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Milbank's Bête Noire Is Now Law School Dean

Vivia Chen

November 4, 2013

Mumford_Michelle_Layout
You might not remember Michelle Mumford, but I bet folks at Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy still do. That's because she said that being a pregnant associate in Milbank's litigation department was akin to being "a leper in the public square—ignored, shunned, rejected." She said that in 2003, after quitting Milbank in frustration, when I interviewed her for The American Lawyer about women in Big Law.

 

I thought Mumford took a brave stance at the time (photo above with her baby from the article). I also thought it was career suicide.

We lost touch over the years. But through the magic of Twitter, we reconnected. The long and short of it: Mumford today (below) is the mother of six (ages 10 months to 11 years old) and the new admissions dean at Brigham Young University's law school.

So many questions to ask: How did she get back in the saddle after nine years as a stay-at-home mom? What's it like to be a working mom in conservative Utah? What's up with the BYU gig?

UnknownYou had one child when we last talked. Now you have six. And you're back working full time. I feel like a slacker next to you.
I went back to work in 2011 when I had four kids. I clerked for 10th Circuit judge Monroe McKay, then worked as a staff attorney for the 10th Circuit. I had twins in January, and my [oldest child] is 11. I have a household of kids. Now you understand why I wanted to go back to work!

clerk on the Tenth Circuit for Judge Monroe G. McKay, then worked as a staff attorney at the Tenth Circuit. - See more at: http://www.law2.byu.edu/news2/new-assistant-dean#sthash.Zt8HmDeA.dpuf
clerk on the Tenth Circuit for Judge Monroe G. McKay, then worked as a staff attorney at the Tenth Circuit. - See more at: http://www.law2.byu.edu/news2/new-assistant-dean#sthash.Zt8HmDeA.dpuf

Was staying at home not quite what you thought it would be?
What made it difficult was that my husband was so busy [he was an associate at Skadden Arps in New York, then Los Angeles, and now runs his own firm]. I was all alone with the kids for so long. I picked up hobbies, did charity work . . .but I got bored.

So how in the world did you get back into the law world after almost 10 years?
I kept up with my [legal] writing, and I tried to stay active. I thought a clerkship was the best way to get back. There are no billables, no clients. Writing came back really easily. I thought, wow, I could do this again.

But you didn't try to get back into Big Law. Did Milbank sour you about working at a firm?
No. I recognized it for what it was. It was sad how the relationship ended. . . I have no hard feelings about Milbank.

You're now living in Utah, which is radically different from New York and L.A., where you moved after New York. You're Mormon, mother of six little kids, and you work full-time. That can't be the local model. Do you feel pressure to be a housewife?
Sure. There's incredulity at what I'm doing. The bulk of women in Utah would chose to do otherwise. But I feel there's less stigma than there use to be. People don't think I'm bad; they just think I'm crazy.

You sound like a bit of a rebel in your community. Are you a feminist?
Within the evolving definition of that word—in the sense of allowing women to chose what they want to do, and not just following the traditional role.

That doesn't sound like it fits Mormon teaching. Isn't the husband the head of the house?
Yes, but I never looked to my husband for approval. In fact, he was the one pushing me to go back to work, because he sees that I'm happier when I'm working.

You're now the admissions dean at Brigham Young's law school, your alma mater, which has been ranked number one for delivering good value. But it has only 39 percent female students. Is that something you're working to improve?
Yes. I think I have a story that will help attract women. I can show women what the possibilities are: If you want to work, you can. . . . [But] it will be a while before it's the norm.

Just curious: Do you have to be Mormon to apply to BYU's law school?
No. We like the diversity of non-LDSs [Church of Latter Day Saints]. But they do have to abide by the honor code—no alcohol, no premarital sex. We tend to look to faith-based communities to recruit students.

So if you're an atheist, you shouldn't apply?
No—atheists should apply! We love diversity of views—so long as you abide by the honor code. That's the hard part.

E-mail  Vivia Chen: vchen@alm.com     Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist

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Thank you so much for being an inspiration to women everywhere! I believe women in the LDS church need to see that it's ok to work and women everywhere need to see the possibilities of what they can be! You're showing us all. Thanks!

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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