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.
ASK THE WOMEN OF WHITE AND WILLIAMS
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.|
The day I realized that I was the most important person to my career trajectory and that I needed to identify others as goal drivers or goal obstacles. There are people who will mentor and support you, there are people who will actively attempt to limit or subvert your opportunities, but there are also people who will do neither and will seem like they are simply benign objects along your way. In reality though, the third category of individual is the most detrimental to a positive career trajectory: mentors and supporters can help you hone your vision, detractors and competitors can help you hone your own expertise and competitive edge, but the “neutrals” do nothing to excite your energies. If you are not careful to identify them early as something to be avoided, their complacency can be contagious.
Sitting at the lead counsel table in a major insurance coverage trial was an exciting and important experience. It was the culmination of many, many months of hard work. I was trusted to thoroughly know the voluminous materials and assist with any issues that cropped up during the trial. It was an intense but very rewarding experience, and I knew in the moment that I would be able to take the lessons learned during that trial and apply them to other tasks down the road.
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|Did You Work in a Different Field Before Your Legal Career? If so, How Did That Experience Help Shape You as a Lawyer?|
Before I attended law school I was a Latin teacher and graduate student in Classical Studies. Studying an ancient language and literature taught me to be analytical and critical in my assumptions. Teaching Latin gave me the confidence to speak in front of a classroom, which has translated to public speaking in front of clients, industry and other lawyers as well as, the ability to explain complex issues to clients and mentor junior associates.
I was a psychology major in undergrad and I worked several years after college completing drug treatment research because I wanted to apply for a clinical psychology graduate program. My education in that field has been surprisingly helpful in my practice as a lawyer because it has provided me with background knowledge that is often relevant to my cases. Most recently, it helped me win summary judgement on a novel legal issue. I successfully argued that the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) was not intended to apply to child sex abuse. My psychology background was an integral part of that win because it helped me to effectively articulate why child sex abuse is different than sexual harassment.
|What is the Best Piece of Advice That You Have Received?|
|Melissa Davis, Counsel, General Litigation |
No one cares more about your career than you do. I’ve taken this to mean you need to speak up for yourself and do all you can to be sure your career is what you dream it to be.
"Perfect is the enemy of good." Perfectionism can really hold you back if you are self-doubting and afraid to share an idea or agonize over details that no one will notice or care about besides you. Put yourself out there and even if you make a mistake, it will be a learning experience.
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|Who Are Your Mentors and How Do Those Relationships Shape Your Career?|
Since the beginning of my career, I have tried to model myself after a true trail blazer, Antoinette R. Stone. Although not an "official" mentor, she advised me on how she was able to be both a successful first-chair, full-time litigator respected by her clients and peers as well as an attentive and involved mother. She encouraged not only me, but many of my women colleagues to assert ourselves in our own unique way and to remain true to ourselves.
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|What Advice Do You Offer Young Women Lawyers?|
I think any young woman considering a career in the legal profession should know that she may have to work hard to make her own path for herself, which is completely okay. There may be pressure to fit into a certain mold or timeline that has defined what it means to be a lawyer for decades (or even centuries), but as more and more talented young women enter the profession, that standard is constantly changing to evolve with the realities of modern life. You should not feel scared or intimidated by any “this is the way things have always been done” mentality you may encounter; have the courage to stand up for yourself while being yourself, and always bring your best efforts to the table.
Take your time to figure out if being a lawyer is right for you. I took five years off between my undergraduate studies and law school to figure out if I was meant to be a lawyer. I invited almost every lawyer I knew out to coffee to find out what they did and if they liked practicing law. I worked in a district attorney’s office, for a non-profit, and in a couple of law firms as a paralegal to figure out what I liked and disliked. Although you may not need five years to figure out if a legal career is right for you, I do recommend committing some serious time and effort to making sure that you indeed want to be a lawyer and what practice areas interest you, so that you can be more focused once you become a lawyer.
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|If You Could Have Dinner With Three Women (Alive or Deceased), Who Would They Be and Why?|
First, Mother Teresa, just because I am in awe of her. Second, Margaret Thatcher, because I would ask her if she really took voice lessons to lower the pitch of her voice. Third, my teenage daughter, so that she could meet both Mother Teresa and Margaret Thatcher!
|What Woman Has Inspired You?|
Eleanor Roosevelt has inspired me personally and professionally; I live by her quote:
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.
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|Why Did You Become a Lawyer?|
I actually had no intention of becoming a lawyer until after college. I ended up getting a temporary position with the Oregon State Legislature Counsel right after graduation and quickly became captivated by the law. I decided I wanted to be a part of a field that has the ability to effectuate change and promote accountability and justice. Being a subrogation lawyer definitely fulfills those goals.
I wanted a career that would challenge me, make me think, enable me to use my skill set, and make me proud. I also was a competitive athlete growing up, which really defined and shaped my character—I loved the sportsmanship, the team mentality, and I love to work hard and win! Being a lawyer is the closest thing I’ve been able to find in the professional world to emulating those aspects of competitive sports.
|How Do You Mentor Others?|
I make sure I am available to more junior attorneys for advice, brainstorming and to bounce ideas off of. I work hard to include mentees in important opportunities (i.e. court appearances, depositions, client meetings). I let mentees know my door is always open and I will keep confidential anything they would like to keep between us.
One of my favorite things to do is to help someone either identify or refine their skills and talents and then helping them take the action needed to achieve their goals. Over the past fifteen years or so this has meant helping department team members, colleagues and staff members take the necessary steps needed to return to school to obtain an advanced degree, assigning a project management role to junior staff members so that they can experience leading a team and have opportunity to showcase their skills and talents to senior management and sometimes helping a person identify a new career or life trajectory when the current path no longer fits their life’s goals. When I look back at my most valuable mentors over the course of a lifetime, it was the mentors who supported me through action and concrete tools that were the most valuable. As a result, I focus on providing the same type of action-oriented mentorship to others.
|Do You Have a Favorite Book That You Recommend Women in Law or Business Read?|
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.
Preserving a Legacy
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.
Commitment to the Advancement of Women
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 Gale White has been named among the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Pennsylvania by Law and Politics magazine
- Partner Nancy Conrad was the recipient of the “Take the Lead” award from the Girl Scouts and the “Athena Award" from the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce