Women in Law build community, pool resources to create new student opportunities

By: Carey Hoffman

When Melany Newby earned her JD from the UC College of Law as a member of the Class of 1974, she was one of just 15 women among 110 graduates. The year prior, the percentage had been even lower.

Not many women saw a career in the law as an attractive – or perhaps even particularly viable – option at the time. It was a male-dominated field.

More than four decades later, that has changed markedly. Enrollment at UC Law is now majority female. What is happening in the present along gender lines is more equitable and representative of society as a whole. And Newby is part of the leadership of an initiative to make sure that the legacy of past women graduates continues to be felt today as the college continues to evolve.

photo of Melany Newby

Melany Newby

Women in Law is a new philanthropic alumnae group launched in early 2020. Newby and Judy Pershern, JD ’84, are co-chairing the group, which seeks to show the benefit that can come when fairly modest individual amounts of money are pooled collectively with the backing of benefactors who embrace an active role in seeing that the most good comes from their philanthropy.

“The stated mission of Women in Law is that we want to help others get involved in a way that is providing a benefit to UC Law students and projects in the college that might otherwise be out of reach,” says Newby, who understands the realities of college environments better than most. She served as UC’s first legal counsel from 1978 through 1989, then moved to the University of Wisconsin as the vice chancellor for legal and executive affairs through 2006.

“I feel really strongly about this UC Women in Law program,” adds Pershern. “It’s because we as women can make such a difference, and sometimes I think individually we don’t think we can. But collectively we’ll make a big difference.”

The future of giving

photo of Judy Pershern

Judy Pershern

Giving circles have become a popular and effective new wave in encouraging participatory philanthropy, and Women in Law is a version of that format specifically tailored to the UC Law community. Those involved don’t just send in a check and have that be the end of the story. They work together to decide what causes they want to support with their giving, and then what would ordinarily be a small gift individually gains the power of a collective gift, magnifying the overall impact.

College of Law alumnae who participate in Women in Law are asked to make a gift of $1,000, with lower amounts from UC Law graduates who are less than 10 years out of school, involved in non-profit work or are current students. The goal is to grow the group’s roster to 100 women, for an annual pool of $100,000 to fund proposals that will make a difference in the community or be a transformative learning experience for UC Law students.

I feel really strongly about this UC Women in Law program. It’s because we as women can make such a difference.

Judy Pershern

“It’s important for students to see women alums coming together to fund the projects that are important to them,” says UC Law Dean Verna Williams. “When you support Women in Law, you are supporting students who want to go out and change the world. You’re giving them the tools to work in public interest organizations.”

In just its first year and battling the hurdles created by the COVID precautions, Women in Law still managed to raise $48,347. Alumnae who answered the initial call to become involved span all the way from the UC Law Class of 1968 up to the Class of 2016.

Not bad for an effort that didn’t have the kickoff meeting for its steering committee until Feb. 26, less than three weeks before COVID-19 was declared a national emergency.

By the end of summer, more than 40 alumnae had committed to participating in the project. The effort succeeded even though another hurdle kept the effort from being fully realized.

“We also had planned that this would have an event tied to it, kind of a social aspect, where we would gather and finalists for receiving grants would make their presentations to the group,” says Newby. “Presentations are made and then our members vote in support of projects they feel most strongly about.”

As it worked out, once the Women in Law screening committee looked at all initial proposals to make sure they fit within the group’s criteria, four funding requests remained. Presentations were made to members virtually, and all four projects were funded.

They include:

  • Twenty new full-time summer positions for law students in public interest/nonprofit placements and the First District Court of Appeals in Ohio, plus a year-long fellowship at the Hamilton County Municipal Court Help Center.
  • Equipment that allows students to compete in virtual remote competitions as well as related team registrations fees. 
  • A mentoring program connecting the UC chapter of Black Law Students Association with Hughes High School (Cincinnati Public Schools) students.
  • Two outreach programs created by the Latino/a Law Student Association benefiting the Latinx community, as well as the Ohio Innocence Project at Cincinnati Law and the Hamilton County Municipal Court Help Center.

