Niki Schaefer | How a Stroke at 38 Changed a Lawyer’s Approach to Life and Work

Niki SchaeferNiki Schaefer is the Vice President and General Counsel at ReliabilityFirst, a company that ensures the Mid-Atlantic electric grid is reliable and secure.

Niki spent the first half of her career as a Commercial Litigator at Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff, a large law firm in Cleveland, Ohio. She spent the second half of her career in a variety of in-house roles, initially on ReliabilityFirst’s legal team. She proceeded to sharpen her expertise as a litigator in general counsel roles for a variety of business units at Eaton Corporation, a large manufacturing company based in Cleveland. 

Two years ago, Niki returned to ReliabilityFirst as its General Counsel after suffering a stroke that not only impacted her speech and balance, but also her life and career. Niki believes that the changes she made to her life and work as a result of her stroke were a catalyst for achieving a balance and happiness she hadn’t known beforehand.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Niki Schaefer talks about what ReliabilityFirst does
  • Niki’s day-to-day life before her stroke — and the main factors that contributed to the stroke
  • Niki describes the harrowing story of her stroke
  • How constant stress, perfectionism, and lack of self-care can lead to detrimental results
  • The aftermath of Niki’s stroke and her healing process
  • How Niki initiated big life shifts and empowered herself to say “no”
  • Niki shares her thoughts on work-life balance
  • The quote that helped Niki shift her perspective on control

In this episode…

Many ambitious lawyers fall into the trap of overworking themselves, saying “yes” to everything that’s asked of them, and putting their career before their own health. For Niki Schaefer, this kind of lifestyle led to a horrific experience — and forced her to change her approach to her life and work.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of her career, Niki suffered a stroke. While taking 10 weeks off to recover, she had the most self-reflective moment: she needed to decide what was most important in her personal and work life and draw boundaries. When returning to the workforce, Niki’s stroke empowered her to say “no,” delegate tasks, and respond to uncontrollable situations in the most beneficial way possible. Now, she’s living a happy and well-balanced life inside and outside of work. 

In this episode of The Lawyer’s Edge Podcast, Elise Holtzman sits down with Niki Schaefer, Vice President and General Counsel at ReliabilityFirst, to talk about how her stroke transformed her life. Niki describes the factors that contributed to the stroke, the pause that helped her shift priorities, and tips for being confident in your judgment — despite society’s expectations.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by The Lawyer’s Edge, a firm based in the New York metropolitan area founded by Elise Holtzman in 2008 to help lawyers become skilled business developers and leaders so that they can grow their practices, retain top talent, and step confidently into leadership roles.

The firm offers customized coaching, consulting, and training programs such as their signature business development program, Lawyers Making Rain.

Now more than ever, it’s not enough to just do good work and hope your law firm will thrive. And no matter how smart and hard-working you are, it can be time-consuming and overwhelming to figure it all out by yourself.

To learn more about how we help lawyers become rainmakers and leaders, visit or email us at

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