SGR spotlights two of our attorneys for Women's History Month. Take a few minutes to learn more about Marcie Ernst and Sasha Greenberg.
Marcie Ernst • Partner, Litigation • Atlanta

Marcie Ernst is a skilled and experienced commercial litigator with an excellent understanding of business law and the entire litigation process, including factual investigations, pleadings, discovery, motion practice, trials, arbitrations, and appeals. Marcie is agile, flexible, and able to handle all types of complex litigation, including breach of contract, business torts, fraud, warranty, product liability, class actions, real estate, construction, and intellectual property cases. As a creative and strategic thinker, Marcie is an effective negotiator, a good collaborator, and an excellent litigation project manager. Marcie is a proficient communicator who advises clients and empowers them to make informed business decisions. 

Who is a woman in history that inspired you? 

Over the years, there have been many women in history who have inspired me.

As a teen, The Diary of Anne Frank moved and inspired me. Anne Frank’s courage and positive attitude in the face of extreme adversity greatly impacted me. The lessons learned from Anne Frank included resilience, courage, and hope. When I finished reading the diary, I recall questioning why and how something like that could have happened, and, as a result, I was committed to making a difference in the world.   

As a college student, I was inspired by Sandra Day O’Connor, who was appointed and confirmed as the first women justice on the United States Supreme Court. Justice O’Connor inspired me because she broke some of the strongest barriers to ascend to the highest court of the land. She was a true trailblazer. Since O’Connor’s appointment to the Supreme Court, four other women have been appointed and confirmed to the Court: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (now deceased), Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett.

These are but a few of the women in history who have inspired me to make a difference in the world and to do so as part of the legal system.

Why did you become a lawyer and choose to be a commercial litigator?
My dad was a pharmacist, and my mom was a math teacher. I grew up in a small town. How then did I end up being a commercial litigator in a large law firm? It all seems quite natural to me, especially when you consider that my favorite high school class was Government, my favorite book was To Kill a Mockingbird, and my dad served as mayor of his small hometown. Common themes of my parents’ professions and my interests were helping people and serving the community and society. Now consider the role of a lawyer. An attorney is there to help her clients. Lawyers have a unique ability and responsibility to help people and their businesses in ways they cannot help themselves. It is a helping profession.  
I wanted to make a difference, so I went to law school and became a litigator. I thought it would allow me to help people and their businesses in moments of great need. Lawyers, especially litigators, are in unique positions to help individuals and companies with their legal problems and further the public good. Our judicial system is designed to give people, including their businesses, a chance to tell their stories and seek redress. People come to lawyers when they are in disputes and their businesses are in crisis. A good litigator can help them through the legal process and advocate on their behalf. Litigation takes tenacity, curiosity, and creativity. Litigators fight for their clients, both in and out of the courtroom. Litigation attorneys also advise their clients. We inform them of their rights and help them navigate the complex legal system.
To be a litigator, like being a pharmacist or a teacher, is to possess a kind of “strength.” The superpower of a litigator is the knowledge and understanding of the rules and procedures which govern civil trials and the legal system, and the ability to employ those rules and procedures to bring about justice for clients through fair procedures. Just as you need to learn how the pieces move to play chess, you have to know the rules and procedures for civil litigation, including the rules of evidence. I have found that litigators are problem-solvers, analysts, and innovative thinkers, who dive deep into the facts.
Personally, I love litigation because it involves lifelong learning and exposure to different areas of law and business. To properly represent a client in civil litigation, I need to understand his or her business and apply the appropriate areas of law. I may need to learn the details of a specific industry or transaction, how a particular machine or process works, or the events or strategy behind a certain decision, to be able to explain it later to a judge, jury, or arbitrator. Working as a litigation attorney has been intellectually stimulating and fulfilling for me. I’m really happy with the practice area I chose.

What adversity have you faced?
A diagnosis of breast cancer was one I honestly thought I would never hear. And yet, in early 2017, I received the news that shook me and my family. In the blink of an eye, I had to change my focus from working on my law practice to working on my life. It felt like a tornado hit me. A burst of cancer terms were thrown at me, followed by a whirlwind of scans, tests, two surgeries, and radiation.
I know my story is not unique. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately one in eight U.S. women develop breast cancer. Chances are that most people reading this have had a family member or friend who has faced breast cancer.
Although I was scared and worried, my experience was positive. Family and friends were there for me every step of the way. Clients, opposing attorneys, and judges were all supportive and cooperative. Associates and partners at SGR provided meals and handled my cases until I was able to return to work.
Having breast cancer made me more aware than ever of the transitory nature of life. It changed my perspective. Surviving breast cancer has made me value each and every day of life more than ever before. Now, I try to let people know what they mean to me. I don’t take things for granted. It’s given me an appreciation for the life I have and the many small blessing of every day. 

