Women's Bar Association gathering promotes activism among its members

Issue December 2005 By Ann Karpenski, Esq.

Nearly 1,000 participants attended the Women's Bar Association's 15th annual celebration Oct. 18 at the Westin Copley Place in Boston to mark a highly successful year for the organization, honor the contributions of individual women and focus on goals still to be achieved.

"The event was a huge success!" declared WBA President Pamela Berman of Adler, Pollock & Sheehan PC, Boston.

According to Korri Piper, programming and membership coordinator for the WBA, "It was a jubilant, inspiring and upbeat evening" that recognized not only the WBA's accomplishments during the past year, but honored the outstanding contributions of individual women to other women and the community.

"The celebration is unique in that it has such an organized focus on issues as an organization," said event co-chairperson Michelle Peirce of Donoghue, Barrett & Singal, Boston.

Although the WBA is a nonpartisan group, it is politically charged, said Piper. It has in the past, and will in the future, support and endorse legislation that increases parity for women in the law as well as everyone in society. Similarly, the WBA will continue to oppose legislation that does not work to achieve that goal.

"We have worked toward and enjoyed the passage of legislation supportive of women's rights and have successfully defeated legislation aimed at taking away equal rights that we have fought so hard to attain," said Berman, in describing the WBA's successful past year.

In the past year, the WBA has testified on Beacon Hill on eight different pieces of legislation in addition to submitting numerous amicus briefs on issues affecting women.

Berman further noted that the WBA recently forged a relationship with the Caucus of Women Legislators, which will serve to increase the WBA's strength and effectiveness on the Hill.

Another priority of the WBA for the current year is involving more women and persons of color in the judicial process, particularly from the bench.

Berman acknowledged that "as we celebrate (our) achievements, we must reinvigorate our efforts to reverse the losses we have sustained as fewer and fewer women are appointed to the bench. Despite the gains we witnessed as Governors Dukakis and Weld appointed outstanding women and men to our state judiciary and dramatically increased the number of female judges and judges of color, our current governor has single-handedly reversed that trend by appointing only three women out of his 23 new judges."

Berman explained that the WBA is taking steps to reverse the trend by sponsoring programs on demystifying the path to the bench and offering any interested woman the opportunity to communicate on a confidential basis with others who have been through the judicial selection process for guidance and support.

Berman urged those at the event to seek out women with five or more years of experience to apply for a judicial position.

"Ask. Support. Cajole. And be persistent. We hope to have so many qualified women apply and join the ranks of those qualified women who have already applied that the governor will be forced to choose them," Berman told the crowd.

Berman also sees the importance of mentoring and pro bono work for women in need. "Activism creates positive change," she said.

She wants the WBA to reach out to everyone, not only to make a difference on the bench but in the lives of women in the legal profession and in society. "In so doing, the WBA will continue to work towards its mission of achieving equal participation of women in the legal profession and in a just society," said Berman.

"It's about women helping women," said Piper. "Each year, we become a larger group; and as such, are able to reach out to more women."

"There are available opportunities for everyone who is interested in joining the WBA," added Berman.

The keynote speaker for the evening was Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral.

"Ms. Cabral was humorous and insightful as she shared her experience and vision with the group regarding the strengths of women," said Piper.

Cabral told attendees "that while the country has experienced some progression in equal rights, there is still work to be done before women are truly represented in the justice system, the political arena and in legal careers."

The evening also celebrated the dedication of the 2005 Lelia J. Robinson Award winners. Each year the WBA presents the Lelia J. Robinson Award to individuals who share Robinson's achievements through their energy and determination, and by reminding women of the mission to extend representation to all classes of people and to build a society that is truly just.

This year's Lelia J. Robinson Award winners for dedication to that mission were Janet Donovan and Lauren Stiller Rikleen.

Donovan is the manager of the Legal Advocacy program at Casa Myrna Vazquez Inc. and has worked tirelessly on behalf of domestic abuse victims.

Rikleen is a partner at Bowditch & Dewey and has worked diligently to raise and address the challenges of work/family balance.

This year, the WBA for the first time also recognized "unheralded achievements of ordinary women, who do extraordinary things in the law and society," according to Berman.

Initiated by Berman, the Unsung Heroes awards will be offered on an ongoing, monthly basis. The October award recipients were: Cathy Bennett, Center for Public Counsel Services; Judy Jacobsen, Mass. Housing Partnership; Lisa Tittemore, Bromberg & Sunstein; and Ann Margolis, a solo practitioner in Northampton. "Their contributions have touched the lives of many and enriched the lives of all," said Berman.

All the speakers encouraged the attendees to keep the momentum going by overwhelming the judicial nominating process with highly qualified applicants and becoming even more active in support of the WBA mission to achieve the equal participation of women in the legal profession and in a just society.

According to Peirce, "everyone left energized to do more."