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TCL > October 2012 Issue > Colorado Women’s Bar Association—Paying It Forward

October 2012       Vol. 41, No. 10       Page  5
In and Around the Bar
CBA President's Message to Members

Colorado Women’s Bar Association—Paying It Forward
by Mark A. Fogg

 

 
   

This edition of The Colorado Lawyer is dedicated to women and the law and has been coordinated by members of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association (CWBA). I hope to capture in this article what the CWBA means to its members and reflect on the organization’s core values. I couldn’t think of a better way to do this than to interview several members about how the CWBA has helped them succeed as lawyers and its importance to the future of women of the profession.

Connecting With Other Women Lawyers

On the day I interviewed Casey Cassinis, she reflected that in the deposition she attended that day, the opposing lawyer and deponent also were women. She mentioned this to the others during a break. They all acknowledged and seemed to appreciate that such a simple occurrence was evidence of the progress that has been made in the legal profession. However, Casey had other experiences as a young, female lawyer that hearken back to what many of us mistakenly think of as the experiences of bygone years.

Casey graduated from University of Denver Sturm College of Law in 2005. She practiced in a firm in which her prominent father, Richard Schaden, is a partner specializing in aviation law. She said that when she was a young girl, she would sit in a corner in her father’s office during meetings and depositions and would even go to court with him. She obtained her pilot’s license while she was in college, and she always wanted to be a lawyer.

While at the firm, she often participated as part of a team of national counsel litigating catastrophic airplane crashes in courtrooms around the country. "The lawyers in my dad’s firm were great," she said. "They were very supportive of me and provided tremendous opportunities for a young lawyer."

However, aviation law is a male-dominated specialty, with many of the current or former pilot lawyers being in their 60s and 70s. Casey recalls a court appearance in Alabama when she was with a local counsel she had retained. The opposing lawyer commented to her colleague, "It is nice that you were able to bring your girlfriend." There were a few awkward moments when Casey explained to the lawyer that she was the national counsel who had hired the local Alabama lawyer. She also recalls walking into depositions where only men were in attendance, and they expressed relief that the court reporter had finally arrived. (This happens to be an experience that several female lawyers have shared with me over the years.)

Casey didn’t tell me these stories to complain. They were simply illustrations of the realities she has encountered in her career as a lawyer. Although she greatly appreciated the opportunities the firm provided her, she needed more connection with other female lawyers. She reflected on how she wanted her career to develop and what limitations she was facing as a female lawyer in this specialized field. She also was considering marriage and having a family, and was concerned her constant traveling would make these aspects of her life overly difficult.

Meeting Patricia Jarzobski, an established lawyer at the firm who now has her own solo practice, proved to be a defining moment for Casey. Their relationship quickly became one of mentor–mentee. Patricia was active in the Colorado Women’s Bar Association (CWBA)—she is the current CWBA President—and encouraged Casey to attend CWBA events. The support Casey found there was overwhelming.

"Patricia became an advocate for me, and I now sit on the CWBA board. She asked me to organize the annual meeting because, she counseled me, it is important for the other members and judges to know who I am. I immediately accepted."

Casey did make a career change. She now has a solo practice with a unique specialty—pet litigation. Her practice is named "The Pet Law Firm," and it handles everything from trials to trusts. She also still shares a law firm with her dad, where they handle plaintiff personal injury cases. She spends about half her time with each practice.

"The CWBA is a great support network and they have helped me to make the law enjoyable and interesting. They lead by example." From her experience as a national litigator, Casey believes that, compared to other states where she has practiced, Colorado is a progressive venue for female lawyers.

Paying it Forward

During my conversation with Casey, I was reminded of the 1957 novel Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. At one point in the novel, the main character wonders:

How do I thank Mr. Jonas . . . ? How do I thank him, how pay him back? No way, no way at all. You just can’t pay. What then? . . . Pass it on somehow, he thought, pass it on to someone else. Keep the chain moving. Look around, find someone, and pass it on. That was the only way.

Casey impressed me with a similarly powerful statement. "I am so thankful to the CWBA and Patricia Jarzobski," she said, "that I want to pay it forward." What this means is that the "gift" of professional support she has received has been so significant that it is impossible to "pay it back"—but she hopes to be able to have a similar impact on other new female lawyers by encouraging involvement in CWBA activities, provide support, and advocate for them in their careers.

Sponsorship—Not Just Mentorship

Patricia Jarzobski and I attended similar courses at recent national conferences that emphasized the need for established lawyers to be sponsors—not just mentors—for new lawyers. In the presentation I attended, it was emphasized that lawyers need to become advocates for the lawyers they mentor by introducing them to the legal community and promoting them with the mentor’s contacts. Patricia believes this concept of sponsorship also is vital to the professional development of new female lawyers and fulfills the CWBA’s mission to promote women in the legal profession specifically, as well as to promote the interests of women generally.

