Mediator Michelle Jernigan: From The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Interview Series 'Balancing in Heels'

The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division recently posted interviews with legal leaders who gave their advice and insight on “having it all,” finding balance between one’s personal and professional lives, and the importance of civic and professional involvement.  We are proud that shareholder A. Michelle Jernigan was selected to contribute. More questions? Call on Michelle at mjernigan@uww-adr.com or (407) 661-1123. Would you like to reserve a mediation time with Michelle or have her deliver a custom CLE program for your firm? Visit our scheduling page or contact case manager Cathy McCleary (cmccleary@uww-adr.com).

Mediator Michelle Jernigan Shareholder/Mediator Michelle Jernigan


Name: A. Michelle Jernigan
Job Title: Shareholder, Upchurch Watson White & Max
City: Maitland, Florida
Number of Children/Other Dependents: Two children and two step-children

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated? Why?
That depends on what you mean by “having it all”.  I believe there are seasons in life and each season offers different opportunities and places different demands on us.

What does having “it all” mean to you?
To me “having it all” means having a whole life, which encompasses spiritual, physical, emotional and social.  I believe that we are all called to a purposeful life and we each have to explore what that means for us.


What is the best advice you have ever received on balancing your personal and professional lives?
The best advice I have received on balancing your personal and professional life is to determine what your values are. Once you have established those, you are able to determine priorities. Once your priorities are in place, you make decisions that are consistent with your priorities. You will need to extend grace to yourself in those times where you are unable to live according to your priorities.

If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it? 
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would probably spend it outside walking or biking.

Looking back at when you started in the profession, and knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self? 
Eliminate self-doubt and recognize that you possess everything you need to succeed.

Do you deal with guilt in trying to balance your personal and professional lives?
Now that my children are grown, I no longer experience guilt. I did when they were younger, often wondering whether I was making the right decision to work outside of the home. My children are on the path to success, they are happy with their lives, and I am content with mine. I was able to work part-time when they were young so I do not feel like I missed much in their childhood.  If anyone paid a price, it was me. At times career demands and family demands were overwhelming, and I experienced high levels of stress. Despite that, I am happy with the choices I made. I think that if children see a strong work ethic in their parents they are more likely to emulate that.

What single change do you believe would have the biggest impact on work life balance or quality of life? 
Be careful about what you say “yes” to. With my children gone, I am just now expanding my reach into community activities.

What part of “balance” do you struggle with?
I tend to be task-oriented and sometimes won’t allow myself to just relax.

What part of “balance” are you improving at?
I am spending more time exercising and taking care of myself.

As a working parent, how do you balance your career and your role as a parent? 
When my children were at home I made an effort to be “present” with them. I sought to work while they napped and played. I tried to work my career around their schedule and their needs. I had sitters and a personal assistant. I delegated mundane duties so that I could enjoy time with my children when I was home. I had the privilege of working part-time when my children were young and then moving to full-time once they were a little older.

How important is civic and/or professional involvement to you and why?
I believe your family should come first, but I think we are all called to something useful and productive. It may be a career and it may be community service.  We all need to have our own individual purpose in life.

What’s the advice you would give a young lawyer seeking to strike a “balance” between family, self, and the practice of law or achieve better quality of life?
Be true to yourself and your values. You cannot give to others if your personal resources are depleted. Author Lewis Carroll said “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

Any other parting words of advice?
Discover your purpose in the context of your uniqueness. Be courageous and steadfast in walking the path to which you have been called. Seek to find joy and peace in each day, and share that with those in need.  Don’t forget to laugh!

To read more of the "Balancing in Heels" series, visit flayld.org/commission-on-women/interview-series.


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