Program Impact

The impact of these projects will not only be realized by outside agencies, but by UC Law students who will participate in these opportunities, says Jim Tomaszewski, assistant director in the college’s Center for Professional Development.

A good example are the students who will be working with the First District Court of Appeals. “That proposal was a Justice Diversity partnership for 1Ls as a way to help them bridge challenges they often face,” Tomaszewski says. “That will fund three students who will work all summer with the judges from the Court of Appeals, and they are really going to see how those systems work. They will have taken Civil Procedure during their first year and they’ll have a lot of light bulbs going off. They know those rules, but now they’ll see them referenced in a decision, and it gives it a new, stronger context they can draw on for the rest of law school.”

Another funded initiative has already helped indirectly with a big payoff both for a UC Law student and the college’s reputation at-large.

The request to upgrade equipment the college uses for virtual remote competitions became more relevant than ever this year. The impact was felt with UC’s student team that took part in the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot competition, a premier event in the world of moot competitions that draws entries from hundreds of law schools around the globe. Normally held in person in the venues of Vienna and Hong Kong, the competition shifted to a virtual format this year because of the pandemic.

When you support Women in Law, you are supporting students who want to go out and change the world.

Verna Williams, Dean and Nippert Professor of Law

UC put together a strong team for the Hong Kong competition this winter and was rewarded by not only reaching the championship round – a first for UC Law in its five-year history in Vis competition – but also seeing 3L student Greg Magarian win the competition’s award for Best Oralist.

That’s the kind of impact the organizers for Women in Law had in mind when they launched their new endeavor. Now the intent is to continue to grow their group and create for UC Law a resource that makes things happen within the college, while also helping nurture that bond between alumnae and their alma mater.

“There are just all kinds of things at the law school that I don’t think we know about,” Newby says. “I’m hopeful that what we’ll find is that a lot of the women who start out giving $1,000 find a niche at the law school that they find they would like to support in other ways, as well.”

Women in Law Inaugural Members

Kamiikia K. Alexander ‘12                    Sandra Ammann ‘68

Tammy R. Bennett ‘01                          Maureen Bickley

Paula Y. Boggs Muething ‘03               Janetta Brewer ‘06

Jennifer Buse ‘92                                  Doreen Canton ‘88

Candace Caplinger ‘81                         Fay D. Dupuis ‘69

Ruth Edwards ‘74                                 Diane Fellman ‘75

Carol S. Friel ‘79                                   Jennifer Fuller ‘06

Angela M. Gates ‘03                             Anne Gerhart ‘72

Lauren Gray                                         Elizabeth Gutmann ‘84

Claire G. Hodapp ‘12                           Kathryn A. Hollister ‘84

Nancy K. Johnson '78                           Lisa Kathumbi ‘06

Catherine I. Kelaghan ‘90                    Katherine Keller ‘73

Lori E. Krafte ‘06                                  Paula D. Lampley ‘92

Doloris Learmonth ‘78                       Magistrate Karen Litkovitz ‘84

Judge Beth A. Myers ‘82                      Judy Pershern ‘84

Eileen C. Reed ‘84                               Melany Stinson Newby ‘74

Lynn M. Schulte ‘06                            Marianne Scott Emmert ‘84

Beth I. Silverman ‘84                          Mary M. Sullivan ‘04

Candi Taggart ‘78                               Candice Thomas ‘15

Judge Ann Marie Tracey ‘75               Kelley B. Tracy ‘09

Elizabeth Tuck ‘03                               Tracy T. Ward ‘99

Mona Warwar ‘84                               Beth Wayne ‘89

Tiffany Williams ‘07                            Andrea Yang ‘07

Judge Marilyn Zayas ‘97                    Rebecca A. Zemmelman ‘16