On August 1, Leslie Richards-Yellen ’84 assumed the presidency of the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL). She is the eighty-ninth president of the organization, which has worked to advance women in the legal profession and advocate for women under the law since 1899. Of her new role, Richards-Yellen says, “It means that I have to try every day to be worthy of the trust placed in me by advancing the goals of this tremendous organization.”
Richards-Yellen is a public finance attorney with over thirty years of experience as an in-house counsel and in private practice. She is a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, where she currently practices in the area of public finance and also serves as the firm’s chief diversity and inclusion officer and chair of its Diversity Committee. She also serves as chair of the Diversity Committee of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism and sits on the boards of the Chicago Committee on Minorities in Large Law Firms, the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation, and the Advisory Board of the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession. She has been a member of NAWL since 2008, previously serving as co-chair of the Program Committee and vice president.
For the past year, in her role as president elect, Richards-Yellen has worked with past presidents and the board to develop and implement a bold strategic plan that focuses on providing developmental programming that helps women progress in their careers. The plan includes using the NAWL Survey, a highly regarded research publication, to measure women’s progress in the legal profession; collaborating with like-minded groups; and advocating for women in the field.
“It has been meaningful to further develop NAWL's outreach to minority and LBTQI women lawyers,” Richards-Yellen says. “As NAWL is the national women's bar association, it is important to ensure that we truly represent, and are the voice of, all women in the legal profession. I want to make sure that when gender equality becomes a reality, no group is left behind.”
Richards-Yellen notes that NAWL presents its annual Ashley Dickerson Award to a lawyer who has promoted and advanced diversity in the legal profession. The 2016 recipient was Cornell’s own Sheri Lynn Johnson, James and Mark Flanagan Professor of Law, in recognition of her thirty-plus year commitment to mentoring and advocating for minority and women students at the Law School. “I was the first beneficiary of Professor Johnson's commitment to mentor diverse law students,” Richards-Yellen says. “I have rarely met a diverse Cornell law graduate who didn't mention Professor Johnson as having a huge influence on their success.”
As for her goals and hopes for her one-year term as NAWL’s president, Richards-Yellen says, “I hope that we get closer to meeting NAWL’s One-Third by 2020 Challenge. The challenge seeks to increase the number of women in leadership positions in the legal profession. I hope that we can continue to pick up momentum to ensure that the era of gender equality is close at hand. A key goal is to strengthen the bonds between all women and organizations that seek gender equality.”
She adds, “It would be wonderful if more individuals and organizations joined our ranks. NAWL can help strengthen your diversity and inclusion and professional development efforts. NAWL welcomes men as well as women to our organization. Our conferences rock! Please visit www.nawl.org.”