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Toni Ianniello

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Toni Ianniello

Partner
Steptoe & Johnson L.L.P.
Washington
Age: 59

Toni Ianniello heads one of the world's most highly regarded insurance practices at Steptoe & Johnson L.L.P. A seasoned litigator, she has appeared as lead counsel for major insurers in courts across the country as well as for international arbitrations. Her cases broadly range from hurricane claims to product liability and construction defect coverage disputes. Ms. Ianniello has been recognized in numerous ratings guides, including Chambers, Super-Lawyers, Best Lawyers and Legal 500, which described her as a “first-rate lawyer” who has “produced outstanding results in the most difficult cases.” A member of Steptoe's executive committee, she also mentors younger women through the Women's Forum, which she founded in 2004.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN ENTERING THIS FIELD?

I would advise them to try and take control of their own careers from the very beginning. Be proactive. Experiment with different areas of the law until finding one that inspires you. Then learn as much as you can about that practice and work hard on developing the necessary skills and experience. Take the long view of your career. The practice of law is very fluid. It's not unusual to reinvent yourself many times in one career. Persevere, be flexible, do good work, and success will follow.

WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING THING YOU'VE LEARNED IN YOUR CAREER?

The practice of law is no different than any other profession. Successful careers are built on relationships. Clients expect their attorneys to be smart and hard-working. What makes for a successful and sustainable practice, however, is when the clients truly believe you have their back and you understand their business and objectives. While clients want you to be a zealous advocate for their interests, they also want you to tell them when a course of action is ill-advised or misguided.

DID YOU HAVE A MENTOR EARLY IN YOUR CAREER?

Roger Warin, chair of our firm, and a nationally known insurance coverage lawyer, had the most influence on me. I had been doing white-collar criminal defense work when he approached me about joining the insurance practice group. My initial reaction was that this would be the most boring work in the world. He persuaded me otherwise. Our cases are high stakes, the issues are challenging and often cutting-edge, and the clients are very sophisticated. By watching him, I learned to be practical and creative. I also learned the importance of treating everyone with respect—from the most junior employee in the client organization to the overly aggressive opposing counsel.

WHAT IS YOUR DREAM JOB, OUTSIDE OF YOUR CURRENT ROLE?

I always fantasized about being a Broadway star. I grew up on Long Island, and my favorite pastime was going to Broadway plays. My first musical was “The Sound of Music” with the original cast. I was in musicals all the way through high school, college and law school. You have to like performing to be comfortable in the courtroom.

OUTSIDE OF FAMILY AND COLLEAGUES, WHOM DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?

The people I admire most are the quiet heroes—the women and men who stand up to injustice somewhere without fanfare. They do it because it's right, not for financial reasons or for fame or glory. These acts of conscience—trying to make things better in some small way—often have the most powerful and enduring impact on society.

WHAT'S YOUR CAN'T-MISS TV SHOW?

I love “The Closer” and “Homeland.” Both concern very strong and very intelligent, but also very flawed, women who work in environments that are dominated by men. It's very interesting to watch them try to solve the world's problems as they struggle with the same life-balance issues that all women face.

BEYOND WORK, WHAT ONE THING DO YOU WANT TO DO OR ACCOMPLISH IN LIFE?

I hope to be a good mother to my two daughters and, someday, a good grandmother. I can't think of anything more important than raising happy, confident children and (giving them) the tools they need to be successful in life. My mother did that for me, and I hope I can do that and have done that in some small way for my daughters.

DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA? IF NOT, WHY NOT?

I use Facebook. My daughters got me on Facebook, which I did primarily to stay up to speed on what they are doing. A side benefit has been that I've reconnected with lots of old friends and classmates from the past.