Lawyer Fran Krasnow (at center in the photo) and her daughters, marketing manager Marissa Pines (at right) and publishing account director Talia Pines, are women of accomplishment. Fran Krasnow is a principal of the Chicago law firm Fischel & Kahn, Ltd. An experienced negotiator and trial attorney, she is a widely known and respected practitioner in all aspects of family law. She has received many honors, including selected to Best Lawyers in America.  Among Fran’s many Chicago community activities: board member of the Anti-Defamation League, the Illinois Appleseed Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and she currently is chairman of the Hillels of Illinois.   Fran is also a director of the Lake Forest Bank & Trust Company. In 2006 she received the Anti-Defamation League Women of Achievement Award, which honors women who are outstanding in their field and who embody the spirit and philosophy of ADL. In 2012 she received the American Friends of The Hebrew University Leaders of Distinction Award.  Fran received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and has her J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law. Marissa Pines is a marketing manager with PepsiCo. She graduated from Northwestern University and received her MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. Talia Pines is a senior account director with publisher Modern Luxury. She is a graduate of the journalism school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Different generations of women get—and need—different guidance on career building. Marissa what kind of advice has your Mother given you?

I think the advice she has given me on career building has been the same advice she’s offered on many things when I was growing up. If I tried my hardest and focused and worked, I could do anything I wanted to do. She instilled that in me at a very young age.

When I was 15 years old I was making jewelry—I still do—and she encouraged me to start my own company. So at 15 I had my own company, “Pines Designs,” and I sold beaded jewelry at art fairs. I had business cards! Not only did I turn it into something that taught me how to run a business but it also gave me an opportunity to raise money for charities through high school. I think without my mother’s encouragement I never would have done something like that.

So you’ve always had the expectation that there are no doors in business or life that you can’t open? Have you found that that’s true or have you encountered any doors or opportunities that have been closed to women?

Up to this point most–if not all–of the doors I’ve wanted to open I’ve been able to open. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve liked everything I’ve done since graduating from college. Actually I’d thought I wanted to be a lawyer but decided no. My mother had nothing to do with that decision: She loves what she does but I decided to go into the business world. I worked for Target, then I went to business school and then I started to work with PepsiCo. I haven’t encountered closed doors yet and I hope that continues throughout my career.

Talia, I’d be interested in hearing your recollections, too, about the guidance you received from your mother.

My mother’s guidance was similar to what my sister described. At a young age, I was told there would be hurdles in life but that you can get over them: You can be a lawyer or a teacher or an artist or anything. There was an understanding that people’s paths and wishes and desires might not all be the same and that there’s not just one right way to do it.

And have you encountered anything that suggests the business world is less than friendly?

Well, I don’t know that it is “friendly.” But I do think that if you put forth your best effort and if you can be smart in the job that you do, you can probably achieve 95% of the things you want to achieve. It’s important to know what you’re doing. If you’re in a field where you don’t feel knowledgeable, you might want to learn more or rethink your career choices.

Fran, does this sound like the world into which women in general and you in particular entered back when you began your career?

The world is definitely friendlier to women today than in the mid-70s when I was in law school. I’m an optimistic person who doesn’t take no for an answer very easily. Even with obstacles and hurdles, I identified what I wanted at a young age and did everything I could to set myself in that direction. If that meant sitting in the Attorney General’s reception area for an hour and a half in hopes of getting an interview, I did that.   After being advised that despite my wait, the AG’s office didn’t hire first-year law students, I said, “Just look at my résumé, and if you don’t want to talk to me, that’s fine. He looked at my résumé and agreed to interview to me – and I got the job.

My first job after college went much the same way. Again, I was told not to bother interviewing because I just had a B.A. in Ann Arbor – a college town – where lots of people looking for work had Master’s and Ph.D.’s. I said the same thing: “Interview me. If you don’t like me, that’s fine.”  Again, asserting myself worked.