"More experienced women lawyers need to put their skin in the game for other women," Patricia said. She noted that there is some perception by younger lawyers that more experienced female lawyers don’t want to take the risk of promoting young female lawyers by rocking the boat at law firms or other legal offices. However, she added, "One of the reasons leaders get to where they are is by having promoted other lawyers. This includes promoting women in the decision-making process of firms and offices."

Patricia says that the CWBA had a major impact on her professional life when she opened her own practice years ago. She recalls Liz Starrs and Lorraine Parker sitting down with her and encouraging her to get involved. "I felt that I was able to develop leadership skills in a safe and secure environment," she said. She felt she was surrounded by prominent lawyers who were actively working on projects to support female attorneys. Patricia is the first solo practitioner to become CWBA President. The organization’s current theme is "Creativity, Collaboration, Camaraderie."

A Critical Time of Transition

Each of the women I interviewed articulated a common problem within the legal profession: women who have been out of law school for seven or eight years are at risk of leaving the profession or significantly curtailing their professional activities. Magistrate Emily Anderson of Adams County said that, generally speaking, females coming out of law school get jobs equal to those of their male counterparts. However, around the seven-year mark, many women get disenchanted with the profession because they do not feel they are accomplishing what they set out to do. The limitations and walls that still block the advancement of female lawyers become more pronounced in this time period, and they do not feel they are on track to have a management or leadership role in the law firm or legal office. This also seems to be around the time many women are considering whether to start a family and are looking for greater work–life balance. Some women leave the profession altogether, in hopes of finding work that is more interesting or to create a work identity that provides them more satisfaction. All of the CWBA members I spoke with said that the support from their colleagues in the organization during this point in their careers was critical in their continued professional development.

Magistrate Anderson said that after years of private practice, she felt dissatisfied and wanted to perform more public service. In 2001, when she was president-elect of the CWBA, a position for a part-time magistrate opened up in Adams County. She remembers being at a CWBA conference and discussing the opportunity with her colleagues. All of them strongly encouraged her to apply. The application period was approaching in a matter of days and all the stops were pulled out to provide the required letters of recommendation. She got the appointment, but because the CWBA has a registered lobbyist, she had to relinquish her position as president-elect per judicial protocol. She became a full-time magistrate in 2005 and she emphasizes the importance of supporting women applications to the bench; Colorado is still in the "average" range nationally of women on the bench—with only about 25% of judges being women.

The magistrate says that the encouragement she got from her CWBA colleagues was critical. "I want women to be happy in the profession," she said. "Many women face similar circumstances, and the CWBA provides support and mentoring during these transition periods."

Responding to Your Aspirations

Senior Assistant Attorney General Janet Drake has a similar story. She graduated from the University of Colorado Law School in 1996 and worked in law firms for approximately eight years. She found that she was not passionate about her work and decided to try to make the transition to public service. This was not a whim; when she was in law school, she aspired to be a prosecutor.

Janet remembers receiving a lot of support from CWBA members Beth McCann, Monica Márquez (now Justice Márquez), Kara Veitch, and Vicki Lovato. She said that Attorney General John Suthers "took a chance" on her, assigning her to the Special Prosecutions Unit of the Criminal Justice Section, where she assists in the investigation of complex multi-jurisdictional organized crime. She has a variety of cases and also has become known as an expert on human trafficking offenses, which often are gang-related and involve drug-addicted young women. She genuinely thinks she is making a difference.

She believes that the encouragement and support she received from CWBA members at a pivotal point in her career was invaluable. She is disappointed that women still struggle in private practice with work–life balance issues, salary disparity, and a lack of involvement in firm management. She hopes this will change as more firms implement nontraditional billing structures and flexible work schedules. She does believe the pendulum is swinging toward a healthier, balanced professional life, and she points to recent studies funded by the Colorado Women’s Bar Foundation on compensation, retention, and work-life balance showing as much.

The Many Aspects of the CWBA

In addition to providing professional support and networking opportunities, the CWBA is member-focused. The organization actively engages in judicial recommendations through due diligence and thoroughly vetted endorsements. It employs a registered state lobbyist to assist with important legislative proposals. The CWBA also has an active amicus brief committee and public policy committee. Members engage in many community service projects, including Race for the Cure, the Legal Services Committee, and Permanent Protection Order training.

On behalf of the CBA, thank you to CWBA lawyers for your service to the legal community. If you are not a CWBA member, I encourage you to join. Find out more about the CWBA online at www.cwba.org. Let’s pay it forward!

© 2012 The Colorado Lawyer and Colorado Bar Association. All Rights Reserved. Material from The Colorado Lawyer provided via this World Wide Web server is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and may not be reproduced in any way or medium without permission. This material also is subject to the disclaimers at http://www.cobar.org/tcl/disclaimer.cfm?year=2012.


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