Miriam Fleming almost became a chef. Starting in seventh or eighth grade, she started working for chef Ferdinand Metz at H.J. Heinz Co.
At the time, Metz was one of the top chefs in the country. He personally gave her a call to ask if she would be his assistant.
Fleming worked for Metz for five years, but in the end, with a push from Metz, she chose a career in hospitality management, working for hotel chains such as Sheraton and Hyatt after college.
“My junior year (in high school), he said to me, ‘Miriam, you’re very creative. You have wonderful ideas. You’re a hard worker. But everything you make looks like meatloaf. Go to Cornell. Get your restaurant and hotel degree. Become a manager, and other people will bring your ideas to life.’”
Later, the law came calling for Fleming. A client of hers thought she should be a lawyer and paid for her to take the LSAT. And, because Fleming scored above the 95th percentile, that client paid for an application to the law school of her choice.
She got into law school, but at the same time got an offer to be the head meeting planner for the American Bar Association. Fleming was torn, so she asked her mom.
“She said, ‘Well, I’m not going to tell you what to do. I’m just going to ask you a question: Do you want to be the person putting the podium on the stage or do you want to be the person speaking from the podium?” Which I thought really crystallized it. And so I just took a gamble and went to law school.”
When Fleming was a summer associate at a now-defunct law firm in Chicago, Altheimer & Gray, one of the firm’s founders or relatives of its founders told her that her first priority in the job was her family, second was her community and third was her work, so that she could give back to her family and community. If you follow those priorities, he said, you will always be successful for your clients.
She took that advice to heart, juggling her career as a trial attorney with her pro-bono work in elder care, involvement with community groups and her family.
“I don’t do it for the win,” Fleming said. “I don’t do it for the face time. I do it because it’s important work — it’s important for my family, it’s important for the community, and you make a difference in people’s lives, whether they’re tiny little clients or pro-bono clients or giant multinational companies.”
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