Kathleen Oare DiSanto
The Attorney | 40 Under 40 Class of 2020
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Sandra Day O’Connor
Can't Live Without
GET TO KNOW KATHLEEN
Meet Kathleen Oare DiSanto. She’s a commercial litigation and bankruptcy attorney, marathon runner and mother of five! Learn how she balances work, family and play in her extended interview.
What inspired you to go into this line of work?
When I graduated law school in 2008, the job market for new lawyers was abysmal, but some firms were still hiring associates in their bankruptcy departments. With six figures of student debt and as the primary breadwinner for my then family of four, I was willing to take any attorney position that would support my family, and I spent the last year of law school focusing on coursework and extra-curricular activities that would demonstrate an interest in bankruptcy law. Following graduation, I had the very good fortune of securing a bankruptcy clerkship with the Honorable Caryl E. Delano in Tampa. After spending nearly two years as a law clerk and having a front row seat to observe the important work done in bankruptcy court, I was ready to begin my career representing primarily chapter 11 debtors, but also creditors and other parties, in complex business bankruptcies.
What challenge did you overcome to get where you are today?
About 10 weeks after college graduation and three weeks after giving birth to my son, I packed up my entire life and moved from northern Virginia, where I was born and raised, to Florida to begin law school. My husband was a restaurant manager at the time, so I attended class during the day, and then took over responsibilities caring for our infant son while my husband worked at night. I like to think I pioneered the first stand-up desk back in 2005 – I routinely studied with my baby in a front pack, and my books and laptop propped up on an ironing board.
My family continued to grow in law school, as my husband and I welcomed a daughter at the end of my second year of law school. Ten plus years into practice, I am a mother of five amazing children. While it is never easy to balance family and a career, my husband and I work very hard to make sure I am able to take advantage of the opportunities I have needed over the years to advance my career. Never once has being a mom been a setback to my career because we focus on quality time. I have been able to experience being a mom without disrupting my professional obligations.
Did someone help you get to where you are today, like a mentor?
I would not be where I am today without Judge Delano, and my gratitude for her mentorship has only grown over the years. She set an incredible example for balancing a demanding career with being a mom and has always challenged me to be my best self, as a professional, a mother and a person over the years. I cannot begin to expound on the many benefits of a judicial clerkship, but gaining an incredible mentor is certainly at the top of the list. Judge not only provided me with an incredible foundation upon which I have built my practice, but she also gave me the gentle push out of the nest by encouraging me to enter private practice when the time was right. I like to say that Judge Delano not only gave me my roots, but also gave me my wings.
What do you love most about your job?
As a bankruptcy and commercial litigator, my job provides me a unique vantage point into businesses. I love learning about my client’s businesses and working with them to protect and/or strengthen their business. I am passionate about finding creative solutions to business problems, which sometimes can be accomplished at the negotiating table and other times require litigation.
Early Bird or Night Owl
Mountaings or Beach
Physical Book or Audiobook
Left Brain or Right Brain
Stripes or Polka Dots
Describe yourself in three words.
Business and problem solver.
Your life philosophy is…
My life philosophy is best summed up a quote from Steve Prefontaine: “Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.”
What is the best piece of advice you received?
Over the years, I have learned that my mentor, Judge Delano, is particularly good at giving advice, often unsolicited. I once asked her how she always knew the right thing to say to a person at the perfect moment. Judge’s response was simple, yet profound. She explained that she thought carefully about what the person needed to hear, based on her experiences, and how she could deliver the message in a way that would be well received by the listener. As my profession calls upon me to be an adviser and counselor, I always try to see problems and issues from my clients’ perspectives so that I can communicate with them in a way that they will be receptive to my advice.
If someone handed you an airline ticket to a place of your choosing, where would you go and why?
I have always wanted to visit Paris — it serves as the setting for so many of my favorite books (both children and adult). I would love to see the Eiffel Tower and tour the Louvre. Running the Disney races at Disneyland Paris is also on my bucket list.
What’s something you cannot live without?
Name a book you read that positively shaped you.
When I was going through a difficult time in my career, I began to read the Harry Potter series for the first time. There are so many wonderful exchanges between the characters and life lessons that can be taken from the pages. When Professor Dumbledore reminded pupils of Hogwarts that “happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light,” I felt like those words had been written for me. I also loved that eating chocolate lessened the after effects of encountering a dementor and have used that as an excuse to always keep chocolate in my office since.
If you weren’t working in the industry that you are, what would you be doing instead?
It’s always a toss-up between writing young adult fiction or being a mixed martial arts fighter.
How do you unwind or relax after a long day?
While it may sound counterintuitive, my favorite way to relax after long day is to go for a run, although lately, it has been to snuggle my four-moth-old legacy. There’s something about holding a baby that melts away all the stress almost instantly.
The most rewarding aspect of your job is…
Small and family-operated businesses are an important part of Florida’s economy. It is incredibly rewarding to guide both individuals and businesses through the bankruptcy process and to help them restructure their debts and businesses, which often means saving the jobs of those in the local community.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it – metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions – what would it say and why?
My billboard would say “E.F.I.”, which is short for “Every [you can’t print that word] Inch.” Borrowed from a former judge, this expression is my mantra when I am pushing through a particularly difficult running workout or tough point in a race to remind me to not take any shortcuts to obtaining my goals. This mantra is perfect for me, as it also brings back fond memories of my high school football coach who would always say that “Life is game of inches.” Not only do I intend to live every inch of my life to the fullest, but in my profession, the small choices often distinguish great lawyers from good ones and litigation, like life, is a game of inches. I strive to practice law consciously and to be aware of the small choices my clients make and help them see how those decisions contribute to reaching their ultimate goals and objectives.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Lawyers are known for being type-A personalities and are often perfectionists. After hours of laboring on some pleadings and trying to decide whether I would attempt to revise them just one more time, one of my senior partners reminded me that perfect is the enemy of good. While I take great pride in my craft, his words gave me permission to focus on efficiency and to seek greater balance in my personal and professional life.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
Go for a run. Connecting with my breathing and changing my environment by going outside helps me re-center mentally and see problems from another perspective. Even a twenty- or thirty-minute run can make a big difference in my productivity and focus.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be money, time, energy, etc.)
My children are my best investments in the future. Big families are not really in vogue these days — most people have two or maybe three children, especially those in professional careers. A good friend reminded me that thirty years from now, I won’t be lamenting the race car or designer clothes or beautiful house I didn’t buy. Instead, I will cherish all the memories of building a life with my children.
Name a confident woman of character who you look up to? Why her?
My mom! My dad was out of the picture for a lot of my childhood, and my mom managed to single-handedly raise three independent and highly motivated women. She made sure our childhood was rich with experiences — trips to museums, an endless supply of books, adventures in Girl Scouts. She made so many sacrifices to ensure we received a good education and always encouraged us to challenge ourselves, both athletically and academically. My mom encouraged my sisters and me to dream without limits and work tirelessly towards those dreams. As a mom myself and knowing how much I rely on my husband to approach parenting as a team, I am in awe of all my mom has done for my sisters and me.