Things Worth Ditching Class For -
A Face to Face with the New Chief Justice
by Camille Rustia
There are a few things that I am completely obsessed with: 1) Bollywood movies 2) British royalty and 3) really empowered and successful women. Since I have a zero percent chance of being British royalty and only a 40% chance of making it as a backup dancer in a Bollywood movie, I have spent a good amount of time getting to know what it takes to become a successful woman. As a female law student looking at pure statistics of women at the top of the legal profession, primarily the number of female equity partners at large firms, it is really easy to get discouraged. Despite the fact that around 50% of law students today are women, only around 16-18% of equity partners are women. Even though the number of top female attorneys has not reached critical mass just yet, there is one place that I’ve found where there is no shortage of inspiring and powerful women—the Women Lawyer Association of Los Angeles.
The first time I stepped into a WLALA board meeting as the Loyola student liaison, I was completely blown away by the women in the room. There was Holly Fujie, President of the State Bar of California! She is pretty much the perfect role model—she’s a shareholder and top litigator at Buchalter Nemer, mother of two, and she’s always fashionable. I also give her mad props for shattering the glass ceiling for Asian-American female attorneys in general. By the way, I am totally stressing as I am writing this because I know that nothing I can say will adequately describe how amazing she is, and I am also probably leaving out other women who have helped break the glass ceiling. Getting to know Holly and other remarkable women like her is just one perk to being president of Loyola’s WLA.
At the last board meeting I attended, the current WLALA President, Angela Haskins (also an awesome role model), invited me and the Southwestern student liaison, Ashlee Hall, to attend WLALA’s annual Litigators Forum. The only thing holding me back was the fact that I had class from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. and I would have to ditch it for the event. After convincing myself that as a second semester 3L it was probably ok to miss one of my classes so long as I could access the audio recording, I threw my suit on, hopped the Loyola shuttle to 7th and Figueroa, and walked the rest of the way to the Los Angeles Athletic Club (which I naively thought was an ordinary gym) to hear the keynote speaker, California Supreme Court Chief Justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye. She is the first Filipina-woman, not to mention the first Asian-American to lead the state's judiciary! While listening to her tell war stories about what it was like for her as a young, minority, female attorney, I was brimming with hope for the future. Her grandparents, like my parents share the same immigration story, and now here she is, the Honorable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California. It was remarkable listening to someone who made it not just to the top, but to the very top; she is the living embodiment of the American dream, and she looks like me! She is like Manny Pacquaio, but even better.
After jumping to my feet to join a room full of attorneys in giving the Chief Justice a standing ovation, Ashlee and I began plotting how we could snap a picture with the Chief. We did a quick teeth check (since the speech followed a leafy luncheon) and we patiently began to wait our turn behind her other adoring fans. While in line, I turned to the Honorable Judith Chirlin (considered an amazing role model to all my amazing role models) and gushed about how inspiring the Chief was to me and Ashlee since we are both Filipina law students. Without hesitation, Judge Chirlin bumped us to the front of the line like a bouncer on a mission. Within seconds we were face to face with the Chief for an introduction and a Filipina photo opp. I was so excited, I was smiling rainbows and unicorns. She told us that someday Lady Justice wouldn’t need a blindfold to balance the scales of truth and fairness. With the new Chief in office, and all that her accomplishments represent, I am certain that “someday” is a lot sooner than we think.
Camille Rustia is the Loyola Student Liaison for WLALA.