A literal fighter.
She has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do — her whole family does — and can fell an opponent with a swift swipe of the leg and break wooden boards with her bare hands.
But she has also built her career as a fighter — an attorney who cut her teeth in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office and now runs her own employment law firm, The Noble Law Firm, in North Carolina. In that role, she has the opportunity to help individuals experiencing problems at work and companies looking to improve their workplace culture.
“I’m really looking for people to walk the walk,” says Laura, a speaker at HERWorld Energy Forum in Houston on March 8. “If everyone is saying the time is up, let’s actually look at the laws that prohibit this conduct and let’s write them in a standard that we can all agree upon.”
Laura’s first job out of law school put her in the fray from day one. She joined the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office as a prosecutor long before Brooklyn’s renaissance and rebirth as a hipster enclave.
“You just couldn’t beat it for intensity and excitement and relevance. You’re in the greatest city every day in the courtroom with amazing lawyers and judges and legal minds – and high crime,” she recalls.
It was a great job, but it was a 24-hour job. And as Laura considered starting a family, she decided to look for another job. She ended up at a civil litigation firm in New York — and found herself struggling with the exact opposite of workplace intensity.
“I was bored to tears. Going from literally sitting right in front of the cop car and being in the New York Post to, ‘Here’s this stack of documents to review’ — I just couldn’t do it,” she recalls.
So she left and joined Covenant House, a nonprofit in New York working with homeless and runaway youths.
“It was great — although ironically I was the first executive-level woman in the company to get pregnant and have a child, and it seemed that they did not know what to do with me back in the ‘90s,” she says.
Plus, it was another job that required her to work nights and weekends — which kept her far from her goal of having time for her family.
Laura decided to leave the workforce entirely for the next seven years, while she had her three children and shepherded them through to elementary school. When she decided to return to work, she was faced with the problem so many women experience: How do you work your way back into employment after an extended break?
“I was somewhat unmarketable at that point: ‘She’s a litigator. She’s had these high-profile jobs, and then she was a stay-at-home mom?’ So I started my own law firm,” Laura says.
It’s been a decade since she made that choice, and she’s been fortunate to build a business doing what she loves.
“Employment law had this great combination of all my interests — business, entrepreneurship , civil rights and discrimination issues particularly workplace issues for women and pregnancy discrimination. It just seemed like the perfect fit for me,” Laura says.
She built the firm with the help of a mentor — another powerhouse female attorney and one of the best employment lawyers in the state of North Carolina who agreed to help Laura in those early days with insight and guidance, plus a few projects.
Now, she employs a team of 10, including other attorneys and support staff. And she’s got more than a few wins under her belt. Her clients run the gamut — from wait staff employees fighting abuse and stolen wages to executive-level women battling pay and gender discrimination. Earlier this year, she represented two women who were whistleblowers on illegal wage practices in a case that went all the way to a jury trial. Laura and her team won the case on all counts.
Laura has also become an advocate for changing the laws to provide legal protections against sexual harassment in the workplace. Many states have no laws on the books that prohibit sexual harassment, and Laura is looking to conduct a 50-state survey to analyze where each state stands when it comes to these laws.
“What is encouraging is that there’s more and more and more talk. I feel like we are that drop in the bucket that is going to eventually overflow and change laws,” she says.
It’s also a matter of changing corporate culture, she says.
“There are plenty of standards and practices for effective policies and procedures. They’re out there. We help people with them all the time, and if there’s a will to change, it will happen,” she says.