Tuesday, October 10, 2006
California Women Lawyers Leader: Group Needs to Diversify
By a MetNews Staff Writer
California Women Lawyers needs to broaden its appeal to non-white female lawyers, the group’s new president told the MetNews Saturday.
Angela Davis, an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles and the adoptive mother of two Chinese girls, said in an interview that she was not satisfied with the lack of racial and ethnic diversity on CWL’s board, and would like to see more women of color take leadership positions.
“I just think particularly in the state of California, it’s a weakness if our board is overwhelmingly white,” she remarked two days after taking the helm of the group for 2006-2007.
Succeeding Fullerton attorney Pearl Gondrella Mann as president of the group that seeks to advance women in the legal profession, Davis was sworn in by Chief Justice Ronald M. George Thursday at the opening night dinner of the State Bar annual meeting.
Though not the first CWL president to hail from Los Angeles, she is the first person in her position to be a federal prosecutor.
“Typically, there are more people from the private sector who are involved in bar associations, so it’s a bit unusual,” Davis, who specializes in major fraud and white-collar prosecutions, told the MetNews. She has been with the U.S. Attorney’s Office 11 years, although she spent the first seven years of her 20-year legal career as a civil litigator with firms in Los Angeles and New York.
“I’ve had people tell me, though, that they’re really glad to see me in this role,” Davis said. “The United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles is a high profile office, and it’s a fairly highly regarded office….I think that having somebody who is ‘credentialed,’ if you will, as an attorney is a good thing for the organization.”
The lawyer, 45, joined CWL’s board five years ago, after having been a member since her admission to the bar. Last year she created the organization’s mentoring program and its traveling MCLE program entitled “Gender Bias Lessons From the Silver Screen,” which uses clips from the movies Adam’s Rib, Legally Blonde, and My Cousin Vinny as a departure point for discussing bias in the courtroom. She also provided impetus for the formation of a “local community service committee” that ensures at minimum that uneaten food at CWL events is given to those who need it, rather than thrown away.
Now as president, Davis said she would appoint a Work-Life Balance Focus Group” and “Women’s Health Focus Group,” the first such groups in CWL’s history.
She was deliberately calling them “focus groups” as opposed to “committees,” she said, to convey the understanding that the working bodies do not have all the answers but are being commissioned to seek them out.
The CWL Work-Life Balance Focus Group—a response to the phenomenon of professional women choosing family over career—would collaborate with law firms, corporate law departments, and local organizations in studying how the practice of law might be changed for the better today, she explained.
Similarly, the goal of the Women’s Health Focus Group is to be inter-disciplinary, disseminating significant health information to CWL members, continuing the commitment of CWL’s legislative committees, and integrating women’s health issues into CWL’s mentoring network, she said. The group’s efforts, Davis added, will be guided by Jennifer Phelps, a CWL board member and a local Bingham McCutchen associate who also holds a master’s degree in public health, and Elizabeth Saviano, a registered nurse with a law degree who served as chief of women’s health under former Gov. Gray Davis.
Davis underscored the importance of acting on women’s health issues, particularly as CWL was presenting this year’s Fay Stender award posthumously for the first time to Bay area attorney Tanya Neiman, who died this February of ovarian cancer after successfully overcoming a breast cancer diagnosis 20 years earlier. Neiman was honored at the CWL dinner for her more than two decades of service to the poor as director of San Francisco’s Voluntary Legal Services Program.
Also honored at the dinner were veteran journalist and keynote speaker Susan Stamberg, who spoke about the experiences of professional women journalists over the last several decades; and Mark Hanis and his organization Genocide Intervention Network, selected by Davis because of their efforts to halt ethnic cleansing in Darfur.
CWL has voted to take a position supporting legislative efforts to stop the genocide in Darfur, and Davis herself started a committee outside of CWL focused on the genocide.
Current CWL board members from Los Angeles County are Jennifer Webber, who also serves as treasurer and is an associate with the Los Angeles office of Fulwider Patton; Jennifer Phelps; Susan Formaker, in-house counsel for Washington Mutual based in Chatsworth; Tara Canady of the Woodsmall Law Group in Pasadena and the Black Women Lawyers of Los Angeles; and Eileen Decker, an assistant U.S. attorney who is with the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles.
Davis is an alumna of Stanford University and UCLA School of Law.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company