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Women's Week Highlights Women's Issues in the Legal Profession

By Lori Atherton

A series of weeklong events addressing women's issues in the legal profession was hosted by the Women Law Students Association (WLSA) March 5–9. From career advice and development to talks focused on the broader issues of Title IX and feminism, Women's Week gave students an opportunity to explore topics informally presented by Michigan Law faculty and alumni.

Making the most of one's law career, whether as a summer associate or a new graduate, was a recurrent theme in the talks "Balancing Personal and Professional Life," "Workplace Culture: The Key to Success," and "Law Careers: How to Stand Out, Survive, and Succeed."

"Ninety-nine percent of your success is dependent upon whether the place is the right fit for you," said Michael R. Cedillos, '08, an associate at Greenberg Traurig in Chicago, who spoke about workplace culture. Typically, associates stay at a firm for two or three years, she noted, "which is a long time to be miserable."

Students should identify where they want to work by researching firms to get an idea of the types of clients and cases they represent and attending recruiting events offered by the Law School, Cedillos said. During the interview, they should observe their surroundings, paying attention to what they see and hear. If a firm has a cafeteria or showers, for instance, it may be an indication one will be expected to work lots of hours.

"Go with your gut," she said. "Don't be afraid to make a decision based on how you feel."

Karen Asner, '93, litigation partner at White & Case in New York, said it's important not only to do good work but also to be involved.

"Think about building a law career from day one," she said. "You have to work really hard and do great work, but you also have to take an active interest and ownership. Be seen, be active, and take responsibility to make things happen."

Seeking out mentors and sponsors, getting involved in bar associations, and presenting at continuing legal education seminars are examples of how to be an "involved professional," she noted.

Addressing the issue of work-life balance, Prof. Vivek Sankaran, '01, director of the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, who participated in the discussion with his wife, Amy Sankaran, '01, director of externship and pro bono programs, said it's important to establish boundaries. Turn off the iPhone, don't use the computer, and set aside time for focusing on your children and family.

"Don't structure your life so you don't know how to get out of the grind," he said.

Also during Women's Week, Sherman Clark, Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law, presented "Reframing Issues in Women's Law: Title IX," while Suellyn Scarneccia, '81, U-M Vice President and General Counsel, shared her experiences as a feminist in "Redefining the F-word: Feminism."

In addition, students had the opportunity to participate in two networking events; one with Michigan Law faculty and deans (view an image gallery), and the other with the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan.


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