Women of Columbia Law Launches With a Forum at the Forum

The new initiative kicked off with a daylong event spotlighting the progress and promise of Columbia Law alumnae.

Showing pride. Providing opportunity. Empowering one another. Women of Columbia Law brings together alumnae and other members of the community from across generations and professional pathways to learn, network, and engage on topics of common interest. And at the initiative’s inaugural event, Forum at the Forum, Gillian Lester, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, emphasized the necessity of providing space for these discussions: “Convenings like the program we have today are important opportunities for women to share their insights, to build networks, and to collaborate to ensure that we have a seat—that we have a place at the table—where decisions are made and our futures are shaped.” 

Held at Columbia’s Manhattanville Campus on October 13, Forum at the Forum featured panel discussions focused on timely issues especially relevant to women in law—advancing gender equality, achieving professional goals, and breaking paradigms in the legal profession—along with opportunities for guests to network over lunch and coffee.

In her opening comments, Dean Lester highlighted the remarkable strides that have been made since women were first accepted to Columbia Law School, as well as the work that remains to overcome gender disparities that persist in the legal profession.

“Today’s programming harnesses our talent, experiences, and expertise to strengthen the Law School community and, by extension, our profession and our society,” she said.

Nina Shaw BC ’76, LAW ’79, founding partner of law firm Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein Lezcano Bobb & Dang, who welcomed participants to the event, noted in her address that “every generation of Columbia Law women has their own story to tell.” But, she said, “our common story must be how we made our society better as a whole and the legal profession better for the next generation of Columbia lawyers.”

Shaw also spoke of her path to founding her own entertainment law firm despite the rarity of being a Black woman partner in entertainment law. “My work experience reinforced that I had to be a leader in my community, advocating for the rights of women, because I could not let others experience the loneliness, isolation, and fatigue that came with being a singular figure among my peers,” she said. “It is in collective efforts that real and lasting change takes place.”

Two women side by side smiling at camera
Dean Gillian Lester and Nina Shaw BC ’76, LAW ’79

Read more about each panel below:  

“United States v. Women: Advocating for Social Justice, Human Rights, and Gender Equality”

Faculty and alumnae who advocate for reproductive rights, diversity, and equal justice addressed the challenges of the post-Roe landscape. Moderated by Olatunde C.A. Johnson, Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’59 Professor of Law, the panel included Roberta “Robbie” Kaplan ’91, founding partner of Kaplan Hecker & Fink; Nancy Northup ’88, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights; Marcia Sells BC ’81, LAW ’84, chief diversity officer of the Metropolitan Opera; and faculty members Katherine M. Franke, James L. Dohr Professor of Law, and Carol Sanger, Barbara Aronstein Black Professor of Law. 

“Advancing Your Career: Ask for More”

Alumnae also offered career advice for advancing in fields where women remain underrepresented in leadership positions: Network, find mentors, build an informal “board of directors” for advice and support, and be sure your boss knows how much you do, were some of the words of wisdom from Adriene Holder ’91, chief attorney of the civil practice at The Legal Aid Society; Esta Stecher ’82, retired Goldman Sachs partner; and Sheena Wright CC ’90, LAW ’94, first deputy mayor of New York City, in a panel moderated by Andrea C. Saavedra ’06, assistant dean, judicial careers. 

“Women of Columbia Law: Reshaping Professional Paradigms” 

Associate Dean for Professional Affairs Administration Petal Modeste BUS ’13 asked a panel of alumnae and faculty about the philosophies that have guided them through pathbreaking careers in government, immigrant advocacy, social justice, and finance. Lorna Chen ’99 LL.M., ’01 J.D., Asia regional managing partner and head of greater China, Shearman & Sterling; criminal justice expert and founder of Vital City Elizabeth Glazer ’86; and Judge Myrna Pérez ’03 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit were joined by faculty members Elora Mukherjee, Jerome L. Greene Clinical Professor of Law; and Suzanne Goldberg, Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law, who is currently on leave working as the senior adviser and legal expert to the U.S. State Department special envoy to advance the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.

Support Across Generations

Concluding the day, Dean Lester said she was “thrilled and proud” to have launched the Women of Columbia Law initiative. She remarked that, during the event, “I was moved to feel the way that we Columbia women have pushed the boundaries and have been changemakers.” She called on all those present to “knit our wisdom, our insight, our friendship, and our support for one another across the generations.”

Alumnae panelist highlights:
Woman speaking while seated in a chair onstage

Lorna Chen ’99 LL.M., ’01 J.D.

“I didn’t really think of myself as a lawyer when I was in college, when I was in graduate school. Everything came along to where I am, I think, just because I kept an open mind and … just carried on wherever this career carried me.”

Woman speaking in a chair onstage

Elizabeth Glazer ’86

“[The law is] such a powerful thing in the right hands. … But it’s not the only thing. … Many times, in my career at least, I’ve found that there are a lot of other pieces to what makes change, and it is the weaving of them together that’s really important.”

Woman speaking seated in a chair onstage

Adriene Holder ’91

“One of the best leadership training tools at The Legal Aid Society was being active in the union: learning how to organize people, learning how to inspire people. Also learning how to deal with grievances, learning what battles were worth fighting and which ones weren’t, and how to be strategic.”

Woman speaking and gesturing while seated in a chair onstage.

Robbie Kaplan ’91

“I’ve dedicated my life to believing that individual cases can make a difference. … You’ve just got to keep on fighting the good fight and hope you can win as many as you possibly can.”

Woman speaking and gesturing seated in a chair onstage

Nancy Northup ’88

“The answer to this question about the continued struggle for gender equality, racial equality, fundamental fairness … is, ‘What is it for you that makes you come alive?’ Because you will do that very well.”

Woman speaking and gesturing while seated in a chair onstage

Myrna Pérez ’03

“You need to be able to get a lot of joy and satisfaction from the little victories along the way because change is hard to come by. And even when it’s won, it’s not always durable. So you need to be prepared to keep fighting. And when you’ve won, you need to be able to be prepared to dig in and keep winning it, or we’re going to be walking backwards every time.”

Woman speaking while seated in a chair onstage

Marcia Sells BC ’81, LAW ’84

“We’ve made these distinctions of what’s high art and low art. It’s all art, it’s all stories. It’s all about how we bring human beings in a space to connect, both to be moved and to learn and share, and then even have jumping off points where you can talk issues around the law or talk about issues that sometimes are challenging.”

Woman with glasses speaking seated in a chair onstage

Esta Stecher ’82

“Be very open-minded about opportunities that come your way as well as opportunities that you see. And don’t assume you can’t do them. Assume that you can.”

Woman speaking and gesturing while seated in a chair onstage

Sheena Wright CC ’90, LAW ’94

“As you progress in your career, … take honest stock of what are your skills, your assets, and capabilities, and what are your gaps. And you are responsible for your own professional development. Nobody else is.”