Laura Lazarczyk shares her journey to top legal role at Zurich North America as she accepts Women with Vision Award from WBAI.
Urging other women to “lean in until you almost tip over,” Laura Lazarczyk, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary for Zurich North America, accepted the Women with Vision Award at the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois Annual Installation Dinner in Chicago on June 16.
Lazarczyk was invited to speak at the Chicago Hilton as she accepted her award. She shared a formative conversation she had with her grandpa, whom she adored, when she was a sixth grader in her small Indiana hometown. He asked what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“I responded with only the slightest hesitation that I wanted to be an attorney,” she recounted. “He took on a serious tone and said I should think about being a nurse or a schoolteacher or a farmer’s wife. Grandpa Paul didn’t say it to undermine me; he just thought that this was my reality.
“From that day forward, I knew I had to work through those preconceived notions, and I vowed that nothing would stop me. And for that, I am eternally grateful to my grandfather.”
Lazarczyk encouraged women in attendance to work with similar resolve and stay true to their own sense of purpose.
“When you are confronted with a challenge, lean in until you almost tip over. Stay curious. Ask questions you need to clarify your understanding. Then, however possible, find the confidence and act,” she said, citing how, when she was competing for her first job, she was asked if she was familiar with a word processing application in wide use at the time. She said, “Oh yes, of course!”
She was familiar — but not fluent. When she got the job, Lazarczyk said, “I hustled to the library and checked out a book on that software. Problem solved.”
Lazarczyk earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California then went to law school at DePaul University. Until her second year, she wanted to be a prosecutor, but then realized that spending long hours at jails and police stations wasn’t her ideal work environment. So she shifted to Corporate Law.
After joining Zurich North America in 2009, she became a member of the Women’s Innovation Network (WIN), the company’s first and largest employee resource group, with more than 1,700 members in over 20 Zurich offices across the U.S. Members help each other with everyday challenges, such as taking smart risks, and they mentor one another, she said, sharing the WIN motto: “Empowered women empower women.”
“We help each other figure out a way through it, over it, under it or around it —whatever obstacle is standing in our way disappears when we lean on each other,” Lazarczyk said.
Finally, she encouraged women to show their appreciation for the opportunities they have enjoyed by giving back to others.
“The legal community is in a terrific position to do so. While volunteering takes time, it also gives back so much more energy than it takes.”
Lazarczyk founded Zurich North America’s Legal Services Pro Bono Program, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Zurich colleagues continued to staff legal aid hot lines and help seniors with estate planning. They have represented clients in immigration proceedings and worked with the nonprofit Year Up, which helps young adults with career planning and access to opportunities.
Lazarczyk’s legal team also works with the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms to broaden the slate of women-owned and minority-owned law firms that Zurich engages with for outside counsel.
“It is my hope that together we can take our strength, confidence and skills and make a collective difference in our world,” Lazarczyk said. “Let’s make our passions our purpose, pave a better road for the young professional women who come after us, and create a brighter future for all those who count on our support.”
At the dinner, Lauren Witkowski, a Senior Workers’ Compensation Attorney in Zurich’s Staff Legal Chicago office, was installed as President of the 108-year-old group. She said it was an honor to begin her tenure at the dinner where her colleague spoke.
“Laura’s legal journey is inspiring to many young female attorneys who are learning how to navigate their careers and are able to identify with Laura’s experiences,” Witkowski said. “The Women’s Bar Association of Illinois will continue to provide a supportive community for women lawyers like her in the years to come.”
Learn more about Lazarcyzk’s background here.