By Carolyn Schultz Eggert

Although about 50 percent of law school student bodies are comprised of women, life after graduation is a different story, according to a panel of Suffolk Law female graduates who gathered for Suffolk Law’s Women’s Leadership Academy.

“How have opportunities for women in law evolved?” asked Professor Renee M. Landers, who led the panel discussion in late October. “Is success still defined by how well women juggle demanding jobs and the complex needs of their families?”

The panelists included graduates at all stages of their careers—from a recent graduate who works as a tax associate to the former Secretary of State for New Jersey who received her law degree nearly 40 years ago.
Each had a very different story about life with a Suffolk Law degree.

“When I graduated from Suffolk Law back in the 70s, I was one of very few women with a law degree but this did not discourage me,” said former New Jersey Secretary of State Nina Wells JD ’76. “As a corporate lawyer, I was thrilled to hire four women. When I was introduced to a male client who would not speak to me because he was so appalled to see a woman…a black woman attorney, I still had hope. I hoped that things would be better by the time my children entered the workforce. I had expected that 50 percent of all lawyers would be women.”

Wells’ expectation has not come true, Landers told attendees. Women represent 33.3 percent of all lawyers, Landers said, quoting the American Bar’s Commission on Women in the Profession.

“I am fortunate to be a lawyer,” Wells said. “This is what I have always wanted and I’ve always told myself that I’m going to make it happen, even if it isn’t easy.”

Joan Vennochi JD’84, described a very different path after graduation. She writes a column for the Boston Globe about national and local politics and issues relating to business, law and culture.

“The numbers don’t surprise me,” Vennochi said. “It isn’t always a question about the system working against women. I throw this out as a person who has tried to write about instances of injustice. The issue is not about why women can’t have it all. Instead, it is how do we survive working and keeping our families together?”

Stephani Hildebrandt JD ’00 is an attorney at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan and president of the Alumni Board of Directors at Suffolk Law.

“I have been fortunate in my career, because I have never felt discriminated against or held back because I am a woman,” Hildebrandt said. “I see change in the work place. There are efforts to create events that teach us how to have it all—family as well as career. I see management making an effort to increase diversity in gender and race. I also see women promoted to leadership positions.”

More recent graduate Elke Trilla-Perkuhn JD ’12 said that as she launches her career, female mentors are more important than ever.

“There needs to be more support from women for women in the workplace,” said Trilla-Perkuhn, a tax associate at Ernst & Young. “I want to meet women who have done it and can say, ‘Yes, this is hard, but keep going.’ Talk to me about personal branding and strategy so that I can add value and move forward in my career.”