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

The Importance of Community

Incoming President Teresa Schiller gave a version of these remarks at the 2006 Annual Dinner on May 24, 2006:

I am honored, and I hope that my remarks tonight will help you get to know me better as I prepare to serve this community as president. I hope also that I can get to know you better during the year.

As we bridge the year between Christina’s presidency and my own, I am reminded of another bridge from my past – a bridge in the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park in Japan. After college, I lived in Japan for a year, teaching junior high school English, and, like many Americans before me, I traveled to Hiroshima during some free time. I had been away from America for several months, and I missed my family. In the Peace Park, I was walking across a bridge, where, surprisingly, I ran into some Texan relatives – an aunt and two cousins with whom I had grown up. That coincidental meeting taught me that the world is quite a small place and that a sense of community – in that case, my family community – is important.

Later that year, I was again reminded how my new, international lifestyle was nevertheless connected to my community back home. As part of my weekly schedule in Japan, I was visiting the local school board’s office one Friday afternoon. One of the clerks in the office -- who spoke the most English and was therefore the one often designated to communicate important points to me -- walked up to me, holding a Japanese newspaper. She pointed to a spot in the paper and said gravely, “Ms. Schiller, your town blew up.” It turned out that my small Texas hometown of 13,500 people had made the Japanese papers because of a natural gas explosion on its outskirts, which caused millions of dollars in damage and registered significantly on a nearby Richter scale. Of course, not only was something “lost in translation,” but the hometown telephone lines were down. As a result, there were some nervous moments until I was able to verify that my family was okay.

The importance of community in my life continued. When I returned to the United States, I joined a community that spoke another unfamiliar language – law school. The most rewarding aspect of law school was the opportunity to work with classmates and professors to represent needy clients in the Chicago community. As part of a project for one class relating to domestic violence and the law, I worked with a group of professors, lawyers, and classmates to seek clemency from the governor of Illinois for twelve women who had been convicted of killing their batterers. To represent one of the women, I worked with one of the professors and a classmate. During our investigation, which took us to a public defender’s office, to a prison, and to a public housing project, we uncovered documentation showing, among other things, that the woman’s batterer had been imprisoned and diagnosed as a criminal sexual psychopath. We used this information to argue successfully for clemency for our client, and she was one of four women who was released. Not only was it rewarding to help this woman, but my relationship with my Chicago classmate bore fruit as well. We both moved to New York, and, coincidentally, years later Sue Moss and I began serving on the board of the Women’s Bar together.

Unlike some of the more senior members of the Women’s Bar who have broken ground in the area of gender discrimination in the law, I have been fortunate during my career and am not a victim with a list of abuses to recount. Nevertheless, I had one surprising experience along the way. When I finished law school, I served as a judicial clerk, which was a wonderful experience overall and which taught me more about the law than some of my professors. One of my judge’s employees – I’ll call him John -- was a real character -- a skydiving enthusiast, and a proud member of a boys’ club called MOTA – Men on Top Again. Every year, this employee encouraged the new judicial clerks to go skydiving at a particular company under the supervision of two of his MOTA buddies. I was told by past clerks who had gone skydiving – all male, no females -- that they jumped tandem with the instructors on their backs and that the whole time they were in the air, the instructors were making sexist comments and talking about MOTA. I wanted to go skydiving, but without the MOTA twist. My choice then was to dive from a lower altitude BY MYSELF after about three hours of instruction. That day of skydiving was one of the longest days of my life. Although I had to get there very early in the morning, I did not have the opportunity to jump until about 4:00 that day, so I waited around all day feeling more and more scared. I literally thought as the day wore on that I was going to die. But I was bound and determined to persevere. Ultimately, I made the jump. Believe me, it was not pretty, and it was not “by the book,” but my parachute opened, and I landed in one piece. After I got back to the hangar, I ran into one of John’s MOTA compadres. He was very courteous and friendly. He explained that my jump had been so delayed because all of the planes had been needed for a group of skydiving Elvises who were entertaining in a nearby town’s parade. He also said that if I had introduced myself to him earlier, he would have moved me far up in line. As I was walking away -- kicking myself for having avoided this guy -- he called out to me with a smirk on his face, “Tell John that you’re now an honorary member of MOTA.” I was offended, of course, but I felt better about having gone it alone earlier in the day, without this guy literally on my back for a tandem jump. That was one situation in which I did not regret having missed out on the opportunity to get to know someone better.

After clerking, I joined a law firm called Clifford Chance in 1996 and have worked there as an associate and most recently as the pro bono coordinator. I was there in 2001 when the World Trade Center disaster occurred – when, one might say, our town blew up. Like many of you, I wanted to help those who were suffering in our community. One way in which I helped out was to represent the wife and daughter of a man who had died in the Twin Towers. The matter involved complex issues of New York, Canadian, and Israeli law, and as is common in the practice of law for many of us, I was helping to prepare documents and researching issues of law that I had not dealt with before. The clients were ultimately happy with our work, and I felt pleased to have served some members of the tragic 9/11 community.

Now, I am focused on serving our community – the New York Women’s Bar Association. My goal is for all of us to get to know each other better. I hope that at the end of the year, we will be stronger allies. To this end, for example, I hope to make “cold calls” to inactive Women’s Bar members to invite them to events during the year. This will reflect our interest in all of our members, past and present, which in turn furthers the purpose of our organization.

It is important to relate to one another. Who knows what bridge each of us may cross in the future, where a familiar face – perhaps someone in our midst from the New York Women’s Bar Association -- will welcome us? Who knows when one of us or someone we know will need legal assistance, necessitating access to some of the best legal minds in New York because of the relationships forged through our association? Who knows when one of us will need a parachute in the form of a job referral or eleventh-hour CLE credits? Who knows? Let’s make an effort this year to be friends as well as colleagues, to be more than just members of the NYWBA. I’ve told you a bit of my experience. I hope to hear some of your stories as well.


Spring 2006

In her President's column in the Spring issue, President Christina Kallas discussed how women continue to lag behind men when it comes to earning power, and suggests that this is one more item for the legislature to address as it considers 'no-fault' divorce legislation. To view the President's Message in full, click here.

March 2006

For Women's History Month, Christina Kallas reflected upon how far we have yet to go. To view the President's Message in full, click here.

February 2006

In her column for February President Christina Kallas asked us to consider what it is we pay attention to in our culture. To view the President's Message in full, click here.

January 2006

In her column for January President Christina Kallas asked, "Do we (still) need a women's bar association?" To view the President's Message in full, click here.

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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