Mayanne Downs is the president and managing director of GrayRobinson, one of the largest law firms in Florida with 300 attorneys and 13 offices across the state. Downs is the first woman to hold this position at the firm, which is headquartered in Orlando. Here she talks about her job, its challenges and her professional goals.
The Challenges and Joys of Being an Attorney
It’s a constant challenge (and one I’m grateful for) to be available to each and every one of our lawyers to help them practice efficiently, effectively, with integrity and competence on behalf of our clients. My job is to help them have what they need to provide the best advice and counsel they can. Another challenge I enjoy grappling with is figuring out the best ways to accommodate lawyers at so many stages in their careers, from young mothers with families to senior lawyers who are stepping down. Today, lawyers practice from the ages of 25 to 85, so what they need for support varies widely. Also, as the marketplace for legal services becomes increasingly competitive, we have to work even harder to ensure the product we provide is worth the price.
More than anything else, I love helping clients. I also love helping our lawyers and our clients navigate through the legal system to get to the best possible result. I went to law school because I got sued, and as a businessperson, I was keenly aware I needed the help of others to navigate through an unknown and difficult world. I know what it’s like to face a challenge that can change your professional and personal life, and I enjoy the chance to make that outcome the very best it can be. I try to always remember what it felt like to be a party in litigation and use that memory to guide my work for my clients.
A Woman in the Legal Profession
Words can’t really express how grateful I am to have this chance to help, to make a difference for our lawyers and clients (most days, that is). I hope that young women lawyers feel the same way about me having the chance to do this job. One of the most exhilarating and endearing moments for me has been realizing how proud so many of the men in our firm are to be led by a woman. It makes me smile each and every time I see or feel it.
I recently did a presentation titled “How to Overcome Gender Bias in Real-World Legal Scenarios” for the Florida Association for Women Lawyers (Miami-Dade Chapter). To me (and with all due respect to Sheryl Sandberg), the phrase “Lean in” is pallid and faint. What I tell women is to jump in. The key to overcoming gender bias is to be so good at your job you’re as close to being indispensable as possible. Women have some natural tendencies toward full engagement on the emotional and psychological side that can (and I emphasize “can” and not “does”) make them better counselors at law; full and complete engagement, including feeling the pain and frustration clients often feel, is the key to overcoming any barrier, including gender bias. ▸
Embracing the Community and Learning from Engagement
Being fully engaged makes my life more fun, beneficial, vibrant and helpful to me and the people around me.
I had a health scare and wasn’t supposed to be here after 2007, and I try to remember that every day. I’m not always successful, but no one can accuse me of not caring or being a quiet observer in the background. Many people protect themselves from failure by being removed, insipid or distant, and by not doing their work. But bad outcomes are the best lessons of all. Like I said, “jump in;” even if the water’s not fine, getting wet is a blast.
As former president of both the Florida Bar and the Orange County Bar Association, I learned even the most extreme circumstance is a matter of perspective, and seeking first to understand makes me more effective and persuasive. I’ve also learned a lot from my friend, Mayor Buddy Dyer, about listening, understanding and sharing credit. If people feel heard and can feel they’re a part of something, they’re much more susceptible to being led to the right outcome.
GrayRobinson’s Role in the Community
Our founder, Charlie Gray, comes to work every day (often on SunRail) and thinks about what he and we can do to make this community better, and we’re all committed to that way of thinking. When something is being created, growing, getting funded, or becoming a success, a lot of times GrayRobinson is behind or a part of it — from lobbying, to transactions, to dispute resolution, to governing.
I’m excited about the chance to have city and county government work together in the future. Central Florida has a fundamental welcoming nature, and that’s one of Mayor Dyer’s great gifts — he extends a hand of friendship to all. That will continue to make this community great. GrayRobinson is the same way. I love that we’re a place that welcomes a wide range of lawyers, staff, clients and practice areas. The key to life is being sure the people around you don’t all look and sound and act the same.