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Words of Wisdom From Female Leaders in the Legal Profession

August 5, 2011

Greetings to all from the ABA annual meeting in beautiful Toronto, Canada! I’m here as a Pennsylvania delegate to the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) Assembly. Philadelphia is well represented, with many Philly YLD folks, including fellow PhiLAWdelphia contributor Elisa Kim. We will be electing a new eventual YLD chair and debating a wide variety of interesting resolutions, ranging from standards for counsel in death-penalty cases to tech topics, such as social media and video conferencing technology.

In reflecting on Philadelphia’s influence within the ABA, one area that stands out is its leadership on women’s issues. In fact, ABA Women in the Profession (WIP) chair Bobbi Liebenberg and ABA YLD WIP chair Courtenay Dunn both hail from Philly. An example of their fine leadership is Bobbi’s recent piece in the ABA YLD’s The Young Lawyer, “Plugging the ‘Leaky Pipeline’ of Women Attorney Attrition.” The piece stands out not only for the unique vantage point of its author—an accomplished litigator and partner at Philly’s prestigious Fine, Kaplan and Black—but also for its form. It speaks both to young female attorneys and to legal employers, articulating steps that each much take to fulfill their shared responsibility to close the disproportion between young female attorneys and female attorneys in leadership positions.

And the Philadelphia Bar’s leadership on women and career development has also been excellent. The Philly WIP just published an outstanding first edition of its newsletter, a compendium of career advice and lawyering tips from some of the leading women in the Philadelphia legal scene. Generally a critical reader, I came away impressed by the care and insight of pieces by eminent figures such as Temple’s Dean Epps and the First Judicial District’s Judge Moss. They deftly managed to be encouraging and informative without diminishing the heft of the challenges facing female attorneys.

Fortunately, the Philadelphia Bar is also out front on other diversity issues as well, a tribute to the commitment of its membership. That commitment got a boost in October with the hiring of Naomi McLaurin as Director of Diversity. Since she came on, the Bar has had some notable diversity highlights. For example, this March we welcomed Justice Sonia Sotomayor to Philadelphia, where she, the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Hispanic justice, received the Bar’s diversity award from Rudy Garcia, the Bar’s first Hispanic chancellor. In November, the Bar will host its National Symposium on Diversity in the Legal Profession, featuring keynote speaker Robert J. Grey, Jr., Executive Director of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), former president of the American Bar Association. There’s a long way to go, but Philly’s contributing mightily to the long, slow march.

Readers, what are some things you would like to see the Bar do to advance diversity in the legal profession?

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