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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 female lawyers. 

Tell Us About a Significant Moment in Your Career.

Sara Mirsky, Associate, Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith Group

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.

Ciaran Way, Associate, Reinsurance Group

I second-chaired a 6-day jury trial in federal court and we won with a defense verdict. The partner with whom I was trying the case had total confidence in me. I was very involved with trial prep. At trial, I examined a couple fact witnesses and three of our expert witnesses, and cross-examined the plaintiffs’ corresponding expert witnesses. After the plaintiffs presented their case, the judge strongly encouraged the defendant to settle the case. But the plaintiffs’ demand was still in excess of $1M. As the jury was deliberating, we offered the plaintiffs a high-low deal which would have given plaintiffs a minimum of $425K. The plaintiffs declined. When the jury read the verdict, it was the most victorious I have ever felt. Neither I nor the partner thought the jury was going to return a defense verdict. I am so thankful for that experience. You can achieve great things when you have a mentor who really believes in you and shares growth opportunities with you.   

Read more responses. 
Did You Work in a Different Field Before Your Legal Career? If so, How Did That Experience Help Shape You as a Lawyer?

Debra Weinrich, Partner, Healthcare Group

I find that my experience as a nurse provided a very solid foundation for my practice of law. Not only am I able to more easily understand the medical issues associated with the medical negligence and other matters I handle, I am also able to more easily prioritize issues and tasks as well as respond to perceived “emergencies” and legitimate legal emergencies while remaining focused and calm. Also, the individuals I defend often voice their appreciation of my clinical background, noting they feel a heightened sense of comfort and trust knowing that I was also a healthcare provider, which is tremendously helpful when working to defend them.

What is the Best Piece of Advice That You Have Received?
Phyllis Ingram, Associate, Directors and Officers Group

Don’t worry that you won’t get all the work done on your desk; worry when you don’t have any work on your desk. 

Lori Smith, Co-Chair, Corporate and Securities Group

You are your reputation. I find that one of the things that has helped me most in getting and retaining clients is my reputation for being a straight shooter and being open and honest with everyone that I deal with in the workplace – whether it is clients, adversaries or colleagues.  

Read more responses.
Who Are Your Mentors and How Do Those Relationships Shape Your Career?

Nancy Sabol Frantz, Co-Chair, Real Estate and Finance Groups

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 female colleagues to assert ourselves in our own unique way and to remain true to ourselves.   

Elizabeth Venditta, Chair, Life, Health, Disability and ERISA Group

Fond memories abound from my earlier years at White and Williams from long discussions with Virginia (“Ginny”) Barton Wallace, our first woman partner. Living not far, my husband and I for several years collected Ginny from her Assisted Living Facility at Crosslands in Kennett Square to transport her to the White and Williams’ “Proms.” Ginny filled those rides from start to end, to and fro, with anecdotes and stories from her many years at White and Williams. She recounted how law was practiced in those earlier days, her long daily commutes to the city with Judge Hannum from Kennett Square/Unionville, the peccadilloes of the attorneys she worked for/with, and her struggles as a young woman lawyer trying to establish a practice. She clearly, passionately loved this firm and all its attorneys. She never failed to express how she felt so specially connected with all the women attorneys, always asking how each was doing, following their careers, etc. Ginny would have been overwhelmed to learn that the women lawyers at White and Williams after her passing established the Virginia Barton Wallace Award and that one of the many distinguished awardees over the years was none other than Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2013 (whose professional life story was so amazingly similar to her own!). 

Read more responses.
What Advice Do You Offer Young Female Lawyers?

Nancy Conrad, Chair, Labor and Employment Group

When I walk into a court room, a board room, or a mediation, my goal, when appropriate for the context, is to take control of the environment. Control does not mean talking in a loud manner, acting in an aggressive way or sitting at the head of the table. It means waiting for the right moment, to seize it and to speak with absolute confidence and authority. You are able to gain that confidence and authority when you are so prepared that you do not have to look at your notes, pick up a file or push paper. Engage the audience with your clear, articulate and persuasive argument, presentation and position. Preparation is an essential key to success.

Patti Santelle, Managing Partner

I would tell a young female 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 female 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.

If You Could Have Dinner With Three Females (Alive or Deceased), Who Would They Be and Why?

Nancy Sabol Frantz, Co-Chair, Real Estate and Finance Groups

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 Female Has Inspired You?

Sara Mirsky, Associate, Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith Group

My mom works for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which means I spent a lot of time with female attorneys while growing up. We went on vacation with a female 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 female 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).     

Alison Russell, Associate, Healthcare Group

My mom has inspired me to never set a ceiling for myself in any aspect of my life. She has taught me how to speak my mind and be confident in my beliefs. She has instilled in me a fierce independence. She has encouraged me to never settle. When I was younger my teachers would tell my mom I was bossy. She told them I was a leader. Her confidence and unconditional support has helped me become the woman that I am today.

Read more responses.
Why Did You Become a Lawyer?

Katrina Gibson, Associate, Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith Group

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?

Lori Smith, Co-Chair, Corporate and Securities Group

I like to give young lawyers as much responsibility and leeway as possible. I think that they can only grow by being forced to think and make decisions for themselves. I, of course, provide a lot of supervision, and try to teach through actively engaging in a dialogue regarding drafts and projects, So, for example, I always want junior lawyers to take ownership of a project and attempt to draft complicated documents and concepts even if I know I will have to re-write something so that I can show them by example why I think certain revisions are necessary. I also try to include junior lawyers in meetings and conference calls (and let them actively participate, not just observe) – I want them to always be thinking and trying to add value and I want clients to recognize that they add value and feel comfortable dealing with them directly.

Do You Have a Favorite Book That You Recommend Females in Law or Business Read?

Sara Mirsky, Associate, Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith Group

I highly recommend “My Beloved World” by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. It’s an incredibly well-written (and sometimes sassy) autobiography about Justice Sotomayor’s childhood and legal career. When we see people at the peak of their career, it is sometimes easy to ignore all of the hard work (legal and personal) that had to be done just to rise up the lowest rungs of life’s ladder. Justice Sotomayor writes engagingly not only of her desire to be ambitious, but also the driving power of her intellectual curiosity. It’s an inspiring story with lots of incredible anecdotes about her life before getting to the Supreme Court.

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 female 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 group 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 Female 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
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