“Who needs my help today?” was the motto of Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Arthur L. Alarcón. Judge Alarcón—an outstanding jurist—spent more than 50 years on the state and federal bench. He was an amazing mentor to legions of law clerks, externs, and others who had the great fortune to know him.
Judge Alarcón was particularly interested in mentoring women. Although he and I never spoke about this proclivity, I believe it stemmed from his understanding that women had not traditionally been afforded the same opportunities as men. And, his first law clerk was the late, great Hon. Florence Marie Cooper, who paved the way for so many women to follow in her footsteps not only in Judge Alarcón’s chambers, but in the law in general. In 1998, WLALA recognized Judge Cooper’s achievements and awarded her the Ernestine Stahlhut Award which is given annually to a woman who has “attained the respect, admiration and affection of the Bench and Bar by her outstanding character, her dedication to service and her significant contributions to the cause of justice; a person who has challenged women in our profession to excel, and who has been an encouragement to young women in our society to seek the law as a profession.”
On a personal note, I was incredibly lucky when Judge Alarcón selected me as one of his law clerks for the 1994 to 1995 term. Even though I worked with Judge Alarcón for only one year, he remained my friend, my confidant, and my mentor until he passed away in 2015, just a few months shy of his 90th birthday. Judge Alarcón and his wonderful wife, Sandy, helped me celebrate many of my personal and professional milestones: they were guests at my wedding as well as at a party my husband and I hosted when I received my MBA from UCLA in 2009. Judge Alarcón spoke at my investiture ceremony in 2011.
For more than twenty years, Judge Alarcón and I frequently got together for lunch. And, it was during those lunches, that he helped me believe that anything was possible. I can honestly say that without Judge Alarcón’s encouragement, as well as the encouragement of my other amazing mentors, including Hon. Lourdes G. Baird, Professor Laurie L. Levenson and Julie Werner-Simon, I would not have submitted my application to become a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge.
Why do I begin with a quote from my beloved mentor? Because Judge Alarcón’s motto inspires me each and every day. And I hope that it will inspire you too. I have no doubt that if you are reading this article you have a very hectic life, with deadlines, billable hour requirements, and other professional and personal commitments. But, if you think about ways that you can help, support, and motivate others, it will give you a whole new perspective on life.
For example, if you are like me and have been a professional for more years than you care to recall, you could mentor and support the next generation of lawyers. WLALA offers mentoring opportunities for law students as well as for practicing lawyers.
You can also develop mentoring relationships on your own. You can take law students and new lawyers out to lunch or dinner to discuss their aspirations, goals, and challenges. You can buy extra tickets to WLALA functions or your law school’s alumni events and invite law students or new lawyers to be your guests. And, you can help law students and new lawyers network by introducing them to other practitioners who you think might be able to offer advice and guidance.
Once you begin mentoring the next generation, you will discover how rewarding it can be. In fact, I anticipate that you will find mentoring very fulfilling and much more gratifying than you ever imagined.
If you have read to this point in the article, and think, “I am much too busy to do what she is suggesting,” then consider volunteering at one of the many Power Lunches that are held throughout the Central District of California. Power Lunches, which were created by WLALA board member Hon. Beverly Reid O’Connell, involve students coming to a courthouse to share lunch with judges, lawyers, and other professionals and to learn about the law and the legal system. The students meet in small groups with the volunteers, discuss their career aspirations and goals, and learn legal concepts and terms. Guest speakers, who are often judges in our district, discuss challenges they have faced and overcome, the instrumental roles that mentors have played in their careers, and the importance of working hard and pursuing a dream. Power Lunches conclude with the students playing a rousing game of Legal Jeopardy!, with categories such as “Who’s Who in the Courtroom,” and “Think Like a Lawyer.” Volunteers and students alike have a wonderful time.
When the bankruptcy court first started hosting Power Lunches at the Roybal Federal Building, we had to scramble to get volunteers to participate. At our first Power Lunch, we had approximately one volunteer for every four students. As word has spread about Power Lunches, they have become increasingly popular among the volunteers. During our most recent Power Lunch, we had about an equal number of volunteers and students! Volunteers enjoy participating in Power Lunches because they have an opportunity to interact with and provide guidance and advice to students, without expending a significant amount of time. One of our most enthusiastic volunteers happens to be Sandy Alarcón, Judge Alarcón’s wife. She and I have become friends and she recently has been a regular participant in many of our community outreach events.
It is often said that “we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before.” As women lawyers, we stand on the shoulders of Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who despite graduating at the top of their law school classes had difficulty getting legal jobs because of their gender. We stand on the shoulders of Hon. Florence Marie Cooper and all of the other women and men who paved the way for my generation to become partners, judges, and general counsel.
Now, with women comprising almost 50% of law school graduates, it is time for those women to stand on our shoulders. It is time for the gender gap to close. It is time for women to fill approximately 50% of the judgeships in this country, rather than women holding only 27.1% of all state and federal judicial positions. It is time for women lawyers to earn the same amount as men, rather than earning an average of just 83% of their male counterparts’ salaries. And, it is time for women to gain their rightful place leading corporations, rather than women comprising just 24% of all Fortune 500 general counsel. A Current Glance at Women in the Law, ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, May 2016.
Please help me to continue carrying on Judge Alarcón’s legacy, Judge Cooper’s legacy and the legacy of all of the other wonderful mentors and friends who have helped and inspired me. Please mentor, encourage, and help the next generation of women fulfill their dreams.
Hon. Sandra R. Klein is on the bench for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California and is the WLALA Board of Governors Federal Court Liaison.