When push (a family member in need) meets shove (the demands of the job), sleep and social life disappear
Published in 2004 Texas Rising Stars magazine
on June 23, 2004
Updated on October 3, 2019
Kristi Motley insists she does no more than any other attorney balancing professional and personal life — “Don’t make my mother sound like a victim so you can make me a hero. That’s not how it is.” But at times in the last few years the balancing act has been difficult.
Born in Fort Worth and raised in Arlington, Kristi, at 31, is a rising young star at the Dallas law firm of Bickel & Brewer. A senior associate, she’s a generalist in corporate litigation and loves the challenge of the work. Bickel & Brewer specializes in what it calls “bet the business” litigation, high-profile cases for Fortune 500 companies. For Motley, this means working on disputes worth tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. But more important to her, the breach of contract, conspiracy and fraud cases “are cutting-edge work.” “You can’t just go look things up,” she says. “Every case I learn something new.”
Motley is also active in the firm’s pro bono affiliate, the Bickel & Brewer Storefront — where the legal challenges can be just as great with clients at the other end of the income scale. At the moment she’s working with the widow of a common-law marriage, who has been denied Social Security benefits on the death of her husband.
An exciting professional trajectory, but as anyone who has tried to live fully in the professional and personal worlds knows, life has a way of getting complicated.
In 2002 her mother, Denise Motley, moved in with her. It’s important to Motley that people don’t get the impression that she gave up her personal life to take care of an elderly, incapacitated relative. She is quick to point out that her mother is only 21 years older than she is, an independent, capable woman, who worked her way up from administrative assistant to human resources manager. Motley describes the arrangement as “a partnership, to pool funds.”
But the most independent of us can take a fall. And later that year, her mother fell the first of several times — something which doctors have never adequately explained. In the summer of 2003, her mother injured several vertebrae and severely damaged her shoulder. Surgery was scheduled for Halloween 2003.
Motley and her boss were scheduled to go to trial on Nov. 3.
Fifteen-hour days in the courtroom, rushing home to a mother who would wake screaming at 1 a.m. from post-surgical pain, Kristi didn’t get much sleep.
And the irony was that the case involved a terminated employee suing for disability discrimination.
But, says Motley, “you do what you do,” an attitude she learned from her parents. They were divorced when she was four and her brother two. Without a college degree, her mother struggled to find a good job. Her father struggled to pay child support on his entry-level salary. The single mother and her two kids at one point lived with Motley’s great-grandmother, who made their clothes.
“But never, ever in my life did I feel the lack of money,” she says. “I went to school with wealthy kids, 16-year-olds with BMWs, but I didn’t feel like I was a lesser person. My parents ensured that I had good self-esteem, that I knew I was loved.
“Some of my friends, their parents threw money at them and then went off on trips and left them alone. Would I go back and trade places with them? Heck, no.”
Motley is also grateful to Bickel & Brewer for providing her with role models in living the personal/professional life, and for supporting her own situation. She sees partners who go home to have dinner with their families and then return to work. If she had to come in late or leave early to take her mother to the hospital, the response was “Of course, Kristi, no problem.”
It helped, of course, that the firm won the case: “The former employee was a very sympathetic character, but we had pretty strong evidence that there was no disability discrimination. Let’s just say we picked a jury, my boss did his opening statement, and they settled right after that.”
And the personal partnership? Well, Motley’s mother is back at work and the two of them are still living together.
“She says she grew up with us, because she was so young when she had us,” Motley relates. “When I was a kid, I wasn’t one to bow to authority. So she didn’t get in the way of my social life then and she doesn’t now. Occasionally I get a call at work: ‘Are you coming home?’ But we’re completely compatible.”