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Women's Initiative

White and Williams is committed to recruiting, retaining and advancing women. The Women’s Initiative was established to enhance the professional and personal development of our women lawyers and to foster their success in the workplace.

The Women’s Initiative is guided by a steering committee who works to develop educational programs, networking opportunities and charitable activities that help to foster a supportive and inclusive workplace.


We asked women lawyers to share significant moments in their careers and advice for young women lawyers. 

Tell Us About a Significant Moment in Your Career.

Patti Santelle, Chair Emeritus/Former Managing Partner and Chair, Executive Committee
A significant moment in my career was being elected the Chair of White and Williams. It was a challenging time for the firm and for me personally because the former Chair, who was my mentor and long-time partner and closest friend at the firm, had died suddenly – but it was significant to have the support of the Executive Committee, as well as the partners and so many other folks around the firm, the clients and the legal community.

Read more responses. 
Who Helped You the Most on Your Career Path?

Sara Mirsky, Counsel, Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith
My mom works for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which means I spent a lot of time with women attorneys while growing up. We went on vacation with a woman coworker’s family every summer; I would attend office events; many of my mom’s coworkers would come to my family’s annual day-after-Thanksgiving party. Being surrounded by so many women attorneys made women in the legal profession seem like a given. They were all very intelligent, thoughtful women who enjoyed their jobs and spoke positively about the challenges they faced at work. It taught me that my interests in reading and writing could be applied to the law in a rewarding way, and that I could expect to find a supportive community of smart women once I became a lawyer (I have not been disappointed).

Read more responses. 

What Has Been the Greatest Achievement in Your Legal Career Thus Far?

Debbie Rodman Sandler, Partner, Labor and Employment

Rather than one incident, I think my “greatest achievement” has been, collectively, the times I have been able to help a client out of a potentially disastrous situation so that they are able to focus on their business. This is especially true when it is a small or family-owned company.

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What is the Best Piece of Advice That You Have Received?

Nancy Frantz, Chair, Real Estate and Finance

"Make it happen," which was a phrase often used by a more senior partner with whom I worked. My appreciation of that phrase grows each year, as all attorneys should fully understand that clients entrust us to deliver the best service in a timely manner, and we all need to, at times, regardless of seniority, do what it takes to get the job done, which can range from high level strategic analysis to helping out with signature tabs.

Read more responses.
How Do You Mentor Others or Help Women Advance in Your Workplace and the Legal Profession?

Jenifer Scarcella, Partner, Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith

I think the best thing women can do for other women, or anyone, in the workplace is to recognize and respond to others ideas and give credit where it is due.

Fabianna Pergolizzi, Associate, Subrogation

Personally, I am member of a nonprofit organization called Junior League Inc. Within that nonprofit organization I participate in speaking engagements that are focused on empowering young women to engage and take advantage of their career opportunities.

What Advice Do You Offer Young Women Lawyers?

Patti Santelle, Chair Emeritus/Former Managing Partner and Chair, Executive Committee

I would tell a young woman attorney the same thing I would tell a young male attorney, which are the same traits that I attribute to my own success: Work hard to develop strong, important client relationships; work hard to gain the respect of colleagues; and always be prepared and responsive. Some advice specifically for women attorneys is to not ever change your personality or feel that you have to be something different to succeed. I generally have a smile on my face, and maintain as positive an attitude as possible in the office — when I was an associate at another firm, a partner went to the trouble of submitting a written evaluation form on me solely for the purpose of saying that he/she appreciated that I always had a smile on my face. There is nothing wrong with being friendly as well as feminine and no need to act like someone you are not in order to succeed.

Read more responses.

If You Could Go Back and Give Your 16 Year Old Self Advice, What Would You Tell Her?

Lori Smith, Partner, Corporate and Securities

Don’t be afraid of failure or making mistakes. We are all constantly learning new things and may be second-guessed or challenged on advice that we give. In the legal profession there isn’t always a black or white answer and we may be dealing with issues of first impression where we have to be creative and thoughtful. But clients don’t come to us for the easy stuff, they come to us to help with complex tasks. You should not be intimidated by the fact that you may not know all the answers or haven’t done something before. You cannot advance in your career without taking chances and stretching beyond your comfort zone. Most successful people are the ones that aren’t afraid to think outside the box, accept new challenges and are constantly learning from the team around them.

What Woman Has Inspired You?

Amy Vulpio, Partner, Financial Restructuring and Bankruptcy

I had the privilege to hear US Senator Tammy Duckworth speak about her very inspiring experiences as a woman in the military and in Congress. A combat veteran and double amputee, Ms. Duckworth overcame her injuries to advocate for others – first in the House and now in the Senate – with incredible energy and empathy. She is truly an American hero.

Read more responses.
Do You Have a Favorite Book That You Recommend Women in Law or Business Read?

Nancy Conrad, Chair, Higher Education

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik – a wonderful, fun, inspiring book - it provides great insight into the personal and professional achievements of Justice Ginsburg. In the words of RBG – “So it was that ten years of my life that I devoted to litigating cases about – I don’t say women’s rights – I say the constitutional principle of the equal citizenship stature of men and women.” I am currently reading My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is a fascinating read that includes the Justice’s writings.


White and Williams’ Women’s Initiative celebrates an integral part of our firm’s history while serving as a foundation for nurturing the careers of our women lawyers. Our story begins with Virginia “Ginny” Barton Wallace. She earned her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College and then took an internship position at the Saturday Evening Post in Philadelphia. During World War II, Ginny rose to the rank of 1st Lieutenant, while serving with the Women’s Army Air Corps. She attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School and earned her law degree in 1950. After graduation, Ginny joined White and Williams, and in 1961, went on to become the first woman partner at the firm and one of the first in the City of Philadelphia. 

As a tribute to Ginny’s legacy, our Women’s Initiative serves as a critical component of our firm’s retention, recruitment and business development efforts. The programs found within our Women’s Initiative aim to create and maintain a dynamic work environment that fosters the advancement and success of the women within the firm. One of those programs is our Virginia Barton Wallace Award breakfast, an event that honors a woman in business who, like Ginny, has used her leadership and passion to inspire other women to succeed. 


Additionally, through professional and personal cultivation and development, our women lawyers are wired into the business community. Our women lawyers host, and speak at, educational and networking events that touch on a variety of topics including work/life balance, opportunities for career development and advancement and legal issues pertaining to business owners including tax and intellectual property.

Our women lawyers hold leadership positions and are active members of internal and external organizations including:

  • Athena PowerLink
  • Community Advisory Board of the CancerCare Community of Greater Lehigh Valley
  • Lehigh Valley Women’s 5K Classic
  • Members of key firm management
  • National Association of Female Executives
  • National Association of Women Business Leaders (NAWBO)
  • Practice leaders
  • Professional Women’s Roundtable
  • Women’s Business Council of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce
  • Women’s World Banking

Our firm and our lawyers have been recognized for the Women’s Initiative program. Some of those honors include:

  • The firm was recognized by the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession.
  • Partner Patti Santelle received the Scarlet Oak Meritorious Service Award by Rutgers University for her contributions as an alumni leader and student mentor at the Rutgers-Camden School of Law.
  • Partner Nancy Conrad was the recipient of the “Take the Lead” award from the Girl Scouts, the “Athena Award" from the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and Anne X. Alpern Award by The Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) Commission on Women in the Profession (WIP).
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