New York Women's Bar Association, 132 East 43rd Street, #716, The Chrysler Building, New York, NY, 10017-4019
Message from the President
January 2006

Do We Need a Women’s Bar Association?

At our membership reception in October, I was speaking with some law students who were astonished to hear how things were “in the old days.” I thought it would be instructive to consider how far we have come. So indulge me, if you will, as I tell you why I believe it is more important than ever for us to join and be active in the Women’s Bar Association.

2006 will be the 30 anniversary of my graduation from law school. In some ways, the law has th not changed much in that time, but the practice of law has changed substantially.

I graduated from high school in 1969; that fall Yale University first accepted women as undergraduates. Vietnam had become a highly divisive background to all else that went on in our lives; we wore black armbands on our white graduation gowns, scandalizing our parents, who did not understand our anger.

In 1972 Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment as the proposed Twenty-Seventh Amendment to the Constitution. It was sent to the states for ratification. We thought it was a done deal. It has yet to be ratified by a sufficient number of states.

In 1973 the American Psychological Association decided to amend the DSM-II to declassify “homosexuality” as a mental disorder. As I interviewed for jobs, my shiny new Ivy League bachelor’s degree in hand, I was consistently asked, “Can you type?” It was a time of great moral conviction among those of us starting our adult lives; we felt that our leaders, exemplified by President Nixon, were leading us down the wrong path, and we determined to do something about it—we went to law school in droves. My class was over 35% female, an astonishing statistic at the time, and a phenomenon that not all of my professors were comfortable with. People still said, “How dare you? You’re taking a job away from a man, who will have to feed a family!” As if my mother, widowed in 1970, hadn’t had to feed a family, and also pay college tuition for three children. When she asked one employer for a raise, he turned her down, advising her to remarry. (You can’t make this stuff up.) When I went on job interviews, I was consistently asked whether I planned to marry. Once married, I was consistently told, “We would hire you, but you’ll just get pregnant and leave.”

In 1976, in Gregg v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty that it had ruled unconstitutional in 1972 in Furman v. Georgia because its random application had made it cruel and inhuman. In December 2005 the United States executed the thousandth prisoner pursuant to that authorization.

When I started my legal career, I closed an average of eight mortgage loans a day, working at a small firm in Nassau county. All the papers were typed on electric typewriters. Often when I walked into a closing room, one of the (male) lawyers would ask, “Where’s the guy from the bank?” or, “Are you a paralegal?” or, “Can you type a deed for me?” I soon became known as one of the few “lady lawyers” who practiced real estate law in the county.

In 1979 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It now has 180 signatories, but the United States is not among them.

It wasn’t until 1980 (when, unbeknown to me, WBASNY was formed) that I had access to “word processing.” For sixty in-house lawyers, the company purchased four computers, and trained four secretaries in their use. As a junior lawyer I would often wait a week to receive million-dollar contracts back from word processing, and then another week for the typos to be corrected. The first IBM PC was sold in 1981. I moved to Wall Street in 1982. Our secretaries used mag card machines, which stored text on floppies that looked like microfiche. There was one word processor for the entire firm. I asked the firm to give me a computer. My request was denied because, I was told, the male lawyers would surely ask me to type their contracts.

I started my own practice in 1989. That was the year that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Stanford v. Kentucky that the Constitution did not preclude us from executing 16-year-olds.

Technology has evolved: now I work on a laptop with wireless networking capacity. I have a “SmartPhone” that stores the contact information for the people I call, and holds my calendar. I can forward calls from my land line to my cell phone. I have my own copy machine and printer that scans and faxes. I e-mail clients in Saudi Arabia and receive phone calls from Dubai. The kind of sole practice that I do today would not have been possible in 1976; then, it was the stuff of Star Wars.

Notwithstanding that women are graduating from law schools in record numbers, we still do not constitute 50% of the partners in Wall Street law firms or other arenas of power. Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, but few males take advantage of its provisions. Why is that? NYWBA is instituting a survey this year, so that we can begin to identify employers that are supportive of women lawyers; stay tuned for details in the course of the year.

We have many more female judges than we did 30 years ago, and it is no longer a sin to wear pantsuits to court, but we have only one female Supreme Court Justice and one African American Supreme Court Justice. Why is that?