How have you worked to overcome this challenge?
Spring 2022 marks my 5-year anniversary as a breast cancer survivor. During the past 5 years, I have had to take a medication, which causes certain side effects that I have had to manage. I hope to be able to stop taking this drug soon.

Changes I made over the past 5 years for better self-care, include a more nutritious diet, regular exercise and sleep, and holding boundaries against being a workaholic, but only in a manner that does not jeopardize a client’s matter. In fact, these changes provide me with increased physical and mental strength and make me more productive and a better advocate for clients.

My husband and I took up trail walking. We have hiked numerous state parks with canyons and waterfalls. I also became involved with Casting for Recovery, a non-profit which provides outdoor fly fishing retreats for women with breast cancer. I loved learning to fly fish in a beautiful river while connecting with other women with breast cancer.
I have learned that the only way out of adversity is through it. It will change your life, and if you allow it, the change will be for the better. I still have lots of fish to catch (and release), trails to walk, and client cases to win! What better person is there to help a client navigate a serious legal challenge than an attorney who has pushed through personal adversity with fortitude?
Sasha Greenberg • Associate, Litigation • Atlanta

Sasha's practice focuses on serving the diverse needs of clients in commercial litigation, appellate, and employment-related matters by providing guidance on compliance issues and dispute avoidance and representing clients in state and federal courts when litigation becomes necessary, as well as through alternative dispute resolution procedures such as arbitration and mediation. 

Do you believe a woman can have both a meaningful professional career and a fulfilling personal life?
Why not? Why ask women to choose when we assume men can have it all? Women are just as, if not more, capable. Look it up – we are typically better learners, leaders, and problem solvers. We juggle a hundred things all the time, while trying not to appear emotional (smile ladies) and donning heels and lipstick. Who better to master work-life balance? That said, of course, it’s difficult. Women have a lot of pressure to clarify that they are just as adept as male counterparts, which often translates into working harder, putting in more hours, and giving up a personal life. Plus, a lot of us are raised to be the glue of our families. It can be overwhelming. 
I took a leadership course in college that taught me to constantly ask myself, “what do you want instead?” which seemed cheesy at the time but has really resonated. When I have too many things going on, it is so easy to hit autopilot mode, and just go through the motions to try to get through everything. It is also easy to dwell on problems without doing anything to eliminate them. Asking “what do I want instead?” has forced me to look for solutions to issues that interfere with my professional and personal happiness. Sometimes the answer is that I want more challenging work, sometimes it is time with my family, and sometimes it’s just sleep. Whatever it is, asking myself this question is a reminder to make adjustments when something doesn’t seem to be working. Routinely considering what my short-term and long-term goals are has helped me become more purposeful which has allowed me to take important steps towards obtaining what I consider a meaningful career and a fulfilling personal life.

What behavior or personality trait do you most attribute to your success?
I have a background in the performing arts and being able to perform has played a huge role in my career. I act confident, even when I’m terrified. I act social, even though I’m an introvert. When I am uncomfortable, I work hard not to let that get in the way of my goals. Basically, I’m a beneficiary of fake it til you make it. But at the end of the day, there really is no substitute for hard work. When I got my first job – babysitting – my mom told me to make sure that I left the house cleaner than it was when I got there. When I started working in a coffee shop, same thing – make it better than it would be without you. I have tried really hard to apply that philosophy to everything I do. When I get staffed on a new case, I look for ways to make it better than it otherwise would have been. Is there a creative way to argue this that hasn’t been done before? How can I make everyone else’s job on this easier? I do the same thing in my roles on committees. Can I come up with any new ideas to reach our goals? Is there something I can do to make SGR even better? Trying to build a brand around adding unique value has led to a lot more making it and a lot less faking it. 

Did you have a mentor? If so, how did they encourage you in your career? Do you feel mentors are important for women?
Nothing is better than a good mentor. When I joined the firm, Matthew Clarke was assigned as my partner mentor and I simply cannot imagine what my life would look like today without his guidance. Nowadays, I make very few decisions, professional or personal, without running it by Matt. In fact, his role in my life is so significant that my family often asks, “well what does Matt think?” I cannot overemphasize the impact of having a mentor that I trust to always advise me on what is best for me, even if it isn’t necessarily in his best interest. Matt has made me a strong believer and advocate for formal mentorship programs that carefully match mentees with the mentors who are most likely to provide them the same quality of mentorship that I have enjoyed. 

I have also received so much guidance within SGR from those who were never formally asked to mentor me. Justice Leah Ward Sears has been crucial in shaping who I am today. I know that she will always give me her honest opinion, even if it might be uncomfortable, and her willingness to do that has helped me have the confidence to take risks and advocate for myself when I otherwise might not have. Any time I am struggling with a legal question or strategy, I know that Jason Bell will find time in his insane schedule to brainstorm with me and help me find a new way to think about it. Colin Delaney and Ed Wasmuth have pushed me to become a better writer. And people like Julie Sebastian, John Marino, Lindsey Trowell, Ron Barab, Jay Schwartz, Kristen Wenger, John Weeks, John Ethridge, and SGR alumni Harrison Anthony, Nick Rueter, and Matt Moore have been such important sounding boards as I have learned to navigate my career path. I have found that most people are happy to give you advice if you just ask for it, and I have gained so many informal mentors from doing that. 

