Beyond the arched hallways made to look like raised eyebrows, and several floors above a column in the cafeteria that resembles a lipstick tube, the only makeup Julia A. Simon is concerned with is that of her legal team.
In the world headquarters of cosmetics giant Mary Kay Inc., “glass-half-empty people don’t do well here,” Simon says.
Simon, vice president of Legal Resources, is definitely a glass-half-full person.
When approaching legal queries, “you can’t just say, ‘No, it’s not possible,’” she says. “Think about a different approach, and make things work the way they should. Even if it is counterintuitive.”
Making things work the way they should is imperative at Mary Kay. In Addison, just north of Dallas, there’s an edict passed down from founder Mary Kay Ash that revolves around the Golden Rule: Always do what’s right, what’s honest and what’s ethical.
“That’s what’s required of lawyers,” Simon says. “It was passed on to me, and is passed on to each lawyer we hire.”
While in law school at the University of Texas, Simon had her first clerkship—and later her first job—at the Louisiana firm McGlinchey Stafford Lang. A fellow McGlinchey attorney took the young Simon aside and gave her the best early professional advice she received: He told her she needed to get her billable hours up and keep them up. Years later, it helped her make partner in Locke Liddell & Sapp’s Dallas office because she didn’t need to fake face time. “I never had an empty plate because I knew that’s what I needed to do,” she says.
At Mary Kay, she says, “We have to know our responsibilities here. But sometimes you have to cut it off and get home. I want to get home and make dinner myself for the kids.”
After the birth of her daughter, she realized she had to reorganize her priorities. She needed a job that would allow her more flexible hours. That brought her back to Mary Kay, where she had briefly practiced before, even though at the time it meant a demotion.
“I would have stayed at Locke Liddell forever if it wasn’t for having a child,” Simon says.
Now she’s home in time to check 8-year-old Alexandria’s math homework and play with Jared, 4. In-house lawyers have as much work to do, if not more, than those working at a law firm, she says, but it’s the flexibility that makes a difference.
“Mary Kay lets me set my priorities,” Simon says.
She’s never looked at being a female—or an African American—in the male-dominated Texas legal community as a problem. Quite the opposite. “I have felt welcomed in the profession from day one,” she says. “But a lot of it is in the way you approach things. If you come at others with a negative view, that’s what you’ll get.”
Simon is quick to credit others who have helped her through her career. One of those mentors, Locke Liddell & Sapp’s managing partner, Jerry K. Clements, remembers her as a standout during her years at the firm.
“I always admired Julia’s tenacity and maturity,” Clements says. “She was eager to learn from other trial lawyers but did a great job of developing her own style and presentation. Julia always appeared confident and well prepared because she was.”
Simon, who “loved going to court and talking with the jury,” knew going in-house would mean spending less time in the courtroom. For a company the size of Mary Kay, with more than 700,000 independent sales force members in the United States, there has been surprisingly little litigation.
“Over the last 20 years we have had maybe three [independent sales force] lawsuits,” she says. “If you really try to do the right thing, everything will work itself out, and that’s very much applicable to the practice of law.”
Simon eats lunch at her desk almost every day, determined to keep at her work until her problems are solved.
“Often you can resolve things with a letter or a phone call,” she says. Mostly, she says, there is no reason for a fight.
But without a moment’s pause, she adds, “But we’re not afraid of a fight, either.”