Laurel Bellows

From the Desk of ABA President Laurel Bellows: Paying It Forward Pays Off

For every successful woman, there’s another successful woman who has given her a hand along the way. The sisterhood is, in fact, alive and well in our field, as the recent recipients of the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award proved. Many of the esteemed honorees have mentored or sponsored younger women in law, including Ms. JD members who are chosen to participate in the Ms. JD-American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession mentoring program.

As I participated in this year’s awards at the ABA’s annual meeting earlier this month, I reflected on what an honor it was to receive my award in 2001, and I thought about my own mentor and sponsor, Esther Rothstein, who I introduced when she received the Margaret Brent award in 1993. Among her many “firsts,” Esther was the first woman president of the Chicago Bar, the first woman to serve as a director of the Illinois Bell Telephone Co. and the first to chair an ABA committee. She believed strongly that you were in it for other people, not for yourself. Esther taught me that my support of other women should always come with assurance that the person receiving a benefit would agree to “pay it forward” by looking for opportunities to help the next woman.

I found myself thinking about whether we as women lawyers have come far enough. I asked myself, “Esther, where are we going here? What do we need to get done?”

The answer: We need to help other women every day. When we support each other, it builds a strong power base and allows us to speak out on issues without retaliation. We also have a responsibility to share the unwritten rules of our profession with our sisters, especially women who are just beginning their careers. Let’s get started today.

Laurel Bellows is president of the American Bar Association. Bellows will be posting regularly during her presidency to engage with young women lawyers and law students.

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