You really have to be your own advocate and believe from the start that you are the right person to go after whatever it is you want. With my daughters—and my two sons, too—I have tried to encourage them to develop their interests. Our family is a very supportive and reinforcing group; we try to identify what each of us does best and to develop those skills.

My daughters were really good kids and they’re great women. They always did charitable things, were respectful of other people and are very sensitive to those who aren’t as fortunate as they are. They have a strong value base that makes them well rounded and effective leaders.

I worked full time and, for better or worse, I was their role model.  But I stayed involved in their school activities and was also often their room mother. I was a working mom with a career that was not insignificant.

Fran, what did you learn from your own mother.

My mother was a survivor of the Holocaust and instilled in us her survivor mentality. She also did not take no for an answer very well. She was a hidden child in France who pretended she was Catholic during World War II. She was saved by a Catholic family.

So I had an important role model in my mother, who did not have a professional career but certainly had a deep belief that you can do whatever you want in life.

With so many arenas in which you’ve been prominently involved, how were you able to handle the work/life balance issue?

You say “were” but the balancing act continues! My husband and I are taking our 16-year-old son to look at colleges next week.

My personal definition of success has evolved over the years and it essentially became one of balance: to have a life which prioritized my family, my marriage, my career and my clients– not always in that order.  I also give high priority to my charitable activities and other affiliations.

I could have been on a different career path. Early on I was traveling extensively. I had cases in federal courts across the country. It was very interesting litigation and I enjoyed what I was doing.  But it was difficult.  Marissa was little and I wasn’t seeing her as often as I would have liked because I was gone for several days at a time. Ultimately I saw that I needed a state-law based practice. I knew I needed to be closer to home.

My decision to go to a smaller firm might not have been the race to the top that others would have chosen. For me, I felt I could continue a first-class law practice in a different forum, and still have the family life and community involvement that were so important to me.

There cannot be a single definition of success for all women, or for all men for that matter.  While some men and women pride themselves on being solely devoted to their careers, corporations, or other endeavors, I could not have done that to the exclusion of my family and other interests.  That’s not my definition of success. But I understand that it may be for someone else. Essential to “women’s rights” is our right to define what success is to us.

I have no regrets. I’m glad I made the career changes when I did. And I’m so proud to be sitting here with these two very cool young women!

Marissa, as the oldest child, you must have been very aware of your mother working outside the home. How do you think it influenced you?

In a few different ways, I think. Seeing her so dedicated to a career she loved makes me want to do something that I love that much, too. I realized once I started working how much time you spend with your co-workers and how much time you’re in your office. It’s given me a new appreciation for everything that she had to balance when I was growing up.

It influences me personally because I see myself ultimately balancing a career and a family as she has done. And it also influences how I interact with others. If I have to stay and work late, I can do that but I work with many women with family obligations who can’t. Having seen my mother do her balancing act gives an appreciation and understanding for what co-workers might be facing. It’s a good perspective to have, I think. Especially in an office like mine where there are more women than men.

Fran, from what you’ve seen with friends, co-workers and even clients, where do women encounter roadblocks in career building?

I wish I could tell you that there’s no longer a “glass ceiling.” But those ceilings are still there for a lot of people. When I speak with women who’ve hit the pinnacle of success in their fields, almost without exception they recount current stories of discrimination that I’m astonished to hear today.

While there may be different explanations for this, there are no excuses. Discrimination is inexcusable.  But this is where mentoring is so important.   Many women have trouble asking for raises, asking to be promoted, asking for business. They’re uncomfortable telling people, “I would like to represent you.” For some reason, it’s harder for a woman to ask for such things, to put themselves out there and risk rejection. But if you don’t ask for it, you don’t get it. As a result, it can be a bit self-perpetuating.

There can’t be enough seminars and meetings and websites like that encourage women to say, “I think I can do that job.” Women have to ask for the jobs, the money, the raises and the promotions.

