Hilly McGahan

1. What is your morning motivation to do great things?
My clients are a major motivator. I usually wake up thinking about various little things I need to do in my cases, but I could fit all these little things into one larger daily motivation: to empower my clients, to help them feel heard and respected, and to work toward changing the ways our culture and justice system disempowers and silences them. And toast. I like to have toast in the morning with peanut butter and honey and cinnamon.

2. What is one thing you do to work towards a work/life balance?
I love to get away to the Mission Mountains with my husband, Jacob, and our son, Theo. We all feel such contentment and gratitude when we’re off on an overnight backpacking trip, with our computers and phones back at home. Some of the best conversations happen when you’re walking single file on a trail in the mountains. On a daily basis, I’ve found it’s really important to have a non-work activity where you can become completely absorbed, or “flow.” I like to paint, fly fish, and run.

3. Name one person who has inspired you in your career.
Brandi Ries. She has been my steadfast mentor and friend. I admire her integrity, her practicality, and the light-heartedness she maintains in spite of it all. Three other attorneys I deeply admire are Michelle Alexander, Claudia Paz y Paz, and Jennifer Harbury–women who speak truth to power, over and over again.

4. Tell us about your business or profession and how you chose your path.
On a family camping trip to Mexico when I was in the sixth grade, I ran out of my own books and decided to read one from my parents’ stash–a book by Jennifer Harbury about Guatemala’s genocide. I became fascinated with Guatemala’s history, and dismayed by our own country’s role in over-throwing their democratically-elected president in 1954. After my undergraduate studies at the University of Montana, I spent a year working as a human rights accompanier in Guatemala. I was struck by the similar struggles indigenous Guatemalans and indigenous communities in the U.S. face. I started law school in 2009 with these struggles in mind, and was lucky enough to find work with a domestic violence legal program on the very reservation in Montana where I grew up.

5. What is one technological device or app you use that you could not live without?
TurboScan. Take a picture of ANYTHING on your phone, and TurboScan automatically turns it into an instantly-emailable PDF. I love TurboScan. I will TurboScan anything for you if you want me to.

6. What is your greatest strength as a leader?
I try hard to treat everyone with respect–at work, at home, whether I’m overwhelmed or outraged.

7. What has been your biggest failure and how have you overcome it?
Not listening well when I’m in a heated discussion about something I’m passionate about. I will probably always have to work to overcome this.

8. What is success?
I think success is a magical, delicate combination of finding meaningful work; a community of people who challenge you, examine and question injustice, and don’t give into cynicism; and time to be truly present with family and in the outdoors.

9. Name one person who is a successful leader.
Dolores Huerta. She is a labor activist and civil rights leader now in her eighties. She has worked tirelessly on behalf of farmworkers, the working poor, women, and children. I admire her as a leader because she took action in the face of rampant racism and sexism. As a young woman, she resigned from being a teacher, saying: “I quit because I couldn’t stand seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children.”

10. What is the one thing you do over and over and recommend to others?
Eat good food with family. My husband, siblings, in-laws, and parents all know a lot about how to enjoy good food, and I am so lucky to share meals with them, over and over, and to have access to Montana’s bounty. And sleep. Sleep is one of my life priorities. I love it and recommend it.