William & Mary Law School’s annual Leadership Conference is a great way for students and alumnae to form connections and learn from each other. The seventh annual conference, held on Friday, Sept. 21, saw 18 alumnae returning to campus to share wisdom from their personal and professional experiences.
The theme this year was “Superwoman and Real Women: Leading, Following, Caring, Evolving, and Sometimes Making Do.”
“Seven years ago we honored our first female law graduate, Virginia Mister [’37]; it was so successful that we have repeated the annual leadership event ever since,” said Law School Dean Davison M. Douglas during his opening remarks. “It has really become one of the wonderful signature events at the Law School.”
Douglas told students that this event was for them, and not to be shy about asking questions and connecting with the experts. Needless to say, they lived up to their side of the bargain.
Student Bar Association President Alyssa Kaiser ’19, for example, said that she and other students couldn’t help but walk away from the conference feeling empowered. Not only were students given the opportunity for candid exchanges with the speakers, those interested were also paired as a mentee with the presenters, spending the day shadowing notable alumnae.
“I personally enjoyed hearing from women who are so successful professionally, but also so relatable personally,” Kaiser said. “It is rare that we, as students, are able to have such candid conversations about the struggles of balancing a career and other aspects of life with people who have had to make challenging decisions that we are likely to face at some point throughout our legal careers.”
Participants included a stellar lineup of leaders across the legal spectrum, including: Jessica Arons ’00, Kristan B. Burch ’98, Sheyna N. Burt ’01, Elizabeth C. Carver ’84, The Hon. Cressondra Conyers ’92, Shannon E. Daily ’09, Ann Fairchild ’96, Margaret Hardy ’95, Kimberly Hargrove ’05, Barbara L. Johnson ’84, Jennifer Daniel Kahl ’15, Joelle Laszlo ’09, Nora Garcia Nickel ’07, Wendy N. Reed ’92, Christine M. Shiker ’97, Ann K. Sullivan ’78, Amanda Wieker ’09, and Brandi Zehr ’09.
Recognizing that much is expected of lawyers in the world, conference participants addressed how they provide advice and formulate strategies on many subjects, lead teams of lawyers and paralegals, manage their clients and schedules, and still find time for family and self-care. It’s a balancing act that keeps them more than busy, but their helpful advice showed students how it is still possible.
During a number of panel discussions and breakout sessions, alumnae and students discussed issues of common concern. Topics included “Working as Part of a Team,” “Sandwiched between Parents and Children,” “Changing Firms, Changing Practices, Changing Your Life,” and others. Breakout sessions helped provide answers to a number of important questions, including, “How Can I Build a Personal Brand that is Authentic?” and “How Does One Cultivate Mentors and Champions?”
This year’s keynote speaker was Ann Fairchild ’96, General Counsel for Siemens North America, recognized as the most-well-respected company in the world by Fortune magazine.
Fairchild, who leads a team of more than 250, had been scheduled to speak during last year’s conference, but canceled due to Hurricane Irma dropping a tree on her house. Happy to return to the Law School under more favorable weather, Fairchild talked about “Building Resilience,” learning from one’s failures and becoming more authentic. And, of course, learning to relax.
Noting that “failure is often the first step to success,” Fairchild told students to take on new tasks and not to be afraid if things don’t work out. “Really tackle [each new challenge] as you would any of your projects, but look toward the optimism,” she said.
For Eydsa La Paz ’19, messages like this are the reason she attended the conference. And it wasn’t her first such event either.
“I have attended the conference every year thus far, and every year I walk away with a new insight” La Paz said. “What is relevant a year or two ago inevitably changes, and the conference provides some much necessary grounding as a woman going into the professional world.”
The first leadership conference, “Women in Big Law,” was held in 2012 in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of the graduation of Virginia Mister. Subsequent conferences included “Lawyers in In-House Practice” (2013), “Lawyers as Leaders” (2014), “Making Things Happen, Getting Things Done” (2016), “Intentionality & Serendipity: Creating a Career and a Life” (Jan. 2017), and “Power, Accountability & Humility” (Sept. 2017).
Beyond the Law School, the conference helped kick off William & Mary’s year-long celebration of 100 years of coeducation. For more, please visit www.wm.edu/100yearsofwomen.
This fall’s conference was sponsored by William & Mary Law School, the Office of the Dean, Office of Career Services, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs, Asian Law Student Association, Black Law Student Association, Business Law Society, George Wythe Society, Latinx Law Students Association, Public Service Fund, Student Bar Association, W&M Business Law Review, W&M Journal of Race, Gender and Social Justice and the Women’s Law Society.
“I would highly recommend students attend this event next year and to reach out to any of the panelists from this year’s conference that sparked an interest,” Alyssa Kaiser said. “They really are superwomen!”
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.