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Women in the law share leadership insights

NEW BRUNSWICK – Influential and powerful women in the law will take center stage at the Women’s Leadership Conference on Feb. 20 at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. New Jersey State Bar Association President Jeralyn L. Lawrence will moderate a panel on what it means to be a leader and how women attorneys can obtain those skills to serve themselves, their clients, their practice and their communities. Guest speakers include Supreme Court justices, jurists, bar leaders and renowned soccer player Christie Pearce Rampone, and will feature a special conversation with U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas.
Hear from women leaders in the bar—in their own words—on careers, leadership and life. 
Katrina Homel 
Legal Counsel, New Jersey School Boards Association; Chair-Elect, Young Lawyers Division, NJSBA
One of the many reasons why I enjoy being part of the New Jersey State Bar Association is that I have an opportunity to connect with women attorneys who understand the challenges that uniquely confront women in the profession, and who are supportive of helping other women overcome obstacles and reach their goals. It has been an incredible experience to meet and learn from so many women attorneys who have made amazing achievements and opened doors for women in the legal field.
In my own leadership journey, I have found that in having open discussions around these challenges, I’ve made deeper connections with other attorneys, especially those impacted by these issues. Sharing my own experiences and strategies, and hearing from others, has helped me to find my own path forward and turn what could be an otherwise isolating experience into an empowering one. I’ve also found that being open-minded about who can be a resource for support and mentorship has resulted in making unexpected connections with attorneys who ultimately had a huge impact on my career.
I think something that has helped me thrive is finding a circle of lawyers who became attorneys for similar reasons—they remind me of my “why” and to check self-doubt. Some advice I would have given myself when I was just starting out is to not be afraid to advocate for yourself and your own accomplishments.
Valerie A. Jackson 
Deputy Public Defender, Office of Parental Representation; Trustee, NJSBA
“Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at the sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”—Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road
Show up. In my first year of law school when I was still finding my way, I was fortunate to secure an internship at a prestigious law firm. When my Dean told me the good news, she said I was one of a handful of students in my program who had applied. “You showed up,” she remarked. Her words were both encouraging and affirming. For me, “showing up” has always been synonymous with courage, confidence and consistency. It has been my way of “jumping at the sun.” I don’t always know exactly where I’ll land, but having the courage and faith to show up and speak up has been my pathway to new experiences and professional opportunities. It is not always easy for women to navigate the complexities of the legal profession. The challenges can be even more daunting for women of color, navigating the field while confronting pervasive systemic inequities and institutional biases that continue to exist in the law. The ability to successfully overcome professional obstacles is built into the character of women leaders. We know there is immense value in our visibility and our voice. Leaning in with courage, to take chances and create opportunities is light for our path. “Jumping at the sun” and seeing where I’ll land has made me more courageous and indeed, more accomplished. It is some of the best advice I can give to other women in the law who are finding their way. 
Robyn E. Ross 
Family Law, Ross & Calandrillo, LLC; Chair-Elect, Solo and Small-Firm Section, NJSBA
Be selective with your time, it is the one commodity we can never get more of. We tell ourselves as women that we need to do everything and be everything. We idolize the image of superwoman and think that the more we load on to our plates the more successful we are. How “busy” we are is not the true measure of accomplishment. Busy is a four-letter word.
Become friends with delegation. Learn the difference between tasks that only you SHOULD do and tasks that only you CAN do. When you make your to-do list or view your calendar, ask yourself whether the tasks you have set out for yourself are the highest and best use of your time.
Eliminate the stressors in your life that you can control. Fire the problem client that keeps you up at night. You may not realize it, but the client is a drain on your time, resources, personal peace and office morale.
I am a huge believer in the “Eat That Frog” theory when it comes doing things that I am not looking forward to. If I need to have a tough conversation, finish an annoying project, etc., I make every effort to schedule it for the first task of the day. If not, I spend my entire day dreading it.
U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas
Insight—I recently read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. In my opinion, his four agreements—be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions and always do your best—are critical pieces of advice for all women. However, I would amplify his first agreement (be impeccable with your word) to include being impeccable with your word, conduct, and thought. Words have power, and our words can make or break a situation. Our conduct, especially our nonverbal cues, can equally be constructive or destructive to any given situation. And, finally, our thoughts about ourselves can be the most toxic of all. We need to understand that our thoughts can be destructive to our careers, personal lives, and overall well-being. 
Favorite Quote from Aurelia Salas (my mother): “Esther, tú no eres mejor que nadie, pero nadie es mejor que tú.” Translation—Esther, you are not better than anyone, but no one is better than you.
Guidance—Do better, be better, because deep inside we all know better. To work off my mother’s quote, it is important to treat everyone the same way you would want to be treated. When we judge people and/or situations, we are unconsciously putting ourselves above others and their circumstances. When we gossip or engage in insensitive conversations, we know we are not being our authentic selves. There is a feeling that we get right before we are going to say or do something that just doesn’t feel right. It is at that exact moment that we need to stop, think about why we are about to say or do something, and give ourselves a little time to ponder our true intent. Examining your true intention in every given situation will provide you much guidance on how to handle every situation in your life.
Albertina Webb
Family Law, Hill Wallack; Co-Chair, Diversity Committee, NJSBA; President, Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey
• Always support other women. A true leader will put others before themselves for recognition.
• If you doubt yourself, present your concern to your friends. They will always set you straight and confirm your wealth and purpose, even if sometimes you forget or temporarily lose your way.
• Connect with your girlfriends regularly and consistently, even when you are busy at work, with family, other relationships, etc.
• Take time for yourself throughout your day. Even if it is 10 minutes closing your eyes or taking a walk around the block or in your parking lot to breathe.
Shirley Whitenack 
Co-chair, Elder and Special Needs and Estates and Trusts Litigation Groups, Schenck Price Smith & King PA; Past Trustee, NJSBA
A good leader is self-aware, motivated, empathetic and has excellent social skills. Her skill as a leader is demonstrated by her ability to engage others in the tasks at hand. The best advice I ever received from a mentor was to watch what successful lawyers do but adopt what works best for my practice and personality. “Fake it until you make it” doesn’t work in a profession like ours, which is based on trust. Passion for the work and persistence is key.

Contact: NJSBA Communications Department
Tel: 732-937-7527
Email: [email protected]


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