“You can have it all – but not all at the same time.” ~~ Lois Sutton
Ellen Geller Kamaras
I am grateful to be celebrating my third anniversary of writing this column. My very first interview was with Gloria Bijou and I have been hooked ever since! Gloria and I were both downsizing at the time and we connected immediately. Gloria has introduced me to other candidates for the column and I consider her a friend. I have enjoyed meeting so many remarkable women from the community and always take away meaningful life lessons, which I share with you.
This month, I am delighted to introduce you to a dynamic woman, Lois Sutton. She is not only a traditional mother and homemaker but is also an attorney with her own private practice. She melds family, community values, and her career successfully and in varying proportions, with each phase of her life.
The Early Years
Originally a Brooklyn girl, Lois was born in December 1954, the eldest of four children. Her parents Eli (Sonny) and Selma (Mahana) Cohen, were also born and raised in the Syrian community in Brooklyn.
Lois is very proud of her Sephardic cultural heritage, which comes from both sides of her family: the Cohens from Damascus and the Mahanas from Aleppo. Her Jido, Basil Cohen, came to America in the early 1900s and helped found the Ahi Ezer Synagogue.
Lois speaks lovingly about her traditional Brooklyn childhood in the community. She grew up shomeret Shabbat with Syrian parents who imparted a strong sense of family, community, religious observance, and education. She was very bookish; the family joke was that she would walk down the aisle with a book. She attended Magen David Yeshivah, graduated from Brooklyn College, Magna Cum Laude, and in 1980 was awarded her Juris Doctorate with Honors from Rutgers University School of Law.
“My parents were, and continue to be, a big influence, just by who they were and what they did.”
Her father Eli used to say that Lois could be the first Jewish female president! How empowering is that?! He instilled in Lois a strong work ethic and a sense of adventure. Her mom, Selma, is a dynamo who believes in celebrating every life event. When Lois invited her parents to come to the law school to watch her present a case for Mock Trial, they brought over thirty members of her extended family, including both sets of elderly grandparents!
Meeting Her Naseeb
Lois was only 15 years old when she met her naseeb, Sammy Sutton. Sam, also Sephardic, was a year older. They married in May 1976 after she graduated college. She started law school that August. Lois and Sam lived briefly in Brooklyn, then moved to West Deal, NJ in 1978. They are founding members of Congregation Magen David of West Deal.
“Sam is my best friend and my number one fan. When I decided to go to law school, he made it clear that it was important that I finish.”
Sam was in the wholesale shoe business, known for his friendly nature and positive outlook. The couple has five children, Victoria, Joey, Eli, Selma, and Albert. All are married with families of their own. Lois and Sam are proud that they have each successfully followed their own path in life.
What Lois is All About
Let’s get back to Lois, what defines her, her passions and accomplishments, her professional journey, and her challenges.
Lois has been described as outgoing, determined, creative, and funny. While taking her role as an attorney very seriously, she tries to find humor in every aspect of life. Lois added that she is stubborn as well. If someone tells her she can’t do something, she will find a way to make it happen.
Her husband calls her atypical and she concurs saying she is always a little bit different, in a good way, of course. I found Lois to be savvy, focused, resilient, driven, flexible, and practical.
First and foremost, Lois is passionate about family and grandchildren. The couple’s ultimate joy is to be celebrate hagim and semachot with their children and grandchildren. “My grandchildren are my life and I am proud to be the babysitting Grandma!”
“What else? I am passionate about what I do!” Lois has practiced law for nearly 40 years, and among her clients are generations in the same family. Her areas of expertise are real estate (residential and commercial), wills, trusts, estate planning, probate, estate administration, and business. Lois considers herself a problem solver. Instead of suing, she helps fulfill goals: to buy or sell a house, open or close a business, form a trust. She enjoys people and giving them the benefit of her knowledge and years of experience.
Lois admits she didn’t intentionally set out to become the first Sephardic female lawyer in the community, but that is what happened. She excelled at writing and analysis and a college professor encouraged her to become a lawyer.
As Lois described her journey through law school and the different stages of her career, I noted how clever she was, always knowing that her priority was her family, yet finding the right fit professionally for each stage of her life. She went straight through law school, with a one semester break to have her first child, Victoria. She was expecting her son Joey when she took the bar exam.
Life after law school was unchartered territory. Judges and fellow counsel would assume she was the secretary. Law firms would not consider flex-time or maternity leave. Working until late and on weekends was the norm. “I entered the profession with a triple whammy: an Orthodox married female with a family”
Lois decided early on that she wouldn’t be on the partnership track, but that she would find the right position professionally to keep her roles as wife and mother a priority. Sometimes it worked and at other times it didn’t.
Ingredients to Success
Over the years Lois has been in-house counsel for a bank, worked for several large law firms, and was Endowment Director for Jewish Federation of Greater Monmouth County. She opened her own law office in 2010 in Ocean Township, New Jersey, and practices law full-time.
Lois is thankful to Hashem for surrounding her with so much support and opportunity, but insists that all mothers are working mothers, being the CEO’s of their homes. Lois’s own kids bragged about their “Mom the Lawyer.” Now they bring their own children to visit Lois in her office, just like they used to!
Family Challenge – Sam’s Kidney Failure
Nothing could have prepared Lois and her family for what happened about eight years ago, when Sam’s kidneys suddenly began failing. During the whirlwind of doctors’ appointments, testing, and hospitalizations that followed, it became clear Sam needed a kidney transplant. It was a race against time. On July 3rd, 2012, Sam received the gift of life, a kidney from their youngest son, Albert.
“It was an unreal experience that I couldn’t even process at the time. How did I do it? I just put one foot in front of the other and kept going. B”H, it was successful.”
Renewal, a Jewish organization that facilitates kidney transplants, was instrumental in navigating the process and assisting them every step of the way. Exactly one year later, Lois chaired an event that introduced Renewal to the Syrian Community. Lois is a committed volunteer whose service has benefited Hillel Yeshiva, Congregation Magen David of West Deal, and Sephardic Bikur Holim.
Work and Play
What does Lois do for fun? She still loves to read, but also loves trying new recipes, planning family parties, exercising, walking outdoors, and of course, playing with the grandkids.
Lois is consistently growing professionally and can handle not only her clients’ New Jersey matters, but also New York and Florida matters, facilitated by strategic alliances with local counsel. She also offers her clients halachic estate planning in conjunction with their rabbis and bet din.
Lois enjoys mentoring aspiring lawyers. Her advice, “You have to love the law to be a successful attorney. First, intern with a lawyer and speak to other attorneys to make sure it’s really what you want.”
In every phase of her life Lois is constantly prioritizing and recalibrating. It’s an ongoing equation – there are always things we want to do; and at the same time things we have to do. The solution is to figure out what we actually can do at that moment in time. Lois says she learned the hard way to enjoy being in the moment. And now she makes sure she always does. Her mantra is: “You can have it all, but not all at the same time!”
You can connect with Lois by calling her office at (732) 245-4500
or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Bert Cohen