Jennifer Cairns: Full Contact – Litigator & Football Player
By: Emily Bush, Chelsey Hennemuth & Beth Slagle, Esquire
Jennifer Cairns leads a double life – she is a fierce litigation attorney for McGuireWoods LLP, and she is an equally fierce defensive back for the Pittsburgh Passion, the full contact women’s professional football team. Not to mention she recently added another big life change into the mix – the role of mom.
How she fits everything into her schedule is admirable, to say the least. But Cairns played sports her whole life, including swimming and lacrosse at Duquesne University, so this hectic life is natural to her. After she began her career, sports fell by the wayside. She quickly felt like something was missing and looked for an athletic outlet to fill the void. Cairns tried out for the Pittsburgh Passion in the fall of 2002, made the team, and immediately fell in love.
Cairns calls the Pittsburgh Passion a “once in a lifetime opportunity” that she felt compelled to take advantage of – after studying for the legal bar exam of course. She describes the team as a “true melting pot” comprised of women of various races, backgrounds and ages, raging from of 18-46. Most of the women on the Passion are professionals, including educators, pharmacists, law enforcement officers and stay-at-home moms, which Cairns says “is probably the most challenging job out there.” In fact, there are a lot of individuals on the team who she looks to as models for motherhood. However, these moms aren’t the only ones Cairns looks up to. Her mother and 97-year-old grandmother are her biggest fans on and off of the field, which has made a lasting impact on her life. Between work and football, Cairns feels prepared for her role as a mom. “I run on very little sleep,” Cairns said, which she thinks will help her with her newborn baby.
Cairns has been with the Pittsburgh Passion for almost a decade and was fortunate enough to see the team develop on and off the field. The Passion was not immediately given recognition by the Pittsburgh community – “people thought it was a gimmick,” according to Cairns. But the Pittsburgh Passion has come a long way over the years. Cairns explained that the organization simply utilized everyone’s talents to build the organization – the lawyers dealt with the legal issues, while the players with marketing experience worked on advertising, and the list goes on.
The regular season for the Passion is in the spring so that they don’t compete with the NFL, including the much beloved Pittsburgh Steelers. “About 5,000 people attend (each game),” and every year the team gets higher attendance and more recognition, something that Cairns says is vital to the program. “This year, we got our foot in the door with ESPN” and secured “primetime slots” with Root Sports!” Their games have been televised before, but to a lesser degree of visibility. Due to her pregnancy, Cairns served as a color commentator for the television broadcasts.
Wearing her professional hat, she claims that there isn’t much of a difference between the courtroom and the football field. “Both are win/loss scenarios that take mental toughness and poise under pressure…you can’t give yourself away to your opponent and must posses the ability to think quickly on your feet.” When she is at work, Cairns is 100% focused on her tasks. When she is on the football field, she has to do the same. “If you aren’t focused on the game, you could end up getting hurt.
On the topic of injuries, Cairns has suffered from many, including a broken hand, a broken nose, and ACL reconstruction surgery. She states that the ACL injury was the worst because it forced her to sit on the sidelines, however, when her nose was broken in a Baltimore game, she was more irritated than anything else since it was an injury that didn’t happen by accident. “An opposing player put their fist in my facemask while I was at the bottom of the pile following the play,” intentionally causing the injury. Cairns states that she did not even realize the extent of the injury until her mother ran to the sideline to check on her and shrieked, “Oh, my God!” after seeing Jennifer’s face. Jennifer then felt where her nose should be on her face – only to realize that it was now in the middle of her cheek. She states the hardest (and most comical) part of the injury was trying to explain to the ER doctors that her boyfriend, now husband, didn’t beat her up– she was just playing football.
Cairns is not just a strong athlete; she has the brains to match. Cairns has always been a hard worker – she earned athletic and academic scholarships to Duquesne and Syracuse University. She made the Dean’s list every year in her undergraduate and graduate school years. It’s this hard work that has made her such a great lawyer and one of only two females to become partner at McGuire Woods’ Pittsburgh office.
Cairns is a remarkable leader at McGuire Woods, not only handling a big case load, but also mentoring other lawyers in the firm’s offices around the country. Her resume, both in and out of the workplace, is impressive. Cairns involves herself with many community organizations, most of which are focused on women’s empowerment, but she is active in other facets as well. At McGuire Woods, she is one of the founding members of the firm’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, and serves as Chair for the Pittsburgh region. She is a volunteer and speaker for the Beating the Odds Foundation and other like organizations that promote pursuing one’s dream despite challenging circumstances. Cairns is also a founding member of the Passion for Life Foundation, a non-profit organization supported by the Pittsburgh Passion, whose players serve as positive role models for children in the community. Finally, as an animal lover with two rescue dogs of her own, Cairns has served as a volunteer at both the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society and Animal Friends. As is obvious, Cairns is not the self-serving type. She puts others first and uses her strengths to aid others in the community.
She may have an impressive resume, but Cairns is not one to brag about her accomplishments. She shares in the fear of appearing too cocky, but says that women need to step up sometimes. When she was a young associate in her firm, if she would ask for something and the answer was “No,” she took the response as a definite “No”. However, she noticed and quickly learned that when a man would ask, he would take the “No” as “No, for right now.” She encourages women to keep asking for want they want and keep looking for ways to make themselves stand out.
Making yourself standout, whether it is on a field, in a courtroom, or at home, is essential for success, progress and happiness. Cairns is an amazing example of how hard work can make goals a reality. She is also a role model for an incredibly balanced life. She works hard for herself, but is always prepared to help the community. Jennifer Cairns – a modest, inspirational role model for all.
Emily Bush is a student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio studying History and Journalism. Emily wrote for Miami’s on-campus magazine called the Miami Quarterly. Emily has a passion for writing about things that she loves – Pittsburgh, food, and fun! She also loves sports and playing games. She was born and raised in Pittsburgh.