Monika Kosa, LL.M. (Dr.iur. in Hungary) studied law in Hungary, France and Germany with a focus on European law. After working for Rödl&Partner in Budapest, she joined Austria's leading law firm Schönherr Rechtsanwälte GmbH in Vienna at this time.
I asked her about her recipe for success.
Ms. Kosa, LL.M., after working as an associate at Rödl&Partner in Budapest and at Austria's leading law firm Schönherr Rechtsanwälte GmbH, you have now consciously decided to take a family and educational break. At Women in Law (Vienna) you have written a highly regarded article on the subject, in which you argue for modern and alternative career paths for top lawyers as well.
What have you achieved as a lawyer and why?
In addition to my first work experience at Rödl&Partner in Budapest, I completed my studies of equivalence (nostrification) at the University of Vienna, followed by a court year in Austria and worked as an associate at Schönherr in the Corporate/M&A department in Vienna. I was very enthusiastic about the good infrastructure, the professional work on a high level and the challenging questions with international or European law relevance. I really burned for my job. Too much. And at some point I had to decide between my health and my private life on the one hand and my career and this exciting job on the other. I made a conscious decision for the former and took some time off, during which I started a family and continued my education in various fields (legal, but also other topics). What my private and professional path shows me in retrospect is that a lot of things could not have been planned: with the decision for higher education I set a direction for my life early on, but the individual forks in the road came about step by step. My story is a good example for the fact that life (and accordingly also the career path) is not linear but organic...
So would the decision for a career really have been a decision against a fulfilled private life?
In my case it would have been, yes. In many law firms, for example, a kind of all-or-nothing mentality in favor of a career is the norm. Many young lawyers are only confronted with this in the course of their first few years of practice. They would like to define themselves as equal and modern, but the often rigid structures do not allow this. In my opinion, in many places there is still a very rigid, outdated picture of what a career as a lawyer should look like. In Austria, for example, it is still de facto almost impossible to work part-time as a trainee lawyer. But I did not want to accept that. In addition to career advancement, starting a family and time for life experience and personal development were important to me. In the long run I would not have been happy in my profession if I had always known in the back of my mind that I had neglected this part of my personality. With the family and educational break I finally had the opportunity to underpin my experience that education is the key to a fulfilled life with further studies and training and voluntary work. Right now I am in the process of realizing one of my heart's projects: the foundation of a kindergarten that is especially tailored to the needs of lawyers and thus contributes to improving the institutional framework conditions for Viennese lawyers to be able to master the balance of being good lawyers and good parents more easily in the future. I was inspired by the book "Unfinished Business" by Anne-Marie Slaughter, who argues for allowing different life and work models, recognizing care services and investing in care work and caregivers. Enabling the plurality of work and life plans means on the one hand to expand the institutional background in order to allow choices at all. On the other hand, it would be time to allow questions to be asked in the legal profession as well, such as Why should one not devote more time to family or other personal issues in certain phases of life and then start again a little later? If we can (want to or have to) work until our mid-60s and beyond - why do we have to have climbed the highest rungs of the career ladder by our mid-30s? The compatibility of the lawyer's profession and family as well as a sustainable career for lawyers will certainly occupy me in the future not only privately but also professionally. You can be curious!
Please name your three very personal tips for success:
#1 Work smart not hard!
Take care of your health. At the beginning of my legal career, I thought that more work also brings more results. I first had to learn that after a certain point, productivity and quality simply drop. Intellectual activity such as working out complex solutions and writing opinions on more complicated legal issues, which also require creative, critical and divergent thinking, needs a fit mind and often working smarter than just harder brings more results. #1 is therefore: work smart not hard. Only when you are well can you deliver full performance in the long term.
#2 Be calm!
Detours are part of it. We like to overlook the fact that success depends on the interaction of many factors. Happiness is certainly one of them and also doing the right thing at the right time, but also simply being in the right place at the right time. An important and often underestimated factor is the social background (i.e. being born at the right time in the right milieu). Much of this cannot be influenced or planned, but you can always try to make the best of it and take advantage of the opportunities that arise along the way. In my case education was the key to a fulfilled life. My thirst for knowledge even led me to five European countries, which is still very valuable to me today. My tip no. 2 is therefore based on the Serenity Prayer: Accept what you can't change, do what you can do, and always try to clearly distinguish one from the other.
#3 Keep developing your soft skills!
They are your personal key to success. My plea: much more targeted training during your studies in terms of sustainable career planning and life development should be offered. Profound legal knowledge, honors degrees and good-sounding degrees are often an advantage when starting a career but they are not everything. For a sustainable existence in the profession, mE would need much more training in soft skills, topics of sustainable career planning and healthy life development, e.g. compatibility issues, stress management, conflict resolution, cooperative and solution-oriented communication, both at the university and during the conceptual phase. On an individual level it would be very important to take care of yourself from the beginning: to know yourself with your strengths and weaknesses, your personality, to know what you want and what is important to you and above all to take care of your own health and long-term performance. And a lot happens along the way: space and time for reflection and self-actualization is immensely important. It also requires a lot of competence development from the very beginning. And under "from the beginning" we might as well think about our school days: it would be important to rethink a lot in many areas.
Thank you very much.
Mrs. Kosa lives with her husband and her son in Vienna. In the last years she has been concerned with educational issues and sustainable careers (among other things, she has been involved in volunteer work for the promotion of workers' children in addition to her work).
Her personal motto in life is: Life is colourful or "Everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not yet the end."
(Originally published on 24.02.2016 on the former CLP blog JurCoach.)