By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
One of the most important lessons for younger lawyers to understand these days is the impact of globalization. The need to develop a global consciousness and comfort in working with clients around the world is growing, and growing quickly – according to Katie Larkin-Wong, an Associate at Latham & Watkins, LLP and President of Ms. JD, a national non-profit comprised of female law students and younger associates.
Larkin-Wong continued, “Any top lawyer talks about how globalization affects what we do. This is a client-driven profession, and there are too many opportunities in other nations. Our generation does not have the option of not being global.”
Helping to develop that global consciousness is one reason the group created its Global Education Fund, which enables young women in Uganda to attend law school at Makerere University. The other reason, Larkin-Wong explained, is to help these women achieve their dreams and inspire their communities.
The program has also helped Ms. JD’s members in their own professional development. Here’s how.
Recently Ms. JD held a fundraiser for the GEF in San Francisco, raising over $13,000. The amount was enough to send six Ugandan women to law school this fall. The Carnegie Foundation will match that amount to send another six women, as well. Initiated by Elizabeth Pederson (Founder and Inaugural President of Ms. JD and Board Emeritae), the program is now in its third year.
Larkin-Wong explained that being members of Ms. JD, and in particular, working on the GEF fundraiser, has helped her and her peers develop their own careers while doing good.
She explained, “I think there are a number of things we have benefited from, but the first would be networking. We bring together women who might not meet otherwise. The GEF Host Committee was made up of attorneys who have a connection to Ms. JD, students from all of the San Francisco law schools, and our Ms. JD Fellows. It was a fantastic opportunity for everyone to meet and network.”
Second, she said, working on a project like this enables junior women to exercise leadership abilities they may not yet be using at work. “I think it’s a great opportunity for women to stretch themselves and learn leadership skills you might not get until later in your career,” she explained. The women working on the project did everything from negotiating with vendors, to supervising volunteers, to leading PR efforts. “You don’t usually get to take the lead as a young lawyer, so I think creating those opportunities to stretch those skills is valuable.”
She added, “There are a lot of things law school can’t teach you a lot about the business of law – like networking, communication, self-promotion. All of these topics can be very scary for students and young lawyers, but being forced to think about professional development as part of my role with Ms. JD has been helped me identify my own areas for growth.”
Finally, Larkin-Wong said, developing a greater sense of social consciousness is just as rewarding as the professional factors. “It’s the sense that you’re serving something bigger than yourself,” she explained. “The only thing we ask of anyone we support through Ms. JD is that they pay it forward – to help another female lawyer or mentor a high school student.”
She continued, “The GEF Scholars in Uganda are an incredible example of this commitment to Ms. JD. They are so committed. They realize they are in a special position to help inspire others in their community. The odds they’ve come up against are immense. They’ve shared stories of scrounging money to attend secondary school, and for each of them, college was not an option without the financial support of Ms. JD.”
Larkin-Wong said it was hard to put into words what she has learned from the GEF Scholars, but she feels it is their strength of purpose. “There’s no comparison between the challenges they face and the challenges we face. Their commitment to making their nation better and serving their community and other girls was awe-inspiring.”
Particularly inspiring, she said, was the women’s excitement at recent elections that placed women in prominent positions. “They were so excited to see barriers being broken. You could tell it made the possibilities real for them.”
“They are absolutely incredible women – I’m excited to see where they go from here.”