hopeful I will be back at shows this summer.
I have always been an active person, but I change it up every few years. I am currently addicted to the Peloton and love joining my friends across the country for rides. Workouts always provide stress relief. Honestly I am always game for fun too, so I am the friend that is usually up for anything, including hiking, skiing, foodie adventures, bar crawls, dancing, travel, or whatever crazy idea you want to throw at me.
What do you think is the key for success in a role like yours?
Thick skin. You cannot take the job to heart. I have to make hard decisions and I upset people, it’s part of the job. I remind myself there are also really good days where I help someone in their career, provide advice on a hard topic, give a bonus to someone who I know needed it or just enjoy time with our team. A lot of days I am the bad guy, but like I said I also hope my team appreciates what we offer here and never hates working for FW.