The Powerful Influence of My “Sisters in Law”

In 1899, when American women could not vote, attend most law schools, or join the American Bar Association, 16 New York women attorneys founded the Women Lawyers Club, forging a sisterhood to support one another’s professional advancement and the rights of all women under the law.

The Women Lawyers Club is now known as the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL), and I’m honored to serve as its president for 2019–2020. When I joined NAWL in 2007, my career challenges paled in comparison to those of our founding mothers, yet this powerful network has proven no less important in my career, lifting me up and pushing me forward at every critical juncture.

As an associate attorney, I relied on more seasoned NAWL members to help ensure that I was on track for professional success, including partnership, and they helped me shape my plans to get there. In 2011, when I was a new Gibbons partner and mom of three daughters, the youngest only 4 months old, I was invited to join NAWL’s board. NAWL’s then-president never contemplated for a second that the timing would not be right for me. With the boost of her confidence in me, I stepped up to a leadership role, becoming the youngest member of NAWL’s board.

My fellow NAWL members became great supporters in every area of my life. This included sharing their visions for making our profession more diverse and inclusive, dropping everything to take my calls when I faced professional challenges, and opening doors to new business opportunities.

Recently published research shows that the powerful influence of my NAWL “sisters in law” in my career is not unique and should be replicated to advance greater numbers of women into leadership roles. A Harvard Business Review article, citing research by Brian Uzzi, Yang Yang, and Nitesh V. Chawla (“Men and Women Need Different Kinds of Networks to Succeed,” Brian Uzzi, February 2019), explains that women in particular benefit from close professional networks of female contacts to navigate career challenges and advance professionally, especially if their inner circle’s members are closely connected to one another, but have minimal overlapping contacts. In industries such as law, where women continue to have too few opportunities for sponsorship, the kind of peer network that NAWL provides is all the more critical to women’s advancement and leadership.