By Jennifer L. VanderVeen, CELA, CAP, Fellow
Last year, as the issue of NAELA News highlighting my presidency came out, a colleague sent me a message saying how great it was to see women in leadership positions serving as role models for younger attorneys.
The 2020–2021 Executive Committee and NAELA’s first all-female Executive Committee. From left: Donna J. Jackson, Esq., Treasurer; Bridget O'Brien Swartz, CELA, Secretary; Letha Sgritta McDowell, CELA, CAP, President-Elect; Jennifer L. VanderVeen, CELA, CAP, Fellow, Immediate Past President; Wendy Shparago Cappelletto, Esq., CAP, President; and Professor Roberta K. Flowers, Vice President.
This was a bit startling to me since, as an elder law attorney, I have always been blessed to have female mentors and leadership examples. When I started out in practice as a young tax and estate planning attorney in Indianapolis, the sole female partner in my firm was semi-retired. Although there were a handful of senior associates who were women, I didn’t really have anyone to look to as a model for my career. Then, I became an elder law attorney and joined NAELA. I found strong women in positions of leadership at both the local and national level who were not only willing to be mentors, but to support and encourage.
One of the reasons that I am proud to be a NAELA member and part of NAELA leadership is the strong female influence on the organization. Urban legend has it that (although I’m told she’ll deny it) the term “elder law” was coined by one of our founding members, Myra Gilfix. While our country hasn’t managed a female president in the past 244 years, NAELA did it in year 6, when Cynthia Barrett, CELA, Fellow, became President of the Academy. Since that time nine women have served as Presidents of the Academy (for a complete list of NAELA Past Presidents, visit www.NAELA.org/PastPresidents).
I personally have served as a board member under two female presidents, Shirley Whitenack, Esq., CAP, Fellow, and Catherine Seal, CELA, CAP, Fellow (NAELA’s first back-to-back women presidents), both of whom have had a substantial influence on my leadership.
This June, I have the honor of turning the gavel over to my dear friend Wendy Cappelletto. In addition, she and I are part of NAELA’s first ever all-female executive committee and a board that is majority female.
Maybe it’s because our more “person-centric” practice area attracts women, or maybe it’s because the organization was founded at a time when there were more female lawyers in practice, but it’s just another area where NAELA has been at the forefront and continues to lead the way. I encourage all of my fellow NAELA women to continue the tradition of support and mentorship and encourage the young women in your practice or in your local bar to join NAELA and become a part of a wonderful tradition.
This column was written just days before the first stay-at-home orders started affecting our country, our practices, and our family. My hope is that, by the time you read this, we will have started our journey back to finding a new normal. One thing that this crisis has proven to me is that we truly are a NAELA family. We have come together via email, conference call, and video chat to share ideas, commiserate, and figure out a path forward.
Our amazing staff have jumped into action to make sure that our members get the vital information needed to sustain our practices and keep our organization moving forward. Although we won’t be gathering in person for our annual meeting in Seattle, I hope that each and every one of you takes some time to reach out and connect to a fellow NAELA member in the days and weeks to come. It is our spirit and our sense of community that will bring NAELA out of these difficult times and make us a stronger organization.