You might call Susan Grogan Faller unflappable. During law school, she interviewed for a summer associate position at a prominent Cincinnati law firm. Two of the firm’s lawyers took her out for lunch, but the private club they chose delivered some bad news: No women were allowed in the main dining area during the day.
It’s an experience that might have flustered some aspiring lawyers, but Faller weathered the situation with grace. The club set the trio up to eat in a separate room, and Faller impressed her companions enough to land a position with the firm—now known as Frost Brown Todd—where she returned after graduation and still works today.
That fateful interview took place in 1973, while Faller was earning her degree from the University of Michigan Law School. She was one of roughly 50 women in a class 350 strong. “I was on the cusp of the start of the increase of women in law school,” she says. As such, she’s spent much of her career breaking down barriers for female attorneys.
When she first joined Frost Brown Todd, most of the firm’s women were secretaries. Faller was the firm’s first female summer associate, third woman associate and second female attorney to become partner. Today there’s a diverse mix of men and women among both the support staff and legal team.
Throughout her career, Faller has offered a helping hand to other talented women. In the mid-’80s, she co-founded a Cincinnati group called Women Entrepreneurs Inc. It started out as a conference to help women start businesses and eventually evolved into a membership organization. Though the group is now defunct, Faller still meets women who say it helped them get their now-successful business ventures off the ground.
Faller also mentors younger lawyers as part of a formal program at her firm and through her own open-door policy. Women lawyers often seek her advice on work/life balance when they’re expecting their first child. Faller, who has three grown daughters, was the first woman attorney to have a baby while working at her firm. She’s also married to another busy lawyer.
Her words of wisdom for making it all work? “Your children will grow very quickly,” she says. “It seems like only yesterday I had little girls in party dresses. It’s important to be true to your principles and not have any regrets.” She took time off after each of her daughters was born and worked out a formal agreement to take her billable hours down to 80 percent for several years.
When she was pregnant with her first child, Faller found herself in court the day before she was due to give birth. On the trial’s third day—officially one day past Faller’s due date—the judge decided to finish things up the next morning. Faller politely pointed out that they could wrap up the closing arguments by 6 p.m. if they pushed on.
At first, the judge missed the hint. He assumed Faller’s out-of-town client wanted to head home, so he told her they could complete the trial without him. After learning her due date, the judge agreed to stay as late as necessary. Then he offered Faller what were supposed to be reassuring words: “Don’t worry; my bailiff used to be an EMT.” Luckily, she didn’t have the baby until six days later.
Somehow Faller managed to make the juggling act look easy. “It was tricky,” she says. “I think you have to realize that you can’t do everything. You can’t be all things to all people.” Motherhood, however, doesn’t seem to have taken a toll on her career. Faller is known for her work in media law and business and commercial litigation. She’s chair of her firm’s First Amendment, media and advertising practice group, as well as cochair of her firm’s India consulting group.
These impressive accomplishments, however, don’t mean all the hard work has already been done. “The next barrier is to see female lawyers in equal numbers with male lawyers as managing partners of law firms and on the key management committees,” Faller says. If the past is any indicator of the future, Faller will be there to give her colleagues a boost over the wall.