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SEPTEMBER 2014 - President's Message
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President's Message - SEPTEMBER

Jennifer Romano
WLALA President 2014-2015

I am honored, excited and a bit nervous to take on the role of President of WLALA at our annual Installation Dinner on September 18.  WLALA is one of the oldest women’s bar associations in the United States, and with almost 1200 members, it is the largest women’s bar association in California.  Many prominent women attorneys and judges in Los Angeles have been a part of its leadership over the last 95 years.  The job of leading this organization is certainly daunting.  And so, consistent with my approach to life (as well as to lawyering), I approach this role by first identifying my goal and then turning to how to reach it.   

The theme I have selected for my year as President of WLALA is “Invest in Each Other.”  We want to encourage, motivate and foster opportunities for our members and the broader community to invest their time, money, energy and political capital in each other, so that we all collectively benefit.

We are an organization whose mission is to promote the full participation of women lawyers and judges in the legal profession, maintain the integrity of our legal system, improve the status of women in our society including their exercise of equal rights and reproductive choice, and actively work toward the furtherance of these goals through WLALA's committees, sections and activities.  How far we have come in reaching these goals since this organization was founded.  Unlike 95 years ago, women now serve in all capacities in the legal profession – managing partners of law firms, General Counsel of the largest companies, Deans of law schools and Supreme Court Justices.  Our organization has done its part to further this progress.  Just last year, under the leadership of our President Anne Tremblay, we held over 50 events that provided continuing legal education to our members, offered practical and professional advice, advocated for principles of integrity, equality and reproductive choice and brought women attorneys together across specialties to support each other.  In addition, we donated countless volunteer hours through the Sojourn Domestic Violence Clinic, Downtown Women’s Center and Food From the Bar.

Yet, even with these successes, our mission is still an aspirational statement.  Despite the fact that in 1993 women were more than 50% of law school students (and the number has hovered just below 50% since then),[1] when we look around at our law firms, in our courtrooms, and in the C-Suite at companies, we see that there are not enough of us.  Women make up only 19% of equity partners at AmLaw 200 firms, 27% of federal judges and 18% of Fortune 500 General Counsel.[2]  Some of us nevertheless flourish in this setting, achieving all we had hoped.  Others of us feel unsupported, are more hesitant to ask for help or support, and have a more difficult time reaching our full potential.  And, sadly, many of us decide to leave the profession. 

We cannot fix this situation in one year.  Even ten years is probably not enough time, but we certainly can do more.  One way to do more is to commit to investing more in each other.

In addition to networking with others and mentoring attorneys who need advice, true investment – of time, money, energy and political capital – can make the difference in professional success.  Investment can come from people at all levels.  When a junior attorney invests in working for a more senior attorney, by making herself available and providing the highest level of work, everyone benefits.  In turn, the senior attorney provides more opportunities for her protégé and can advocate for her in the organization. 

One of the hardest kinds of investment is the investment of emotional energy.  How many times have you thought of constructive feedback for a colleague or friend and held back because you wanted to avoid a difficult conversation?  Professional advancement requires knowing how to improve.  Investing the energy required to share constructive advice has great value.

Investment can also happen between people in different organizations.  Referring a contact for business or recommending them for a new job requires investment of political capital.  There is a risk that the referral will not work out.  But, in many situations, the risk is worth taking.  If we all make those investments, we all benefit.

And, we should never forget the importance of investing in our community.  Improving the status of women, including their exercise of equal rights and reproductive choice, has long been a part of WLALA’s mission statement.  In our busy lives, it hard to see how we can make a difference for women in poverty or in danger of physical harm, or those being deprived of reproductive rights.  Opportunities are there, through WLALA, the Los Angeles County Bar Association and other non-profits throughout the city and state.  It is our obligation to pursue them.

The awardees at this WLALA’s 2014-2015 Installation Dinner are selected because each has demonstrated a commitment to investing in others’ success. 

Our Distinguished Service Awardee, Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell, is an accomplished attorney and judge.  Not only has she invested in WLALA and the countless women who have worked with her and for her over the years, she also invests in the future of our legal profession.  Judge O’Connell is being recognized for establishing WLALA’s Power Lunch Program, which is designed to bring under-served, ethnically diverse high school students together with lawyers, judges and courtroom staff in a courtroom environment to learn about the justice system.  

Our Myra Bradwell Awardee, the University of California’s Office of General Counsel, provides a supportive and inspiring community for all of its attorneys, where two-thirds of the attorneys are women and nearly half of the leadership positions are held by women.  The UC Office of General Counsel provides both formal and informal programs for its women and diverse attorneys, supports flexible and part-time work schedules, and also works to achieve diversity among the outside attorneys it hires.    

Finally, our Ernestine Stahlhut Awardee, Judith Bain, embodies the concept of investing in others.  Judy created the Epson America Legal Affairs Department in 1986 and has served as its General Counsel for almost three decades.  She is a longstanding member of WLALA and Board Member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles.  Judy is frequently seen toting around law students and young lawyers who she mentors, investing substantial time to their professional development.  She also is generous with her time and provides advice to other lawyers regarding how to generate business with in-house counsel, how to balance a family and legal career, and how to network successfully.  Judy is a role model, not only for what she has accomplished professionally but also for what she helps all of us accomplish as well. 

I hope you will join us for WLALA’s Installation Dinner on September 18, 2014 at the historic Millenium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, and help us celebrate our awardees and our commitment to invest in our friends, colleagues and community.

[1] American Bar Association, “First Year and Total J.D. Enrollment by Gender 1947 – 2010.”

[2] Commission on Women in the Profession, “A Current Glance at Women in the Law 2011,” American Bar Association (January 2011).