I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law in 2015 at 33 years old, ready to embark on a second career as a first-generation lawyer. I clerked with a small boutique firm during law school and accepted an associate position with the same firm upon passing the bar. My work for this firm was almost exclusively performed remotely. As it turned out, we were ahead of our time: the rest of the world would move to remote work in 2020 with the onset of COVID-19.
Though remote work was convenient in many ways, it offered no opportunities to collaborate with other attorneys or learn through observation. It often felt lonely, so I joined some local bar associations. I found that, in particular, women-focused organizations were the most supportive and best met my needs. I found the collegiality and support in those organizations that I lacked in my work environment.
A year later, my husband and I moved back to our native northern Michigan to be near our families as we welcomed our first child. Again, my remote work was convenient and facilitated the move, but professionally, I felt more isolated than ever. Although I was back home where I had many friends and family members, I didn’t know any local lawyers and missed the opportunities to connect with other women lawyers that my prior bar associations had provided.
Luckily for me, my friend and mentor, Hon. Angela Sherigan, a judge with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and managing partner at Wojnecka & Sherigan, soon introduced me to the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan. As a two-time WLAM past president, Sherigan was a great advocate for the organization and knew that it could provide the professional home I was seeking.
She was right. I joined the Western Region of WLAM and attended a few events; I felt welcomed immediately.
WLAM provided continuing education opportunities, networking events, mentorship programs, and other benefits that I hadn’t even realized I needed. As I learned upon joining the organization, WLAM was founded in 1919 — before women even had the right to vote — by five forward-thinking women lawyers in the Detroit area. At the time, as one can imagine, women lawyers were few and far between. Significant cultural, educational, and even legal impediments existed that made it very difficult for women to pursue a career in the law.
As time went on and women’s professional and civil rights advanced, WLAM grew into a statewide organization dedicated to promoting the interests of women in the legal profession, securing social justice and civil rights for all people, and broadly advancing improvements in the practice of law and administration of justice. WLAM’s recent accomplishments include partnering with the State Court Administrative Office and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to help courthouses create lactation spaces for nursing mothers and promoting an amendment to the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct prohibiting judges from participating in organizations that practice invidious discrimination.
Although I was thrilled to have found WLAM, a significant barrier remained. The Western Region was primarily based in Grand Rapids and none of the other regions were much closer to my home in Charlevoix. However, it wasn’t long before then WLAM President Alena Clark recruited me to help create a WLAM region for northern Michigan.
Though Clark was graciously confident I could lead this effort, I was not so sure. I had few legal connections in northern Michigan, I had recently formed a solo practice in Charlevoix, and I had a toddler at home. Could I build a regional chapter in a location where most women lawyers had never even heard of WLAM and, certainly, none of them had ever heard of me?
Although I lacked confidence, I believed in WLAM’s mission. I knew that creating a local region was my best chance to find the kind of professional sisterhood I’d been looking for in my home community, so in December 2018, I sent a cold email to a number of women attorneys in northern Michigan, asking them to meet for dinner to gauge their interest in creating a WLAM region in the area.
To my surprise, 10 women showed up for dinner and we had a great discussion — not just about forming a WLAM region, but about work and life in general. It was clear by the end of the evening that I was not alone in seeking collegiality with other women lawyers. Over the next year, we worked closely with WLAM leaders to draft bylaws and meet all other requirements to be approved as a region and continued to grow closer as women legal professionals.
Our time as a provisional region was not without its challenges, but we persevered. Finally, our acceptance as a full region was placed on the agenda for the WLAM April 2020 meeting. Unfortunately, just prior to that meeting, COVID-19 had taken hold of the world. Just as the Tip of the Mitt Region of WLAM was born, we found ourselves unable to host the exciting events we had planned around our region. Again, we persevered. We found creative ways to bring together women attorneys in our area through virtual events and continued our monthly meetings on Zoom instead of at local venues. In the midst of the most extreme isolation we had ever experienced, seeing one another’s faces on those monthly Zooms gave us all some comfort.
As restrictions on gatherings have loosened, the Tip of the Mitt Region of WLAM has been able to hold successful in-person events such as a reception for several Court of Appeals judges in Boyne City and our second annual meeting in Bay Harbor. Under the capable leadership of our new president, Amber Libby, our priorities include growing our membership and planning more frequent in-person networking, educational, and charitable events throughout the region.
I am so grateful to our founding members for working together to make WLAM accessible to law professionals in northern Michigan and to all my “sisters in law” for their camaraderie and support of one another through this incredible organization. We’re finally home.
The Tip of the Mitt Region of WLAM officially includes Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, Grand Traverse, and Leelanau counties, but legal professionals throughout northern Michigan regardless of gender are welcomed as members. For more information about the Tip of the Mitt Region of WLAM, visit womenlawyers.org/leadership/wlam-regions/tip-of-the-mitt/ or email email@example.com.