For the past five years, attorney Kristen Scanlon has made a name for herself by helping clients navigate the labyrinth that is Boston’s zoning, permitting, and food and liquor licensing process. Now she’s helping transform the world of traditional networking with Pilates with Purpose Inc. — holding bimonthly events at which women work out and then mingle. All proceeds from the events go to charities. Scanlon, 32, recently spoke to the Globe at her Rowes Wharf office.
1. Scanlon grew up in upstate New York, the youngest of five sisters, with dreams of law school since she was 14. She graduated from New England School of Law in 2009 and quickly became disillusioned with her job at a small insurance defense litigation firm, dealing mostly with auto accident claims. It was the late John Noonan, co-owner of Clarke’s at Faneuil Hall — where Scanlon often went for lunch — who suggested she get into licensing and permitting work.
“He said, ‘I bet you’d be really good at this.’ . . . There’s not a lot of people in the city that do it. It is political, and it’s a lot more than just being an attorney. I feel I’m a traditional attorney half the time and the other half I feel like I’m a business consultant, I’m a strategist, I’m handling [public relations], crisis management. . . . I think the [restaurant] industry is something that I was drawn to for a very long time. I’m kind of a foodie — one of my favorite things to do is go to new restaurants and see what’s going on around town.”
2. After a two-year stint at zoning and permitting-specialty firm McDermott, Quilty and Miller, Scanlon launched her own practice, Scanlon Law, in 2013. Networking in the male-dominated field presented some challenges for Scanlon — at events she often was pegged for a secretary. When her friend (and pilates instructor) Hanneke Antonelli asked if she knew of any networking events in the area geared toward young professional women, Scanlon suggested they start their own. In 2014, the duo launched Pilates with Purpose. The next event is scheduled for December.
“It’s very hard for women, as we get older, to meet other like-minded women that you want to spend time with and get to know. Just by someone buying a ticket and walking through the door to this event, you know it’s the type of person you want to talk to because they’re looking for the same thing — taking the suits and the name tags out of it in a much more relaxed atmosphere. Everyone’s in their workout clothes and you’ve already worked out on yoga mats next to each other for 45 minutes. And then we pick a different local charity every month to raise money and awareness for.”
3. Scanlon was inspired by her family to give back to the community. Her father, a former police captain, is a second-generation funeral director and runs the family’s funeral homes in two small towns in New York. As business owners in the community, her father and late grandfather generously aided local charities. That’s why she wanted Pilates with Purpose to have a philanthropic component, with the $25 entry fee going to community organizations. The events take place in different donated spaces around the city. About 850 women have participated so far, raising about $15,500 for 15 Boston-based charities.
“I think that makes people feel good when maybe they don’t feel like they have the time, or they don’t have the money to spend $150 a ticket to go to a charity dinner or something. That’s not realistic for a lot of young professionals to do that once a month. . . . Finding out about charities they never heard of and can partner with, it’s been fun to watch, in that it happens organically. Networking can be so daunting to some people because things don’t happen overnight.”
4. Scanlon has been juggling responsibilities outside her job description since she was 14, when she worked her first job as a nursing home receptionist.
“Answering the phone, cutting meal tickets, and making sure the kitchen got them, that was the job. But the job was really being friendly to people and talking to them. And a lot of the residents would come up and have conversations with you, and there were a lot of World War II vets in there. . . . When we were kids, we were always mesmerized by those stories. I’d be sitting [at work] for hours, depending [on] who would come up to talk to me. It wasn’t just a receptionist job; you’re having these relationships with these great people. It felt like I had 10 grandparents.”
5. Scanlon said there is still a place for traditional networking, but one tradition she’d like to do away with is the five-year plan question.
“I hate when people ask me what my five-year plan is. I go, ‘I don’t know because five years ago I certainly didn’t think I was going to be sitting here doing what I’m doing, literally on that timeline.’ That’s kind of the pleasant surprise of it. Who knows where this could lead in five years and what door could be opened and what opportunity can happen?”