Jacintha Balch graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1979, when women made up just 20 percent of the entire class. While working as a law clerk during school, she encountered a client who wondered why some of the “secretaries” wore skirts and the others wore suits. “When I said I was a law student he said, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ You would not find that happening very often today,” Balch says.

After working part-time as head of the estate planning department for Huntington National Bank’s trust company, in 1991 she formed Balch Law, her own boutique firm specializing in estate planning and probate. “Back in that age, it was very difficult to have kids and stay at a very large law firm. It was just plain hard,” she says.

Her husband, J. Randolph Balch, sold his own company, Medical Management Group, and joined the firm in 1997 to handle the business aspects and health-care law. The firm has represented clients with estates up to $22 million.

“Estate planning is not just doing a will or a trust,” Balch says. “Areas in estate planning can be anything from a parent having a need to create a discretionary trust for a child, advanced gift tax planning, estate tax planning, income tax planning, or it could be dealing with a unique asset.”

Outside of work, Balch, 59, sits on the board of Lutheran Social Services and serves on the professional advisory committee of the Columbus Foundation.

What’s the best part of your job? “Dealing with really nice people who are my clients.”

What’s your biggest challenge? “There’s a tendency with lawyers to let the law dominate all facets of their life, and the biggest challenge is to occasionally take some time off to rest.”

How do you maintain a work-life balance? Being a boutique firm creates flexibility, Balch says. “We took time off with our kids to take them to Europe several times, to China and all over the United States.” Her sons, James and Christopher, are now grown and work for Cardinal Health and study pre-law at Cornell University, respectively.

What strengths do women bring to the workplace? “I think in estate planning, women sometimes are more sensitive to the clients and the emotional or psychological side of that client’s situation.”

Who or what has been your biggest inspiration? “My spouse has always been very encouraging. He’s the one who encouraged me to go to law school.”

What are your goals for the next five years? “To continue to evolve in the services offered to my clients based on whatever develops, either from a tax point of view in the United States or situations like oil and gas properties becoming valuable in Ohio.”

How can employers ensure that more women achieve high-ranking positions? “My husband and I both mentor a lot of young people,” Balch says. “I think there is a lot more mentoring going on today than in my generation. I think that a woman can rise to any level she wants today, have a family and have a balanced life, but it still is very difficult.”

Michelle Davey is an editorial assistant and Jennifer Wray is a staff writer for Columbus C.E.O.

Reprinted from the May 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.