From the Albany Business Review
October 11, 2010
By: Pam Allen
Catherine Hedgeman is committed to attracting and keeping young professionals in the Capital Region. The homegrown attorney says she would rather live here than anywhere else.
Did you always want to be an attorney?
I would say yes, I always thought I did, but I found an article three months ago that my grandmother had in a box. I was in the Times Union when I was 16, and in the article I said that I wanted to be a police officer. My father was an Albany police officer.
What don’t people know about you?
I’m a big World War II history buff. My father had an interest in history, especially in local Colonial history, and he fostered that in us. I went to Normandy for a couple of weeks when I was 16 through the Battle of Normandy Foundation. It was phenomenal, to actually stand on Utah Beach and see the obstacles—the German bunkers were still there with the cannons and the whole nine yards.
The cemetery for Americans is 10,000 white crosses. You can’t forget that kind of thing. It kind of parallels 9/11, not in the number of lives lost, but the devastation and the fact it’s about people trying to take away someone else’s way of life.
What are your strengths?
I’d say my people skills. I think I relate well to people. I always hear that I’m intimidating in the beginning, but that once you get to know me, I’m not who you thought I was going to be. I’m very loyal. If you’re my friend, that’s it. I’m very loyal.
Are you a hot head?
I used to be much more of a hot head. I was cocky. But I got better with the proper mentoring from people who cared about me. I think it made me a good young lawyer. In this business, if you’re afraid or the least bit tentative, you’re going to get eaten alive.
My old boss, Mike Smith at Hiscock & Barclay used to say that I could fake it really well and he was right. He taught me everything I know.
What improvements have you seen in the legal profession in the 10 years that you have practiced law?
I think the best improvement is that firms have become more family- and female-friendly. A lot have adopted maternity and paternity policies, which is phenomenal, and some of them are starting to let go of the belief that if your butt’s not in the seat from 8 in the morning to 8 at night, you couldn’t possibly be doing it right.
I think they’re understanding that the Xers, which is me, and the Millennials really value work/life balance. Sometimes, a lawyer may be picking up their kids from school at 5 and they’re back on the computer from 8 until 11 at night finishing their work. As long as you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, do you really need that face time in the office?
Talk about Stakeholders Inc., the service organization you started in 2007.
We have a goal to attract and retain young people in the area. You have to have sustainability in your community and the best way to get young people to stay is to get them vested in the community through service. If you think your time or talent is needed, you’ll stay.
I think there’s this common misconception that if there are no jobs, no one’s going to stay. But there are a lot of young people unemployed here—even a couple on our board—who went nowhere because they like where they live.
You’re a big proponent of single-sex education.
I think it was the Academy of the Holy Names in Albany that really provided the environment to be myself and build confidence and knowledge and skills. Holy Names had a mission of service as well. It was just the right place for me. In college I was one of four women in a political science class of about 30 people. I sat in the back right-hand corner and the professor asked a question and I answered it. After class a female student came up to me and said, “That was pretty brave.” And I’m like, what the hell are you talking about? I just answered the question. I could not understand what the big deal was to her.
How would you like to be remembered?
I think as a community activist, that I had a role in building a community here that rivals Seattle or San Diego while keeping our own unique identity. I’m working right now on something through Stakeholders called “Get On Board,” a regional volunteer center for seven counties. That’s something that I’d like to see happen. Maybe I’m a little idealistic or altruistic, but I think as people we want to live a life that has meaning, and to do something that matters.
What do you do for fun?
I like to golf. I used to golf a lot and I was pretty good. I only golfed once this season but I shot an 80 so I was thrilled. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t golf more because it likely would have been my best game for the year.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I might consider a run for office, I’m not sure. When I was younger I was more ambitious for it. I just get so disenchanted with who’s in these city and county legislative bodies and the nonsense that goes on, that I can probably be much more effective in an organization like this.
What would it take for you to move out of the Capital Region?
It certainly wouldn’t be for work, or because I have to be in Seattle to be cool. The only thing that might take me away, maybe, is a spouse and something beyond my control. Right now, I don’t see that. You can definitely live in “SmAlbany” and have a national presence.