As a young girl, my grandfather told me stories about his life as a grocer during the Depression. He told me about the first forms of welfare, which decided exactly what food poor people would eat. In those days, many immigrants who were accustomed to the foods of their home country were perplexed by some of the food choices being selected for them. Certainly making a basic choice about your family’s food, consistent with your culture, is part of your self-esteem. My grandfather taught me that everyone is entitled to their dignity.
With that grounding, I decided at a young age to become a lawyer. I wanted to help people with their problems and make the world better. As a student, I was a joiner—I became involved in school committees and clubs. I learned to make a difference by participating. I have such a broad range of interests and I have been able to help many people by being involved in charities throughout my career.
After serving as president of the State Bar of Georgia, I realized my accomplishments there had occurred because I had learned relevant skills in a variety of nonprofit activities. Those experiences allowed me to design a program and organize lawyers and community organizations to successfully obtain Georgia’s first legislative appropriation to provide legal services for indigent victims of domestic violence.
I encourage young lawyers to find issues about which they are passionate. Seek and join groups that serve those issues, or start one with a few like-minded colleagues. Then spend the first several months learning about the group, its mission, and how it succeeds.
Often, joining a not-for-profit group almost always includes fundraising. No one likes to ask friends for money, but with belief in solving the problem I have always found that it will be easy to help raise the needed funds.
After familiarizing yourself with the group, seek to become part of its leadership. Offer ideas to make the organization better and begin to teach others. I always want to leave the group better than when I first found it.
Many volunteers stay with a favorite charity for their entire career. However, I believe an organization grows stronger when different volunteers bring new enthusiasm and ideas to the group. Your career and the charity will be better served by remaining with the charity as a member, and when needed, a mentor.
How has education affected your career?
I went to law school to help people. I would not have been able to help my clients, including my pro bono clients and the community, without my education.
What does it take to succeed and stay competitive in your position/field?
Lawyers must stay focused on the needs of their clients and constantly search for innovative ways to help them. Lawyers must study a world that is changing and partner in their clients’ success.
What advice would you give young women building/preparing for a career?
Becoming involved in the community at the beginning of a career is a great way to learn how to lead, meet future clients and customers, and have the wonderful satisfaction of making a difference. You will receive far more out of your experience than you give.