The issue of work-life balance is one that women have been intensely discussing and debating for more than three decades. And it’s certainly been a front-and-center topic for Molly H. Craig, a wife, mom and a partner at Hood Law Firm LLC in Charleston.

About Molly

Name: Molly Hood Craig

Occupation: Partner, Hood Law Firm, Charleston

Focus: Trial practice in civil litigation and the defense of catastrophic product liability, professional liability, pharmaceutical and medical device, nursing home litigation, and employment litigation.

Recognition: AV Preeminent rating in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory; listed in Best Lawyers in America and in South Carolina Super Lawyers.

Professional service: Serves as president-elect of the International Association of Defense Counsel, a board member of the Defense Research Institute, and state coordinator for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s iCivics project, a web-based education project designed to teach students civics. Immediate past president of the South Carolina Defense Trial Attorneys’ Association.

Education: J.D., University of South Carolina School of Law, 1994; B.A., University of the South, 1991

Craig often mentors young lawyers and speaks to students at the Charleston School of Law on the topic.

“I recognize the work-life balance for women lawyers is difficult,” she said. “It’s probably the biggest challenge we face.”

In her years of managing a busy career as a litigator, raising three children and giving her time to various legal-related organizations and projects, Craig has discovered some lasting truths.

First is to find your passion in the law. Finding that work-life balance is easier when you love what you do, she said.

Second, women should look for jobs that encourage flexibility. Many firms understand the importance of keeping great lawyers and are willing to offer flexible schedules to do so, Craig said.

Lastly, Craig advises new lawyers to find a mentor they admire, trust and respect – someone who embodies the kind of lawyer they want to be.

“People are looking for the secret answer, and I was too when I was a young lawyer,” Craig said. “The short answer is there is no secret. But if you find what you’re passionate about, love to do it, put yourself in a law firm that encourages flexibility and find a mentor, then you are positioning yourself to find (balance).”

Plus, Craig offers a bonus tip: Choose your spouse wisely. She gives a great deal of credit to her husband, Steven. The two met in law school at the University of South Carolina and celebrated their 20th anniversary earlier this month. Steven, a former tax lawyer and now CFO at insurance company Johnson & Johnson, understands Craig’s schedule and the craziness of trial preparation.

“When I’m in trial, it’s 24/7,” Craig said. “He’s so supportive. He takes over the children, the carpools and the school and he understands I have to give 110 percent of my focus to my client.

“It’s a partnership through and through,” she added. “I’m so fortunate to have somebody so supportive of my career.”

Craig’s support system also extends to her office. She works with her father, Bobby Hood, who founded the law firm in 1985; and her two lawyer brothers. They’ve been supportive through every maternity leave or family issue that needs her attention, she said.

As Craig started her legal career she sought out opportunities to gain trial experience, finding that courtroom skills were in high demand. She began to specialize in medical malpractice and continues to defend physicians, nurses, hospitals and facilities.

“You develop an appreciation for the complexity of what these professionals and companies do on a daily basis,” she said. “I can still remember it as if it were yesterday the tears in the eyes of the first doctor for whom I tried a malpractice case and the huge hug he gave me after the jury returned a verdict in his favor.”

A greater impact

Her family and colleagues also support her efforts to better the legal profession as a whole. Craig was recently elected president of the International Association of Defense Counsel, an invitation-only professional association for corporate and insurance defense lawyers around the world. Craig is the second woman to be elected president in the association’s 93-year history.

Her already busy schedule is about to get even busier as she travels the world representing the association and pursuing its strategic initiatives and educational efforts.

A member since 2002, Craig learned about the International Association of Defense Counsel when she attended an intense, 10-day training at Stanford Law School for lawyers still early in their careers.

“I was watching the caliber of lawyers who were doing faculty demonstrations and interacting with the students. They took time away from their families and their own jobs to come and work with these students and make them better trial lawyers,” Craig said. “It spoke volumes about IADC, and I wanted to be more active in a group of people like that.”

In 2007, Craig returned to that same training program as an instructor. Now she’s leading the 2,500-member organization in what amounts to a second full-time job.

Past president Rob Hunter said the association is fortunate to have Craig’s leadership.

“She doesn’t ask people to do anything she’s not willing to do herself,” he said. “You are hard-pressed to refuse her request and that makes for a great leader.”

While Craig is dedicated to the legal profession, she’s also doing her part to ensure future generations receive civic education.

Craig is one of two state coordinators for iCivics, free online educational materials for use in classrooms around the country.

In 2009, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded iCivics as a way to reverse Americans’ declining civic knowledge and participation.

Craig found out about iCivics when she was serving on the International Association of Defense Counsel Foundation board, which launched a partnership with iCivics to provide financial assistance and its members volunteered as state coordinators.

South Carolina schools are actively using iCivics, thanks to the efforts of S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, who organized a task force to bring iCivics into state classrooms.

“For the next generation to be active participants in our democracy they need to understand the three branches of the government,” Craig said. “One of the most rewarding aspects of my professional career has been being involved in iCivics.”

Tipping the scales

Women like Craig are making an impact on a profession that remains largely male-dominated.

According to a study of law firm demographics by the National Association for Law Placement Inc., women and minority partners are making only small gains among law firm partners as a whole.

In 2012, the percentage of female partners in law firms across the country was up slightly from 2011. On the flip side, there has been a three-year decline for female associates. Among associates, the percentage of women had increased from 39 percent in 1993 to 46 percent in 2009, before falling back each year since.

Seeing a woman like Craig in leadership roles locally and internationally suggests that the elusive work-life balance can be achieved for female lawyers and women as a whole.

At least that’s Craig’s hope, especially when it comes to inspiring her 14-year-old daughter.

“I’m hopeful my daughter will see that it is possible to have a career that you love and also raise a family.”

Hunter calls Craig a “superwoman in that she seems to juggle it all and she excels at it all.”

“If you’ve met her children, you know she’s a spectacular mother. If you’ve seen her in court, you know she’s a great lawyer. And if you’ve been in meetings she’s presided over, you know she’s a great leader,” he said. “She’s a great role model for parents or for anyone who aspires to leadership positions.”