Alumnae Share Professional Experiences in Second Annual “Raising the Bar” Conference
“I will tell you, and I hope this is encouraging to those of you who are students, I love going to work every day,” Hon. Amy St. Eve ’90 of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois told attendees of “Raising the Bar: Careers and Experiences of Cornell Law Alumnae,” a day-long conference for students held on March 14. St. Eve, who delivered the conference’s keynote speech during a networking luncheon, added later, “You are very lucky to be here … I see Cornell students through externships with me, through clerks whom I’ve had, and lawyers who come and practice before me, and I always feel how prepared they are, how ethical they are, how professional they are.”
Conceived and organized by the Women’s Law Coalition (WLC), Raising the Bar was made possible through the sponsorship of the Dean’s Office, the Career Services Office, and the Office of Public Service. In introductory remarks before the keynote, WLC president Christine Kim called the event, now in its second year, “the highlight of the year for members of the Women’s Law Coalition.” Stewart J. Schwab, the Allan R. Tessler Dean, observed that the conference is “fast becoming a tradition.”
Raising the Bar was open to the entire Law School, as well as to students from other parts of the university interested in a legal career. The conference’s four panels, which were moderated by WLC students, focused on the career areas of government and public interest, law firms, and business and in-house counsel. Its nine panelists represented a twenty-one year span of Law School graduating classes and a diverse range of careers, from corporate executive to federal community defender.
Noting that the visiting alumnae had traveled from New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Florida, and Illinois, in some cases facing inclement travel conditions, Kim observed, “I think it’s one of the signs of a true Cornellian if warnings of heavy snow don’t deter you from returning to Ithaca.” She added that the Law School’s students were “fortunate to have alumnae who are so dedicated to giving back.”
In her keynote, St. Eve offered a top-ten list of practices that make for a good and a happy lawyer (“not an oxymoron,” she noted). Touching on several themes that arose throughout the day, her advice included “find a good mentor,” “remember your integrity and professionalism,” “dress the part,” “do pro bono work,” and “don’t hesitate, when you are out practicing, to look around and see what else is out there.” She also observed that, though lawyers are typically “Type A” personalities who think they can schedule everything, “there is never a convenient time to have children.” St. Eve herself walked into the prep session for her congressional confirmation hearing wearing her five-week-old son in a BabyBjörn carrier.
In the Business and In-House Counsel session, panelists stressed the importance of building and utilizing a network of mentors and supporters. Jessica Budoff ’05, executive director of legal and compliance at Morgan Stanley, pointed out that a strong network includes one’s peers and superiors as well as assistants, paralegals, and members of other departments. In this regard, she said, it is especially helpful to share credit, mentor others, and be a team player. Fellow panelist Monica Johnson ’98, meanwhile, reminded attendees that “having common sense is probably one of the most valuable skills” in a legal career.
Another prominent theme of the panels was, as Jennifer Miller ’80 put it, “the true joy of serendipitous opportunity.” Miller entered Cornell Law in 1977 with the goal of becoming a public-interest environmental lawyer. “We were the children of the 1960s war protests, and we were gonna reform the word,” she recalled. Deviating from her original plans, Miller, now executive vice president of coated business and chief sustainability officer of Sappi Fine Paper America, went on instead to a career in the corporate world. Yet, from the beginning she encountered opportunities in her work to promote environmental responsibility and even to help shape key federal environmental regulations. The lesson: “You can do good in whatever your chosen career path is.”
Following the day’s final panel, the conference concluded with a networking reception, providing one more opportunity for students and alumnae to mingle. Reflected Kim, “One of the things we love about our school is its small size and closely knit community. That sense of closeness extends to all who have come to Cornell Law, and I have truly felt that today meeting and getting to know our alumnae.”
RAISING THE BAR PANELISTS
Jessica Budoff ’05,Executive Director, Legal and Compliance, Morgan Stanley
Rebecca Durden ’88, Section Chief and Assistant Attorney General New York State Office of the Attorney General
Keisha Hudson ’02, Assistant Federal Defender, Capital Habeas Unit Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
Monica Johnson ’98, Vice President and General Counsel, Shoes for Crews
Jennifer Miller ’80, Executive Vice President, Coated Business and Chief Sustainability Officer, Sappi Fine Paper North America
Andrianne Payson ’00, Partner, DLA Piper
Allison Schiffman ’09, Associate, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Rachel Skaistis ’97, Partner, Cravath, Swaine & Moore
Judge Amy St. Eve ’90, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois