Women's Summit Draws 400 UCLA Law Students and Graduates

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Andrea Toy Ohta of Pepper Hamilton and Tanya Greene of Kirkland & Ellis at the UCLA Law Women LEAD Summit.

The largest-ever gathering of female students, alumnae and their guests in the history of the UCLA School of Law took place on Friday, Feb. 3, at the inaugural UCLA Law Women LEAD Summit. More than 400 students, attorneys, judges and others came out for a day of networking, stories from the frontlines of women in law and business, and advice on how to succeed in a challenging professional environment.

The summit was sponsored by UCLA Law Women LEAD, which launched in 2015 to create a lifelong network of alumnae who strive to promote leadership, empowerment, advancement and distinction in the legal profession. Paul Hastings partner Nancy Abell '79, business executive Margarita Palau Hernandez '85 and Cara Horowitz '01, the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation Co-Executive Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA Law, were event co-chairs.

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California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye with UCLA Law Dean Jennifer L. Mnookin.

Speakers included Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the Chief Justice of California; former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman; Ellevest CEO and co-founder Sallie Krawcheck; and Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, a professor at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

“It is so important for us, I believe, to get into the habit of risk taking if we’re really going to move forward,” said Herman in the day’s keynote address, which touched on her experiences as a civil rights worker in Alabama and later as labor secretary under President Clinton. As she walked through what she called "the Four Rs" of professional excellence — taking risks, expanding your reach, testing your own reality, and allowing time for rejuvenation — Herman implored her audience to "stay engaged" during the new Trump Administration. "The role of women will become even more important," she said. "We need you."

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Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman.

Throughout the day, women who serve in roles ranging from general counsel at large corporations to mid-level associates at area law firms offered cautionary tales, advice for newcomers and answers to questions about how to thrive in a sector where gender inequities are a lingering issue.

"UCLA Law Women LEAD was created to help women on all rungs of the professional ladder support and learn from each other, and the summit was an inspiring, one-of-a-kind gathering that really advanced this goal," says Jennifer L. Mnookin, dean of UCLA School of Law. "To look around the crowded room and see everyone from first-year law students to many of our most distinguished female graduates talking, networking and making connections with one another — it made me proud of our alumnae, proud of LEAD and proud of our great law school."

In a midday conversation before hundreds of law students and others in the Hugh & Hazel Darling Law Library at UCLA School of Law, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye — just the second woman to serve as chief justice of California — talked with Dean Mnookin about her struggle to break into legal practice when she graduated from UC Davis School of Law in 1984. Cantil-Sakauye said she was denied opportunities because people told her she “looked like she couldn’t stand up in a court,” "would be weak in arguing” and “was too pretty."

Even today, "people are surprised to see a woman as chief," the chief justice said. "We have many, many … more steps to go to be at the top of our profession."

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Michelle Banks '88 moderates general counsel session.

Smaller breakout sessions included more than three dozen influential UCLA Law alumnae and focused on innovation, crisis management, careers in government and non-profit organizations, litigation strategies, law firm success, professional reassessment, thedos and don'ts of starting a firm, and the ins and outs of working in-house at large companies.

At a panel featuring graduates of UCLA Law who currently serve in the judiciary, Judges Sandra Ikuta and Kim McLane Wardlaw of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit spoke alongside Judge Dolly Gee of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, and California Court of Appeals Justice Audrey Collins. The jurists detailed their often indirect routes to the bench, which included occasional episodes of self-doubt, children born during law school, and first careers as magazine editors.

In the end, though, the opportunity to set a good example for women of all ages drew them into judgeships. As Judge Ikuta shared: “My nine-year-old daughter said to me, "Just try, Mom!'"

LEAD Summit videos