I place so much importance on the value of mentors, but what is even more important, in my opinion, is finding advocates. It is one thing to give advice, it is another to actively look for ways to help someone else advance. Having people who will go to bat for you, brag about your accomplishments, and speak your name even when you aren’t there to hear it make such a huge difference, especially for women. 

If you could make one change to help women at work, what would it be?
Eliminate the phrase “but he means well.” Excusing inappropriate behavior exacerbates the issue and makes it so much harder for women to have honest conversations to identify and correct problematic experiences. Well-meaning or not, we shouldn’t have to be so tolerant of things that interfere with our ability to succeed. And if they really are well-meaning, then they won’t be bothered to learn that the impact of their actions may have been different than intended. We have to be able to talk about it in order to make it better.  

Who is a woman in history that inspired you?
Don’t laugh, but one of the first was definitely Cleopatra, who may have inspired one too many Halloween costumes growing up. After learning about her in school, I was fascinated by the idea of a woman in power, especially one that could outsmart some of the most powerful men in the world. "I can totally do that," thought 6-year-old me.
I also always had a slight obsession with the painter Mary Cassatt, who used her talent and platform to advocate for women. I did a PowerPoint presentation on her life in fourth grade, complete with word art and animation (yes, I’m that cool), and have traveled many times to see her works since. In addition to being a huge fan of her work, I love the desire to do it alone, in a society that typically viewed the help of a man as a necessity. 

It might be cliché, but I just can’t not mention Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The path she forged and her ability to articulate controversial ideals in a way that sounds so casual, so common sense, has had a significant impact on the way I think about and communicate with the world.
But, the women who have most inspired me are my mother and my grandmother. Both are brilliant leaders and educators who take pride in motivating and bettering the people around them. They raised me to be unapologetically capable and taught me how to excel in a world that may not always want me to. They are so exceptionally badass that I have always felt the pressure to work harder and be better so that I can try to live up to the legacy they have created.
What advice do you have for young women starting out in the profession?
Two things: 1) Don’t let anything get in the way of you becoming exactly who you want to be. There can be so much pressure to change yourself to fit into what other people want, and while it is important to be flexible and accommodating, especially when you’re first starting out, you have to keep your own end goal in mind and set boundaries that are consistent with the plan you have for yourself. 2) Call me, let’s do lunch.
Women Making History - Match Game
Match up the woman in the left hand column with her accomplishment in the right hand column. Answers appear at the bottom.

Answers: A=3; B=6; C=1; D=10; E=7; F=2; G=9; H=4; I=8; J=5

1) Born with birth defects caused by radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, this woman, as a double leg amputee, has over ten medals, both the summer (rowing) and winter (cross country skiing) Paralympics, the latest this year in Biathalon. 

2) In 2015, she became the first female umpire in the NFL, and in 2021 she became the first female umpire in the SuperBowl. 

3) Founder of eXXpeditions, an organization that sets out with all-female crews of scientists, journalists, and activists to investigate the causes of and solutions to ocean pollution.

4) She became the first American female mega-ship captain in 2015 and currently resides in the captain’s chair of the Celebrity Edge.

5) On January 17th, what would have been her 100th birthday, animal shelters, rescue organizations, and charities saw an estimated $12.7 million in donations in her honor just thru Facebook and Instagram alone.

6) Most winning woman (and first trans woman) on Jeopardy, with a 40-game winning streak and almost $1.4 million in winnings (4th highest). After winning, she quit her day job in engineering.
7) Philanthropist extraordinaire and ex-wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos used her divorce settlement to donate $2.74 billion to 286 different organizations. Her most recent donation brings her total giving to approximately $8.6 billion to worthy causes.

8) This Nasdaq CEO believes the exchange (founded in 1971) has a role to play in ensuring “capitalism works for everyone.” In December 2020, Nasdaq proposed that its listed companies be required to disclose diversity data about their boards of directors. Those companies without at least two “diverse” directors—one who self-identifies as a woman and one who self-identifies as an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ+—would have to explain their lack of diversity. The proposal won regulatory approval in August.

9) Founder & CEO of Girls Who Code. Her TED Talk “Teach girls bravery, not perfection” is her mantra. Her work aims to close the gender gap in science-based fields and show young girls that they don’t have to do or be what society encourages. 

10) A law school grad and clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer, confirmed to the US District Court in D.C. in 2012 and the first black woman nominee for the US Supreme Court.