A Night of Inspiration and Leadership: WLALA's 2012 Awards & Installation Dinner
by Amy T. Brantly
After being sworn in as the new President, Ruth credited today's women lawyers with the ability to fulfill so many different roles: "We are lawyers, daughters, spouses, mothers, friends, volunteers, and civic and community leaders. We excel at keeping lots of balls in the air and remembering a million details . . . . We see the big picture and we don't miss a beat!" Ruth acknowledged that we are defined by so much more than what we do professionally as women and that we indeed "defy stereotypes." Ruth reminded the packed room of over 500 guests that our organization is just as relevant today as it was when it started and that statistics today show that women have a long way to go to reach parity with men in attaining positions as equity partners, general counsels and federal and state judges. Not being one to merely dwell on the challenges we face as women, Ruth suggested that we face the challenges head on by committing to (1) publicly acknowledge the contributions of women, (2) sponsor women, (3) put women on our lists when hiring, doling out important assignments, and in considering advancement and (4) make sure the names of women are on your lists when referring business. As Ruth explained in her speech, these acts will go a long way towards raising the stature of women in the profession and seeing more women meet their full potential.
In addition to four scholarships and a public interest grant to law students, WLALA presented three major annual awards. WLALA awarded Raytheon Company the Myra Bradwell Award for its commitment to diversity. Vice President and General Counsel of Raytheon's Space and Airborne Systems Division, Barbara Pollack, accepted the award on behalf of Raytheon. She explained that Raytheon is a place where women can excel. For example, Raytheon has six business units, two of which have female General Counsels. In addition, Raytheon's Vice President of Litigation, Vice President of Corporate Transactions and Governance, and Director of Business Ethics and Compliance are women. Of the 13 direct reports to the Corporate General Counsel, five are women (just under 40 percent). Women comprise 52 percent of the professional population in the Office of General Counsel. Additionally, Raytheon offers many benefits that make it easy for women to do well.
Long time WLALA supporter Mary-Christine (MC) Sungaila, an appellate partner at Snell & Wilmer LLP, was awarded the Distinguished Service Award for her pro bono work on behalf of women and for her community service. M.C. also challenged the audience to make a difference, "[t]o stand up for what you feel is just, fair, and humane" and reminded us that "individual courage is integral to creating change." M.C. shared with us a story about one of her pro bono projects involving three courageous mothers who demanded that Mexico be held responsible for their daughters unsolved murders which were part of a decade long pattern of unsolved killings of young women and girls in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Through the work of M.C. and other advocates, the Inter American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica held Mexico liable for the killings and acknowledged that their inaction was part of a pattern of discrimination. Quoting Harriet Tubman, M.C. inspired us by stating: "You have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars and change the world." She then asked all of us a simple question: "What will you do?" To read M.C.'s entire speech, please CLICK HERE.
The night closed with the presentation of WLALA's highest award of achievement, the Ernestine Stahlhut Award, to the Hon. Patricia Collins by Judge Collins' daughter, Haley Greenberg, a first year law student at UCLA. The poised Ms. Greenberg did a superb job introducing a woman whom she described as a great judge and mother. Judge Collins gave a heartfelt speech about her humble childhood in upstate New York and the fact that she did not know any lawyers growing up. Despite being encouraged to be a doctor by her father, an airline worker, she decided to attend law school at Georgetown where she was recruited by a Los Angeles law firm. She also discussed her love of California, a place she often travelled to as a child and was thrilled to end up calling home. She spoke of her incredible luck in obtaining a position advocating for the United States as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and her subsequent appointment to the Los Angeles Superior Court. While I think we all believe that luck has a hand in our lives, I can't help but think that Judge Collins was being a bit humble and that her achievements had a lot more to do with her intelligence, litigations skills, work on behalf of the community through, among other things, the Prime Time Mock Trial Program that she initiated, and her endless energy.
Theses honorees exemplify Ruth's wise remarks about women lawyers today - "we see the big picture," "we don't miss a beat" and "we defy stereotypes!" WLALA looks forward to a fantastic year of programs, pro bono work, community service and mentorship. I hope you will enjoy the accompanying photographs from the evening. Please CLICK HERE for the photo gallery.
Amy T. Brantly is the WLALA Communications Officer. Ms. Brantly is Of Counsel with Susman Godfrey L.L.P.