News - Capital University Law School

Attorneys Share Wisdom at Women’s Leadership Forum

4/8/2019  -  A powerhouse panel of leading women attorneys shared lessons learned along their journeys to the top at the Women’s Leadership Forum at Capital University Law School March 28.

Among the counsel they gave to a largely female audience of current CapLaw students is the importance of helping other women, finding mentors along the way and that gender equality requires both women and men to be part of the conversation.

“If we aren’t at the table to raise those issues, just as if men aren’t at the table to hear those issues, they would not get resolved,” said Janet Green Marbley, L’79, administrator of the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection.

Marbley joined other CapLaw graduates and former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery – this year’s recipient of the Esther H. Brocker Award – on the panel. The women addressed diversity and inclusion challenges they faced in law school and throughout their careers. They stressed the importance of looking back to make the path easier for those who follow.

“All of us are responsible for opening doors for people behind us,” said Montgomery, of counsel to Mac Murray & Shuster.

Marbley said “not everyone was welcoming or open” to a young woman of color when she began law school in the mid-1970s. She felt she had to make a choice between her race or her gender in how she was going to get involved. Feeling that she had no one to turn to for advice, she made a promise to herself: “I decided at that point in time, I didn’t want any other, in particular young, black female, to face that.” As part of her pledge, she started a mentoring program, which still exists today, at her former high school, Linden-McKinley in Columbus.

Noel Shepard, L ’96, member-in-charge of the Columbus office of Frost Brown Todd, recalled being the first female member and the first equity female member when she joined the law firm 17 years ago. “I determined I wasn’t going to be the last,” she said. “My goal was to make sure other females in the office got those opportunities.” Today, nearly 40 percent of the attorneys at the firm are female.

Diversity is important in all aspects, including age and gender, said Melissa R. Hoeffel, L’03, managing partner of Roetzel & Andress’ Columbus office. It’s also a process, added Jayne Juvan, L’05, chair of Mergers & Acquisitions and Securities & Capital Markets practice groups at Tucker Ellis. “You have to weave it into the conversation on a daily basis. It has to be woven in to truly be part of the firm’s culture. A lot of people don’t even realize what they are doing. There’s a lot of talent in this room. Why would you ever freeze out half of the population?”

The women also acknowledged the role of mentors who played an important role in their careers. “Don’t sit there and wait for a mentor to come and find you,” Hoeffel advised. “Recognize that different people are going to be needed for different parts of your life.”

One of the questions posed by a member of the audience addressed how women who may be outnumbered in a meeting can balance being heard without coming across as too aggressive. “Put on the clothing that fits you,” Montgomery said. “Be who you are. Be comfortable. If you’re overly aggressive, you won’t be effective, and you won’t be respected.”

The women also reassured the attendees that, “It’s OK to say you don’t know,” if that is the case, said Hoeffel. But, she added, “You know way more than you think you do.”

“The biggest danger is thinking you know all the answers,” Marbley said.

Montgomery, who was the state’s first female attorney general, auditor and senator from District 2, said, ““The best thing a leader can do is to create an environment where it’s safe to disagree, safe to make mistakes … and work without fear.”

William Nolan, managing partner of Barnes & Thornburg, who Capital University Law School Dean Rachel M. Janutis called “a great champion and ally of diversity and inclusion initiatives within the profession,” was the forum’s moderator. Janutis began the Women’s Leadership Forum in 2016 to empower and educate the Law School community on important issues facing women leaders. “As the first woman dean of Capital University Law School, it’s really important to me to develop a strong program, not only for our female students, but really for everyone,” Janutis said.

Alexxis Palumbo, L’19, says she found the discussion inspirational. “When I hear (Montgomery’s) words about being authentic and creating a safe environment, that’s how I like to lead my interactions with others and how I directly connected with her.”