The good news: Congress has reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. The bad news: each day in the United States, four women die at the hands of their partners, and 700 are raped or sexually assaulted.

What is the Women’s Bar doing to improve the status of women? In the past six months alone, we have sponsored (free) programs on effective networking and international arbitration; (free) opportunities to network with our members, who include many judges and influential leaders; a fund-raising breakfast through our Foundation featuring Linda Greenhouse discussing what influenced the evolution of Justice Blackmun’s thinking throughout his years on the Supreme Court; several free “Lunch with a Judge” programs affording an opportunity to meet with judges for intimate discussions of how they view their roles; and our (free) annual “What It’s Really Like to Practice Law as a Woman in New York” panel discussion. Through our committees, we have had (free) presentations on such topics as what solo and small-firm lawyers need to know about accounting, and the list goes on. Through our membership in WBASNY, we have considered positions on pending legislation (no-fault divorce, anti-trafficking) and pending cases, such as one concerning the potential susceptibility of law guardians to malpractice claims. Our mentoring program continues to provide peer mentoring as well as mentoring for new lawyers.

In the next few months, we will be sponsoring programs on heart health, and how to recognize and deal effectively with mental illness in your clients and colleagues. Our Annual Judges’ Reception on January 18 is a wonderful opportunity to meet and congratulate the newly elected and appointed judges in our county. On March 7, join us and our sisters from Brooklyn for a celebration of Women’s History Month. And, of course, our committees meet frequently to discuss topics of interest in particular fields, affording you the opportunity to meet with members having expertise in various areas of practice.

We have certainly come a long way. And we have a long way to go. Could your career use a boost? Do you have questions about juggling career and work? Are you wondering whether to change your life in some way? One of our members may have answers for you. Join us! And may 2006 be your best year yet.


December 2005

In her column for December President Christina Kallas discusses the Mental Health Court initiative. To view the President's message in full, click here.

November 2005

In her column for November President Christina Kallas asked us all to honor the memory of Ms. Rosa Parks by making one change. To view the President's message in full, click here.

October 2005

In her column for October in honor of Mediation Settlement Month, President Christina Kallas discusses whether mediation is an underused tool in a lawyer's toolbox. To view the President's message in full, click here.

September 2005

In her column for September, President Christina Kallas reflected upon the changes in our country since September 11th. To view the President's message in full, click here.

June 2005

In her column for June, President Christina Kallas discusses change and continuity. To view the President's message in full, click here.

April 2005

In her column in April, President Elizabeth Bryson talked about sexual politics and "women's work." She took issue with Harvard President Lawrence Summers' recent remarks implying that women are innately less suited to pursing careers in science or engineering. Such retrograde thinking is self-defeating. Mr. Summers had to apologize, and Harvard is now actively address the status of women in academia. Ms. Bryson also discussed upcoming events, including the Association's Annual Meeting, a CLE program on "Evolving Opportunities for Women' Lawyers," the Foundation's next fundraising breakfast, the WBASNY Convention, and of course our fantastic 70th Anniversary celebration on June 1st. To view the President's Message in full, click here.

February 2005

In her column in February, President Elizabeth Bryson talked about matters of life and death. She related the experiences of a friend fighting breast cancer and her mother and family addressing the loss of two brothers to AIDS several years ago, and how each circumstance, though very different, teaches us once again the importance of choosing to live life to its fullest every day. By contrast, she considers the proposal in the NYS Legislature to reinstate the death penalty, and WBASNY's brave stance in opposition. To view the President's Message in full, click here.

January 2005

In her column in January, President Elizabeth Bryson discussed the importance of taking steps to ensure that judges in New York have the appropriate qualifications and integrity to ensure the fair and equal administration of justice. She discusses pending legislation and proposed amendments to the Rules of Judicial Conduct that would have an influence on the method of selecting state court judges and the rules that would apply to candidates for judicial office in New York. Ms. Bryson was honored to chair a WBASNY Task Force to look at the proposed legislation and rule changes, and she discusses the process and proposals. She also describes the recent gala celebration WBASNY's 25 Anniversary and the wonderful presentation of the inaugural "Betty Weinberg Ellerin Mentoring Award" to Justice Ellerin. Finally, she reminds everyone of the importance of ensuring that their membership is renewed by January 31, 2005. New members are also welcome, and they can join for half-price dues starting in January! To view the President's Message in full, click here.

