Jeannette Boot, MPS ’21
A Degree in Figuring Out How to Get Things Done
An innovative campaign targeting substance-use disorders and mental health issues among lawyers was announced by the American Bar Association in 2018.
The announcement came on the heels of studies documenting lawyers’ struggles with these problems at levels above the general population and other highly educated professionals.
For Jeannette Boot, a partner at WilmerHale, the Lawyer Well-Being Pledge was like a beacon of light in the darkness.
A recovering alcoholic, Boot had come to realize that she didn’t want representing hedge funds and assisting banks with complex financial transactions to be the sole focus of her career. She was looking for something more – a way to give back – and the pledge was the perfect opportunity to do something meaningful.
“I went to the firm's management, and I said basically, ‘I don't care if you demote me so I'm not a partner anymore. I don't care if you cut my comp in half or more. Whatever. This is important to me. I think the firm should take this pledge. And I want to help implement it.’"
To Boot’s surprise – and delight – the law firm agreed with her. They would sign the pledge and free her from more than half of her everyday client work in order to lead a team focused on concrete steps toward implementing the objectives set out in the program’s seven-point framework.
“So, I got what I asked for,” said Boot, “and then was like, ‘Oh god. What do I do? How do I do this?’ because I've never had to manage anything meaningful in my life.”
That’s when Boot, who knew of Cornell but had never heard of the ILR School, was told by one of her law firm’s HR professionals about the MPS degree.
A year and a half into a program that Boot considers “perfect,” she describes it to others as “a degree in figuring out how to get things done.”
Boot said she briefly considered getting an MBA, but came to realize she would need to take classes that weren’t really of interest to her, or relevant to the work she was trying to accomplish. The MPS program, on the other hand, struck the perfect balance – rigorous, but in a way that was balanced with her job.
“The professors do try to make the assignments relevant to your work so you can bring your work to your papers or to your assignments,” she said. “Which I think makes it especially useful because you don't have to do outside research about your own workplace. And you can use the work as a way to think about and experiment with issues that you may have faced, or are facing, in your workplace. So, it is sort of complimentary.”
Boot credited the class Organizational Behavior: Designing, Managing and Changing Organizations, taught by Assistant Professor Brian Lucas, with directly impacting her work implementing the well-being pledge.
“Part of what he focused on was how to organize a team,” Boot said. “What a team should look like. What's the maximum number of people that should be on it? What the dynamic should be? And, I was in the middle of forming a team and figuring out how to put it together and I was literally able to take what I was learning in that class and apply it to my work, and it made a difference. We added people to the team and subtracted people based on what I was learning, and the team got much better.”
While the MPS program is helping Boot now in her day-to-day work, she also sees it as providing her with an amazing opportunity to diversify her career. “I view it as a way to bridge my career from being a practicing lawyer to potentially becoming a chief well-being officer at a law firm or a consultant potentially or going back into academia,” she said.
“I'm viewing it as an opportunity to pivot.”