FAIRLAWN: Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor told a group of young area business professionals she had “no formula” to impart in the years it took for her to become the state’s top legal authority.
In the keynote address Tuesday afternoon at Fairlawn Country Club, O’Connor said she felt the worst possible thing to do in fashioning a career path is to “set an end-game goal of where you want to be, and relentlessly, with blinders on, try to achieve that goal no matter what else is going on in your professional or your personal life.”
O’Connor said she gave that advice to several young men and women seated at her luncheon table, relating a story she sometimes tells to young law students while seeing the department deans “shuddering” in the background.
“I went to law school pretty much on a fluke. I had graduated from college, was working on a master’s degree in teaching and got up to the point of where I had finished my student teaching for my master’s and I had to do my thesis,” she said.
It was then her career path changed.
“I said, ‘You know what? I don’t even like kids well enough to teach class,’ ” O’Connor said, drawing laughs from the audience.
The speech, given mostly off-the-cuff as a skilled storyteller does, was for an intimate, hourlong gathering of the Greater Akron Chamber’s Young Professionals Network.
After stopping short of getting her master’s in teaching, but actually doing a little teaching for a while and working as a waitress at night, O’Connor said, she saved some money and decided she was going to do “one of two things.”
“I was going to take this pot of money I had, bum around Europe and see how long it was going to last and what would come my way, or the other thing I was going to do is to apply to one law school. And if I got into law school, I was going to see what happened,” O’Connor said.
She never got to bum around Europe.
“I applied to Cleveland-Marshall [School of Law], and I got in,” O’Connor said.
After graduating from law school in 1980, her distinguished career took many twists and turns: practicing attorney, Summit County Probate Court magistrate, Summit County Common Pleas judge, then head of the county prosecutor’s office.
In 1998, O’Connor, running on the state Republican ticket headed by Bob Taft, was elected lieutenant governor and became his chief adviser on criminal justice issues. She led the state’s emergency management response in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Seven years after winning election as an Ohio Supreme Court associate justice, she was elected in 2010 as the first woman to head the state’s high court.
O’Connor said she feels the primary traits of successful leaders are “the ability to listen” and “the concept of being honest in everything you do.”
It also is vitally important, she said, to invest your time and talents, dedicating oneself to “effect positive change” for the public good.
“If you do really well in what you’re doing currently, and you can make a name for yourself and you’re successful, [then] opportunities will present themselves,” O’Connor said.
The challenge then becomes identifying those opportunities, weighing and balancing them and “maybe taking a little bit of a risk” in deciding what is the best opportunity.
“Opportunity does not come without risk,” she emphasized.
“There’s always a risk,” she said, “and I just think you cannot be risk-adverse when you’re trying to figure out how you want to fashion your career and how you want to live your life.”
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.