Fowler White Boggs law firm CEO Rhea Law is regularly recognized as one of the most powerful business leaders in Tampa Bay.
Her accomplishments, past running a 94-attorney firm with five offices in Florida, include leadership roles in economic development, Super Bowl committees and the University of South Florida board of directors. She's pocketed numerous awards, both for her legal work and philanthropic efforts. Law also is a sought after speaker on women in business panels and a mentor to many young women leaders. “There were a lot of people who helped me,” says Law, “and now it's incumbent on me to help them.”
Law, 64, recently spoke with the Business Observer about some issues and topics important to woman business leaders. Here are excerpts of the conversation.
Turkey day: Law and her husband, Wayne Williams, write one-year, five-year and “over the horizon” life plans every Thanksgiving — a tradition that takes place before turkey and gravy. The documents, says Law, cover everything from personal goals to work goals to painting the house.
Law evaluates her plans each quarter to see where she should focus her time. The meticulous plans, she says, are a big part of her success. “Planning is tremendously important. We started out modestly, but now it's quite a spreadsheet,” she says. “We look forward to doing these plans every year.”
Plug away: Law has spoken on dozens of women business leader panels, and has given dozens more speeches on women in business topics. The subject is both a passion and something she says remains necessary, even with the strides women have made over the last decade. “It provides an outlet that's relevant to 51% of your workforce,” Law says. “It shines a spotlight on these issues.”
The maze: The legal field wasn't something women regularly went into when Law earned her law degree, in 1979 from Stetson University. A fifth-generation Floridian, Law says she stayed humble and outworked other attorneys while she built up a client base in government policy and land-use law. That experience and success, she says, helped her break through what she calls “a glass labyrinth,” not a glass ceiling. Law also says she was aided by a host of mentors and champions. “Champions,” she says, “are people who use their high positions to ask people to give you a chance.”
Doing it all: Law says balancing work with family can be conquered just like a lot of other problems — through communication. Communicating and managing people's expectations, she says, is the key to establishing strong family relationships. “I consider it an alignment,” Law says. “People might say I'm the most unbalanced person they know, but it works because Wayne and I are aligned.”
Big disparity: The low number of women on corporate boards is a wrongheaded approach, in Law's view. “There shouldn't be a board member disparity,” says Law, “because there's all this research that has come out that says a company with a diverse board of directors performs better financially than other companies.”
Confidence builder: Before her law career, Law worked at the University of South Florida, where she helped write grants and contracts. It was there, in the 1970s, where Law met and worked under her first mentor, Dr. William Taft. Unsure about a career path, it was Taft, says Law, “who told me every day that I can do anything I want to do. After a while I started to believe him.”
Passion play: Law spends a good amount of time mentoring young women professionals, especially new attorneys. Her advice: Find your passion and stick to it. “When young lawyers come in my office for the first time I tell them that you need to love what you do because you will spend more time here than you do with your family,” says Law. “Focusing on something you love will help you be really good at it.”