About the Women's Bar Association of Illinois
On June 7, 2012, at the 98th Annual Dinner, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke swore me in as President of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois. While my predecessor, Deane Brown, was President, and in the months leading up to my taking the helm of this organization, I observed the tremendous influence this organization could have on the lives of women. Emboldened by this observation, I began planning my theme for the WBAI year, “Women and Men Partnering for Excellence,” hoping to change the statistics and see an increase in the number of women who reach the top echelons in the field of law and who remain in the field of law. In order to change the statistics, I asked that women and men work together to promote and retain qualified women in the field of law. Although my theme for the bar year was certainly career-focused, the bar year did not begin that way. Rather, it began with a welcome detour and an opportunity to help women (and children) on a more fundamental level.
A Welcome Detour: The Safe Haven Law and Save the Abandoned Babies Foundation
Shortly after the Annual Dinner, the Founder of the Save the Abandoned Babies Foundation and former recipient of the WBAI’s “Women With Vision Award,” Dawn Geras, contacted the WBAI seeking its help to reach out to the editors of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. The tragic death of abandoned “Baby Noah” prompted Ms. Geras to reach out to the WBAI to urge the newspapers to write about the Safe Haven Law and how it provides mothers with certain protections from prosecution if they safely leave their babies at designated safe havens, such as police and fire departments, and, more recently, at college campus police departments. More publicity, Ms. Geras hoped, would increase the number of “saved” abandoned babies.
The WBAI’s Community Outreach Committee sprang into action. After a flurry of emails to the editors of Chicago’s largest papers, providing them with statistics and stressing the importance of the Safe Haven Law, the committee did not hear from either newspaper. Undaunted, the committee again urged the editors to consider writing an article about the Safe Haven Law. A few days later, the WBAI was thrilled to learn that the editorial board of the Tribune contacted Ms. Geras, informing her that they would publish an article.
The WBAI Urges Vetting Committees for the Open U.S. Attorney Position and Federal Judgeship Positions to Choose Qualified Women.
Later this summer, the WBAI continued its efforts to help women in another way. Numerous female dignitaries contacted the WBAI asking that it have a voice in the discussion regarding the appointment of a qualified woman to the position of the United States District Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. The WBAI wrote letters to Senators Durbin and Kirk and their six-person screening panel who will vet applicants for the position. The letters asked that the committee choose a qualified woman to recommend to President Obama for the position. But the WBAI did not stop there. It also spearheaded drafting an open letter to the Editor of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, adding as signatories the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law and Women’s Leadership Mentoring Alliance. The Sun-Times published the letter at: http://www.suntimes.com/opinions/letters/14954470-474/at-some-point-ever...
The WBAI also wrote letters to the committee that will vet candidates to fill open positions for federal judgeships. The WBAI asked that the committee consider appointing qualified women so that the demographics of the federal bench better reflect the demographics of the citizens it serves.
Fall and Winter Programming: Women and Men Partnering for Excellence to Promote and Retain Qualified Women
Programming for the fall also is aimed to assist women to reach the upper echelons in the field of law. Consistent with the WBAI theme of “Women and Men Partnering for Excellence,” the WBAI will present a panel on October 17, 2012, entitled: Female General Counsels Promoting the Advancement of Women. Distinguished panelists will include Carla Michelotti, General Counsel of Leo Burnett Worldwide; Mary Ann Hynes of Ingredion Incorporated (formerly Corn Products International) and the first female General Counsel of a Fortune 500 Company; Rena Hozore Reiss, General Counsel of Hyatt Hotels Corporation; and Christina Conlin, General Counsel Central Division of McDonald’s Corporation.
This powerful panel of women will discuss their considerations for providing work to law firms, including whether female lawyers lead the transaction and litigation teams, are included in the teams, and attend client pitches. Structured with the goal of fostering and promoting a mentorship or sponsorship by their attendance together, the target attendees will be an invited audience of male and female rainmakers and managing partners, on the one hand, and rising star female associates, on the other.
WBAI’s winter programming will include a December panel discussion with male lawyers who have successfully mentored and sponsored female lawyers. They will discuss the reasons why it is wise to seek a male mentor and sponsor, in addition to a female mentor and sponsor, what to consider when choosing a male mentor and sponsor, and why their mentorships and sponsorships of women were successful.
Retaining Qualified Women in the Field of Law
Because retaining qualified women includes incorporating them back into the profession following a personal hiatus, the WBAI formed the Attorneys in Transition Committee. The committee seeks to offer CLE credit to male and female participating members who will serve as mentors and mentees. The committee programs would provide a bridge for inactive attorneys who are looking to assist the legal community or who are considering a return to the practice of law.
The Year Ahead
Nothing would make my year as President more satisfying than feeling as though we moved the ball forward for women lawyers and changed the statistics. But it will take the entire legal community – women and men – to do so. I look forward to my year as President.
Karina Zabicki DeHayes
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