We also are unique– the sex that can bear children– so if you decide to go that route, at some point you’re going to be physically somewhere other than the office – possibly for an extended period of time. The way I had my four children worked for me. I’m sure I had some partners who may have thought I have too many children. But I’m happy with my decisions, and I don’t think it slowed me down at all. I took off a few months with each pregnancy.  As I became more senior in my career, it was harder to actually take time “off,” but easier to do work outside the office. Computers and fax machines eased me through my last two maternity leaves.

You don’t have to put your career on hold to have a family, but there’s nothing wrong with doing that if that’s what you choose. This continues to be a delicate issue but it’s truly a personal choice, and we women should not judge one another on the decisions we make.

There’s a lot of discussion of the value of mentors and networking. Talia, as the most recent entrant in the marketplace, have you taken advantage of either of those benefits?

I have. I feel very lucky to have the mentors I do, and I count both my mother and my sister as successful women I can look up to. I am in an especially fortunate position: A lot of women my age, in their mid-twenties, don’t have hard-working, career-focused mothers and sisters to use as models. From them I think I’ve gained a level approach to the world and a strong respect for others.

I also think it’s important to have men as mentors and to watch how men do their jobs. You learn to take notes from all the smart and successful people around you regardless of gender. I have a lot to learn, so I look to people older than I am.

I’ve learned that with many things you have to just get out there and do it. There really isn’t a lot of hand holding so often you need to find the confidence within yourself that lets you go do it. You have to learn that on your own.

I’m in sales so I’ve certainly learned the importance of networking. It’s something I do every day.

Fran, did you have mentors who helped you in your law career?

I did. My first job after law school was with Jenner & Block in the ‘70s.  I definitely had both men and women who looked out for me, led me and taught me. There were one or two women and one or two men whom I worked very closely with early on. They mentored me. One of the men did it by essentially throwing me in the water and saying, “Swim!”

He was an interesting attorney who would send me to court, saying he’d meet me there, and then he wouldn’t show up – putting me out on my own at a very early age.  And this would be federal court where I’d be conducting a hearing at a much earlier stage of my career than some people might have thought wise. Fortunately, things worked out well. So I was effectively mentored in absentia by him.

With another attorney, if asked her a question, she’d say, “You have a license. You can do this.” She tried to instill confidence in me early on.  As a result, I started doing trials when I was very young, which was unusual. But I was very fortunate in the matters I was assigned as a young lawyer.

My mom, though, truly was my mentor with her take-no-prisoners mentality. She felt she beat the system by making it out of Europe. Her strength and her love along with my dad’s encouragement and undying support gave me the confidence to do what I do.  It also made it easy for me to raise a family the same way, instilling confidence and giving unconditional love to our children.

My dad and I were very similar, personality-wise. He was a successful, charitable businessman and I actually have sat on some of the same boards on which he served. It’s great to walk in his footsteps in that way. He died in his ‘60s, very young, and it’s unfortunate he did not get to know my children. As traditional as he was, and as much as he probably would have thought it best for me to stay home and make babies, he instilled in me the belief that I could be whatever I wanted to be.

You’ve been involved with many organizations, and many that benefit women. Is that a kind of mentoring role for you?

Definitely.  I’ve been very involved in “women’s” organizations over the years, but those organizations really affect – and benefit – everyone. Another way to mentor women is to assume leadership roles in organizations that are not solely for women. Holding leadership roles in the greater community speaks for itself. I’m chairing the Hillels of Illinois now, and I continue to serve on several other boards. Just being a woman in a leadership position confirms to other women that this is something they can do.

Are you encouraged about the future by your work with young attorneys? And do they seem much different from young attorneys when you were one?

There’s more of a sense of entitlement now, which is fine with me. Young attorneys don’t sense discrimination. That doesn’t hit until there’s a threat involved and young attorneys are non-threatening. My experience has been that women at top levels are the ones who start feeling the crunch in organizations because the more successful they are, the more of a threat they represent. It’s at that stage that women start feeling they’re getting pushed down by that glass ceiling.  Let’s raise that ceiling through the roof.

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