Reaching law students-Mission accomplished

Reaching law students and getting them to join the ISBA in the future is no easy task, but the ISBA Standing Committee on Minority and Women Participation has risen to the occasion. From Ole Pace, ISBA President, who made a compelling speech at our committee's annual meeting, to our Chairman Jorge Montes, we were given the task of increasing minority and women involvement in the ISBA. We took that mission and thought the best place to lay the foundation for the leaders of the future was to plant the seed for future growth in the hearts of the law students. The goal was to assist local minority and women law student associations in sponsoring panel presentations highlighting prominent minority and women attorneys willing to provide professional growth and career advice to law students.

A. The first panel: Finding your path to success from the minority and women perspective

We were so excited. Jorge Montes and Ole Pace gave us a mandate and the students gave us a marvelous topic. We endeavored to provide relevant strategies and tactics for finding "success" from high-profile minority and women lawyers. The lawyers from our Committee fed us great ideas and the law students gave us the framework. Now all we had to do was find four panelists from different minority and women perspectives. But wait, we also wanted to provide perspectives from small and large law firms, from government lawyers and from someone who worked in a nontraditional law firm. Well, as fate would have it we accomplished all those goals and were honored with a Cook County Circuit Court Judge on the panel. Lest we not forget, the subterfuge of the presentation was that we were going to redefine "success" and cast it from the eyes of the minority and women lawyers. In a changing world, where race and gender play an ever-expanding role in every aspect of a free society, we thought we would encourage law students to consider different definitions from the stock definition of big law firm "success." Isn't that exactly what the Standing Committee on Minority and Women Participation strives to do as a mission?

On February 10, 2005, the Committee joined with Chicago-Kent College of Law's Hispanic and Latino Law Student Association to present "Finding Your Path to Success from the Minority and Women Perspective." The event was co-moderated by Andrew Fox of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, and Galen Caldwell of the Chicago Police Department Office of Legal Affairs.

The panelists for the February 10, 2005 program included: The Honorable Patricia Brown-Homes, Circuit Court of Cook County Child Protection Division; Jesse H. Ruiz, partner at Gardner Carton & Douglas LLP and Chairmen of Illinois State Board of Education; Amy Tu, Director of Corporate and Strategic Development Group at The Boeing Company; and Jorge Montes, Chair of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. The discussion was unique. The panelists candidly addressed issues and solutions to stumbling blocks often encountered by minority and women attorneys when career planning while in law school, networking, job searching, working for their first employer, and making initial career moves.

We were treated to the inner workings of great legal minds and truly wonderful people that evening. Some of the highlights included the following: Jorge Montes presented unique experiences from his long career serving in many bar associations, and a long career working in the Hispanic community in a small law firm he founded. The special bond he created when speaking to the crowd of law students and the other panelists inspired all of us present that evening. The Honorable Patricia Brown-Holmes riveted the crowd with her positive energy. She comforted the very diverse group of students present by stating that it was okay to be a woman, okay to be African-American, okay to be Hispanic, and it is okay to be Asian-American. Jesse Ruiz gave us the history of someone who has always burned the midnight oil in his quest to become involved and prepared in every aspect of his personal and legal career. Among other very practical advice on how to succeed while working at a large law firm, he gave insights from the perspective of the hiring side of the interview process. Amy Tu, from Boeing International, exuded the peaceful charm of a person who travels the world and thinks in a million directions. Yet when she addressed the students she also gave advice on handling issues of race and gender in the workplace. She described issues on race and gender as generally arising from a lack of education, for we must constantly inform ourselves, to train and to be sensitive to other perspectives, whatever the issue may be. To be quite honest, there was not a dull moment in the conversation and the only real drawback to the panel presentation was that the panel spoke so long that we were not able to entertain questions from the audience. That was a problem that was promptly remedied in the second panel presentation.

B. Second panel: A tactical guide to balancing a career and a family

The second panel presentation came at the clamoring of the students; the Women in Law and the Hispanic and Latino Law Students Association requested a panel on how to balance a career and a family and the ISBA was not about to turn down the opportunity. On March 30, 2005, the panel entitled "A Tactical Guide to Balancing a Career and a Family" was held at Chicago Kent College of Law. Laura Bautista, Secretary of the Hispanic and Latino Law Student Association at Chicago-Kent, moderated the discussion. The panel was comprised of the following attorneys: Natalia Delgado, General Counsel for the Huron Consulting Group; Professor Laurie Leader, Chicago-Kent College of Law; Anita Wilson, in-house counsel for Morgan Stanley Discover Financial Services, Inc.; and Ted Yi, a partner at DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary US LLP.

In keeping with the presentation's theme "A Tactical Guide to Balancing a Career and a Family," the speakers offered students substantive advice on family planning decisions, employing household and child care assistance, relocating near support networks of family and friends, utilization of technology advances to establish a home office, and financial and career sacrifices of being a stay-at-home parent. Mr. Yi and Ms. Delgado explained the importance of "guarding one's professional reputation" by insuring that one is always accountable and dependable regarding assignments while meeting family obligations.

The panelists also provided tips on searching for "family-friendly" employers, as well as what questions to expect and ask concerning family obligations during a job search. Students courageously spoke regarding stereotypical exceptions and biased questions that they have encountered while interviewing concerning their status as single parents, working mothers, or spouses of partners with careers. The panelists provided the students with practical advice on addressing those issues in a professional and appropriate manner.

Both presentations were extremely successful and well attended by students from several Chicago area law schools. Each event was followed by a "meet and greet" reception. ISBA volunteers were present to facilitate conversation between the panelists and students. $50 gift cards to area book stores were raffled at each reception to add to the excitement. The committee would like to thank Gardner Carton & Douglas; Kirkland & Ellis LLP; and Women in Law; for co-sponsoring the events.

And if you have read this far, rest assured that there are even bigger plans for the future. We have tentatively marked our calendars for September 2005 for an event at either John Marshall Law School or DePaul University College of Law. We cannot announce the title of the event or the panelists, because these events come from the hearts and souls of the students, who after working with our Committee as law students, will join the ISBA and take on the leadership role in coming years. We would like to thank Jorge Montes, Chairman of the Standing Committee on Minority and Women Participation, Ole Pace, President of the ISBA and Janet Sosin for their support and leadership.

Group photo Panel 1

Panel 1, from left to right: Moderators Andy Fox and Galen Caldwell, Panelists Hon. Patricia Brown-Holmes, Jorge Montes, Jesse Ruiz, Amy Tu and law student Laura Bautista.

Picture of Panel 2

Panel 2, from left to right: Prof. Laurie Leader, Ted Yi, Anita Wilson and Natalia Delgado.

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May 2005Volume 15Number 3PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)