‘Let Someone Else Make the Porridge’

Rochester lawyers Bernadette Catalana and Kelly Odorisi get candid about women and the law

Published in 2018 Upstate New York Super Lawyers Magazine

From a conference room overlooking Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, Bernadette Catalana and Kelly Odorisi make one thing clear: “This is not a man-bashing forum.” 

Catalana, a civil litigator with Lavin, O’Neil, Cedrone & DiSipio; and Odorisi, with an eponymous estate and trust firm—both in Rochester—are in Philadelphia to present “Candid Talk Women At The Bar,” their CLE-certified, informal chat-fest tailored toward women lawyers with a singular mission: encourage women to opt in. 

A conversation between the two best friends in Catalana’s driveway one evening inspired the program.

“The moon was out, and we were standing around musing, ‘How have we stayed in this game?’” Odorisi recounts. “The two of us had been through some very personal things, and we are two untraditional women lawyers—both of us were marketing majors. And we had small children early in our careers.”

Adds Catalana, “We were watching so many promising young women leave the law, and wondering, ‘Why?’ And how have we managed to not only remain gainfully employed, but to be enjoying our careers?”

Since that moonlit confab in 2015, they’ve presented Candid Talk Women nationally. The duo also has a book in the works. 

“There is a freeing realization that we need to get to,” Catalana tells the crowd in Philadelphia. “And that is that this is the practice of law. Not the perfect of law.”

One of their pillars is to find a vulnerability partner. 

“When I first met Bernadette, I thought, ‘OK. Here is this stellar lawyer, rock-star mom, and I’m just half-assing it.’ I didn’t want to show my true self to this person,” Odorisi says. “But there is a double standard of what we expect from women—the martyrdom of motherhood. Women lawyers struggle, but we’re supposed to. Once I opened up, Bernadette became the person I could call and cry and scream [to], then she set me back toward the job. Having that person is critical.”

They also say let someone else cook the porridge. “When my kids were younger, Colonial Day was the same week of a big trial,” Catalana says. “They needed someone to make colonial porridge. My guilt as a working mother got the best of me. I said, ‘Sure.’ I didn’t sleep, the trial was so difficult … Women lawyers, fill in the blanks, because you know the story. Let someone else make the porridge.”

While men may get a bad rap in the ego department, Odorisi says women need to check theirs, too. Early in her career, she had a shot at her dream gig—working in criminal law at the Rochester DA’s office. But estate planning fit her schedule better. “The mentality is, ‘A will? Any lawyer can do a will,’” Odorisi says. “But doing the practical thing has given me the balance to afford staying power.”

 While it might be tough, they say challenge spouses to have equal equity in childrearing. “[Mothers] tend to assign spouses the ‘helper-parent,’” says Catalana. “That’s not fair to your spouse or you.”

The two say feedback has been “overwhelming.”

“We were called ‘The Gayle and Oprah of the legal world’ and we fight over who gets to be Oprah,” Catalana says. “The reaction has been positive across the spectrum. One man told us that as a man of color, what we were saying struck a chord. We also had a young woman come to us, crying. She was a first-time mom and said, ‘For the first time, I feel like someone understands what I’m going through.’”

Says Odorisi, “We give these people permission and space to be vulnerable and agree: ‘Yes. This is very hard.’” 

They’re making footholds in other business sectors, too. 

“We’ve been contacted by industry outside of the law to present, focusing on the importance of mentorship,” Catalana says. The duo also has an October podcast presentation in their back pocket, in partnership with Women for Economic and Leadership Development. “We have stumbled upon something greater than either of us had ever imagined,” Catalana says.

 


 

Candid Talk Women Top 10 Takeaways

 - Opt in

 - Vulnerability is strength

 - Civility is key

 - Network? Yes

 - Start with the end in mind

 - Time is your currency

 - You are not a lawyerette

 - No: Learn to say it

 - Have a mentor. Be a mentor

 - You are the CEO of your practice

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