Sadly but inevitably, this is my final Chair’s column for the 2007-08 term. Part of the consolation for me in ending my tenure is the knowledge that my successors will be extraordinary and that I can still ‘hang around’ as Ex-Officio for another year, one which I expect to be substantively rich under Jack Carey’s confident leadership. Additionally, our Committee members and I can spend some real and emotional time floating on the wave of excitement and accomplishment that built up and surged during our mid-April weekend visit to the SIU School of Law and that carried us home on its crest, exhausted but happy. I’ve devoted some column space describing specifics of that glorious weekend we shared with the Minority and Women Participation Committee and the law school faculty and students, lest you think I am being overly dramatic.
First of all, it had been nearly 10 years since our Committee hosted a program or reception at SIU, or traveled there for any reason at all. After experiencing the 12-hour, round-trip drive in a matter of 36 hours, I have DEEP admiration and a sense of awe for the ISBA members who regularly travel to Chicago or even to the middle of the state or Springfield for bar events, since I now fully grasp the travel logistics, the wear and tear on one’s seat (not of the car) and circulatory system, the expense (certainly softened by the ISBA’s generous reimbursement policy), and the time taken from practices and families. Fortunately, with company in my car, the road-trip became an interesting adventure, replete with confessions, arguments, reflection, self-discovery, and guilt-free indulgences in the usually taboo junk food consumption, all of which distracted us from the SLOWLY passing 350 miles each way. Despite the great distance many had to traverse, we had a huge turnout—perhaps 75 percent from each of the two Committees.
Secondly, once we settled on the April 11-12 date back in the early fall of 2007, we spent mucho hours planning the multiple weekend activities for our ambitious agenda. The working team consisted of our own Committee members, SIU Law Professor Alice Noble-Allgire, SIU administration assistants, Chair Andrew Fox and members of the Minority and Women Participation Committee, our partner in this process, and Staff Liaison Janet Sosin, consistently untiring even with one or more feet encased in a boot.
As with the long road-trip, there was an upside to this labor of love. During daily e-mail exchanges and weekly teleconferences, we learned more about our Committees and each other, explored heady issues in the forefront of the profession, considered a range of programs and projects we could undertake jointly in the future, and laughed frequently. Yet we kept our focus on two primary reasons for our visit: to provide career guidance to the law students, and to celebrate both the commitment to increasing diversity within the ISBA and the productive partnerships we’ve created to accomplish our various goals.
To kick-off the April 11 law student program, “So You’re About to Graduate! Then What?,” Alice Noble-Allgire introduced the panel, consisting of seven attorneys from our two Committees who reflected a broad range of career histories, practice areas, and outside interests, as well as racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. Individually and through dialogue, the panelists addressed concerns and answered questions relevant to graduating law students, such as the following:
• I’m ready and (maybe) eager to work. No recruiters are chasing me, so now what should I do?
• I’m uncertain if I want to be a hard-hitting trial attorney. What alternative areas of law might be available to me as a fledgling attorney?
• I don’t want to stay in this part of the state but I do not have ‘connections’ for job prospects elsewhere. Am I stuck?
• I’m deep in DEBT! How can I earn enough to keep creditors at bay, enjoy my work, and have a life outside the law?
• What is the best way to network, and with whom, and how realistic is it to pursue that avenue for employment purposes when networking opportunities are so limited in this area?
• I’ve decided upon the practice area that interests me, but how can I be sure that is the right choice, and that it is where my strengths and talents lie?
• Most of my classmates seem worried about getting a good job with a respectable salary, but what about the principles of helping others, improving the justice system, and combating inequities that drew some of us to law school? Is there a place for these ‘do good’ beliefs?
• Despite moot court competition, or clerking experience, or acting under a ‘711’ license, I can’t picture myself arguing a case in court, meeting with a client, or hustling for business. When will I feel like a lawyer?
Following the program, the two Committees, in partnership with the School of Law and its Dean, Peter Alexander, co-hosted a lively evening reception for the students, faculty and staff, area judges, and attorneys, including attendees of an ISBA Civil Practice seminar that coincidentally took place at the school that same day. The SIU reception was one of many over the years that the Women and the Law Committee has held throughout the state as part of its annual outreach efforts, which enable us to interact with other ISBA members, judges, and community leaders; to learn about the joys and challenges, particularly for women, of practicing in the different communities across Illinois; and to spotlight women leaders and advances made by women in the legal profession. The SIU gathering created the perfect opportunity to bestow on a surprised Dean Alexander an Outstanding Partner Resolution in recognition of his support of the ISBA and the work of our two Committees, not the least of which is the popular Networking Breakfast at the ISBA Annual Meeting, now in its twelfth year.
Friday concluded with a group food-fest at Houlihan’s, which has the same decibel noise level as any Houlihan’s in Chicago, but much better food and drink. We shouted our way through dinner, not knowing who said what but having a great time. The visit concluded with Saturday’s energetic joint meeting of the two Committees that produced a number of great ideas for partnering on projects over the next few years, and that we hope will include the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee and the Section on Human Rights. We intend to bring those ideas to fruition, so you should STAY TUNED.
Thanks to all of you out there who have been our devoted readership this year and in years past. It has been a privilege to write this column. Please let us know if you have ideas for newsletter coverage or if you would like to contribute an article, as we remain receptive to communicating important information about and interesting perspectives on women in the ISBA, the profession, and the community at large.
Photos of our SIU weekend are on page 15 of this issue.