Women Worth Watching 2015
Tonya G. Newman
This Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg Partner is “Super” in Courtroom and Classroom
A proud native of Louisville, Kentucky, Tonya Newman graduated with honors from the University of Louisville before attending the Chicago–Kent College of Law. During her time as a law student, she was elected to the Order of the Coif and served as the executive notes and comments editor for the Chicago–Kent Law Review.
“I worked as a legal secretary when I went back to college after taking several years off, and for a few years worked full time while attending school part time,” said Tonya. “It meant a great deal to me to be able to go back to school and work toward—and achieve—my goals. I learned that almost anything is possible with dedication and hard work.”
After she graduated from law school, Tonya joined Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, LLP, practicing in the Litigation and Insurance Policyholder practice groups, where she represents clients in complex civil litigation, product liability, and insurance coverage matters. In 2015, she was recognized as one of the Top 50 Women Illinois Super Lawyers.
“…almost anything is possible with dedication and hard work.”
Actively engaged in pro bono legal service, as well as her community, Tonya served as a leadership council member with the Posse Foundation for four years and is a chapter member of her faith community. She also enjoys teaching middle schoolers about the impact of the constitution in real life through the Constitutional Rights Foundation’s Lawyers in the Classroom program.
Tonya is a member of the American Bar Association’s Section of Litigation’s Insurance Coverage Litigation Committee and Product Liability Committee; member of the Chicago Bar Association; co-chair of the Community Outreach Committee and a member of the board of directors of the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law Firms; and a member of the board of directors of the Propane Gas Defense Association. She is also a marathon runner, triathlete, creative cook, and proud dog owner.
Education: JD, with high honors, Chicago-Kent College of Law; BA, cum laude, University of Louisville
First Job: Cleaning my mother’s office on weekends – I think I started in 8th grade
What I’m Reading: “Dead Wake” by Erik Larson
The most important quality a woman leader should have is…
…openness. Women leaders should be open to and embrace new ideas and new challenges. A colleague described this years ago as continually trying to do something that makes you a little bit afraid. That resonates with me. I also strongly believe that women leaders must be ready and willing (and open) to help their colleagues grow in whatever way is best for them, by encouraging them to take their own chances.
The career advice I’d give my former self:
I would tell my former self to trust my instincts more. As I have gotten older, I have become much more comfortable doing so. Of course, part of that comfort comes from experience and the confidence gained with that experience.
Words I live by:
Do the right thing. I also live by the words of my favorite college professor, “Press on.”
The one thing I’d do differently in my career, knowing what I know now, is…
…nothing. I thought about this a lot, and while it took me a long time to get to where I am in my career, every step along the way helped me and taught me a great deal—about myself, about perseverance, and about my own goals. I now am lucky enough to work with bright, innovative and supportive colleagues. I am proud of the law practice I have built.
When I really need to focus on a project, I…
…turn on classical music, usually Mozart or Beethoven. I listened to two or three classical CDs all through law school – they were my study CDs. I still turn to them when I need to focus in the office.
My biggest career leap (and what I learned from it) was…
…I was a legal secretary when I went back to college after taking several years off, and for a few years worked full time while attending school part time. It meant a great deal to me to be able to go back to school and work toward —and achieve —my goals. I learned that almost anything is possible with dedication and hard work.
Being a woman in my profession has been…
…in a word, wonderful. I have been fortunate to have a number of mentors, both men and women. I also have had the opportunity to lead our Women’s Network Leadership Team and have been involved with a number of other women’s professional organizations, all of which provide great networking opportunities and the opportunity to grow leadership skills.
I’ve learned that failure is…
… a gift, albeit a rather painful one (depending on the failure). We all make mistakes, and we all have failures, both large and small. I think it is important to allow yourself to be disappointed, but then to pick yourself up and find whatever lesson you can take away from the failure. It provides a tremendous opportunity to grow – not only in the lesson you take away, but also in the very act of forcing yourself to analyze the failure, recognize the lesson, and move forward.
I maintain a healthy personal life by…
…running and spending time with family and friends.
I knew my present career was what I wanted to do when…
…I was about 8 or 9 years old, I was watching a television show that had a courtroom scene. I announced that I was going to be a lawyer. It took a while, but here I am!