Don’t be afraid to learn. Christie Schmieder hasn’t been. From becoming her family’s first college graduate to securing a position as vice president and senior counsel in Charter Communications’ litigation division, Schmieder has dived headfirst into learning and development opportunities.
Schmieder first decided to become an attorney after moving next door to two lawyers, a husband and wife, who always seemed to be dressed in suits and carrying briefcases. “In my ten-year-old mind, they were important people. They were respected. They were successful,” Schmieder recalls. “When my parents explained to me what they did for a living, I said, ‘Well then, that’s what I’m going to be.’ But even though I knew what I wanted to do, I had no one to guide me along that journey.”
With parents completely unfamiliar with the college application process and no search engine standing by with ready answers, Schmieder found ways to teach herself. “As I got older and heard friends talk about which colleges they were interested in, I paid attention. Very close attention,” Schmieder remembers. “I asked a lot of questions—I picked up the phone and talked to a lot of admissions officers, a lot of financial aid officers, because this was my future.”
Schmieder worked as a receptionist, retail associate, waitress, and papergirl to put herself through college. After graduating from the Southern Illinois University School of Law in 1997, she became an assistant state’s attorney.
“I was working in criminal law at that time and learned how to try cases—everything from traffic tickets to murder charges. I loved being in the courtroom,” Schmieder recalls. “Even twenty years ago, it was a very challenging time for a young female prosecutor.”
The hardest part may have been educating judges and colleagues about the dynamics of domestic violence, an issue garnering new attention. “The court was creating a new domestic violence courtroom to specifically oversee those offenses and related orders of protection, and I was selected to supervise a newly created division in the State’s Attorney’s Office. I even trained law enforcement on evidence preservation issues related to domestic violence. It was interesting and rewarding work.”
Schmieder’s experience as assistant state’s attorney, where she was held to higher ethical and professional standards, fundamentally shaped her perception of the law and legal system. “I knew that my role was ultimately to seek justice, not merely to convict someone. So it was really important for me to exercise my judgment and not be unduly influenced by a police officer, victim, or witness.”
Although that sense of integrity has stayed with her throughout her career, Schmieder says that her view of justice continued to evolve as a result of her diverse legal experiences. Whereas she had previously viewed justice as a form of punishment, Schmieder’s next job meant justice was an avenue for ensuring accountability and compassionate treatment. She learned to appreciate the long-term, even lifelong, impact that injuries have on people. Representing personal injury clients, Schmieder specialized in appellate work, handling appeals throughout the country in both state and federal courts.
“Charter has continually given me opportunities to learn, to progress, and to lead.”
At Charter, where there is “always something new going on,” Schmieder has ample opportunities to keep growing and learning. When Schmieder first joined the company in 2010, it was already in the Fortune 500. Today, Charter is a Fortune 100 company and one of the leading broadband communications companies in the country. The second-largest cable operator in the United States, Charter connects more than 28 million customers in 41 states.
Charter’s already large footprint expanded in 2016 when it merged with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, Schmieder explains, “with no endpoint in sight for the company’s innovation and growth.” During the merger, “I saw a need,” she says of her decision to manage an area of litigation completely new to her and involving all three legacy companies. Schmieder provided a consistent approach and gained the knowledge that allowed her to guide the company during the integration of its processes and procedures surrounding that subject matter.
Even now, Schmieder says, she continues to adapt and assume new roles and responsibilities. Currently, she manages a wide range of litigation work, including consumer class action litigation, personal injury claims, commercial litigation, trespass, easement, and right-of-way disputes, and an array of prelitigation issues, all on top of coordinating with and managing the company’s outside counsel. She credits her different jobs over the years for helping her relate to, advise, and communicate with people with varying backgrounds and roles.
“That’s why Charter is such a good fit for me,” Schmieder states. “I work on so many different issues and with so many talented people, so I always feel like I’m keeping sharp, challenging myself, and continuing to refine my abilities. Charter has continually given me opportunities to learn, to progress, and to lead.”
Learning to Be Present
“I always try to be present,” Christie Schmieder says of her approach to balancing a litigation career with her responsibilities as a mom of three. That means not overextending herself outside of work so she can do activities with her kids, like helping out at school functions or attending their sports events. But it also means being truly present for her family when she’s at home.
That balance requires planning ahead to minimize work emergencies. “Once I’m home, I try to ‘turn off.’ I only check my phone or email at designated times. And my kids are really good at monitoring me,” she laughs. “I want them to see that work/life balance is a skill that you can learn—and work on every single day.”
Kabat Chapman & Ozmer LLP:
“Christie artfully manages a significant portfolio of litigation, spanning many different subject areas. Most could not do her job. She is a valued partner and a true pleasure to work with.”