December 2004

In her column in December, President Elizabeth Bryson discussed the importance of speaking out and being heard. She demonstrated the value of the Association's screening of candidates for judicial office, particularly now, when the integrity of the judiciary is under attack. Because many of our members practice in solo and small firm settings, Ms. Bryson recommended that members appear before the Commission on Solo and Small Firm Practice, which is holding hearings and looking for comments, concerns and suggestions to make the lives of attorneys in these settings and their clients easier. Members should also plan to join us at several upcoming events that promise to be very exciting, including the NYWBA Foundation's Breakfast Series Speaker Event, a fundraiser scheduled for December 1st, WBASNY's 25th Anniversary Gala on December 2nd that will pay tribute to our own past President, the Honorable Betty Weinberg Ellerin, for her nearly 50 years of mentoring and service to women attorneys and judges throughout New York and across the country, and the New York Women's Agenda's Star Breakfast on December 7th. To view the President's message in full, click here.

November 2004

In her column in November, President Elizabeth Bryson celebrated all the wonderful programs and events that happened this fall, including our Annual Membership Reception. She also discussed the recent controversy with respect to screening the qualifications of candidates for judicial office in New York County, which became the subject of an article in the New York Law Journal. To view the President's message in full, click here.

September 2004

In her column in September, President Elizabeth Bryson asked members to join her in celebrating the Association's 70th Anniversary year (2004-05). Coincidentally, it was also the 25th anniversary year for the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY), which is the umbrella organization for all 16 women's bar associations across New York State. The NYWBA and its past President Joan Ellenbogen were instrumental in the formation of WBASNY, and it is a joy to see that it is flourishing. This is Beth's second term as President, and in her column she discussed the excitement of continuing programs begun last year and new programs that will begin this year. She also congratulated everyone who was involved in the wonderful year-end festivities, including our Annual Dinner and the WBASNY Convention. To view the President's message in full, click here.

April 2005

In her column for April, President Elizabeth Bryson congratulated several women who make history every day, including the 11 honorees designated for Women's History Month by the National Women's History Project and the New York City Commission on Women. She provided an update on the proposed rules that we have supported to allow asylum for women who are victims of domestic violence or other brutality that is directly or indirectly endorsed by their country's governments. Ms. Bryson also highlighted numerous upcoming events, including the NYWBA Annual Meeting and the Annual Ethics Forum, both in April, and the Women's Bar Convention in New Orleans and the NYWBA Annual Dinner, both in May. To view the President's message in full, click here. .

March 2004

In her March 2004 column, Ms. Bryson notes that NYWBA's membership has increased by over 33 percent from last year, and nearly 50% from two years ago. She praises the terrific work of NYWBA members, Officers, Board members, Committee Chairs, and others who worked on our membership drive and demonstrate why our bar association is so important, strong and vital. She also salutes two people who may not be lawyers but whose contributions are absolutely invaluable to the Association and the NYWBA Foundation - Executive Director Marta Toro and NYWBA Foundation member Denise Coleman. "Our Association is blessed with so many wonderful women and men who contribute their talents." To view the President's message in full, click here.

February 2004

In her February 2004 column, Ms. Bryson discussed the importance of mentoring and networking, especially for women attorneys. She also announces that the Association's Annual Meeting will be on April 28, 2004, when the 2004-05 officers and directors will be elected. Our gala Annual Dinner will be on May 26, 2004. At that event, awards will be presented to Linda Greenhouse, Pulitzer Prize winning author and New York Times reporter covering the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Hon. Jacqueline Silbermann, Administrative Judge of the NY County Supreme Court and Chief Administrative Judge for NYS Matrimonial Courts. To view the President's message in full, click here.

December 2003

In her December 2003 column, NYWBA President Elizabeth Bryson profiled important issues for our military, including the incidents of rape and sexual harassment at our military academies, the scourge of domestic violence, and the shameful track record of "don't ask, don't tell." She also discussed our exciting membership drive and the Reception Honoring Newly Elected and Appointed Judges. To view the President's message in full, click here.

November 2003

In her November 2003 column, NYWBA President Elizabeth Bryson discusses the importance and benefits of membership, as well as the recent visit of distinguished attorneys from Malaysia who were invited by the U.S. State Department to meet with NYWBA representatives. To view the President's message in full, click here.

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