Suffolk County's Women's Bar - 30 Years In The Making
By Dana Klosner | Source: www.smithtownmatters.com
In March the Suffolk County Women’s Bar Association(SCWBA) celebrated its 30th year.
The world was a much different place for female lawyers thirty years ago than it is today, said Valerie Manzo, Esq. the organization’s founding president and Smithtown resident. “There were no women judges in Suffolk County at that time.”
The group was formed by twenty female attorneys who started out just having lunches together.
“Some of us were inside the DA’s office, some were private practice attorneys,” said Manzo. “We would have lunch, share information and mentor each other. We started to notice we were not being recognized on the pipeline for higher positions and judicial positions.”
Manzo said they asked the Big Bar – the co-ed Bar- for representation on a committee that evaluates potential candidates. It was denied at that time without a reason being given.
“Generally speaking we were told that we didn’t have enough experience and that we weren’t practicing long enough,” Manzo said. “We came up with a list of how long each person had been practicing.”
The group met for lunches in 1982 and 1983 then officially began the Suffolk County Women’s Bar Association in 1984.
“We were sworn in by Justice Marie Santagkta,” Manzo said. “She had to come in from Nassau County to swear us in because there wasn’t a single woman on the bench in Suffolk County. She installed all the officers.”
There was already a group called the Nassau/Suffolk Women’s Bar Association but the meetings for Suffolk County lawyers were a logistical nightmare, Manzo said.
The organization is still affiliated with the Nassau/Suffolk Women’s Bar Association and is one of 18 chapters of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York - WBASNY
“Our organization meets the needs of women lawyers,” Manzo continued.
Now there are plenty of women on the bench, Manzo said.
“In 1982 the Hon. Mary Werner – who was a wonderful judge and a Senior Assistant District Attorney would say she could count all the women who had been in the DA’s office on two hands,” Manzo said. “Quite a difference from today.”
“We got to know each other’s practices,” Manzo continued. “When a member of our organization – male or female – [because there are male members] would run for a judiciary position many of us would be on a committee. We would work on campaigns and cross party lines. We would help each other out. Now it’s not uncommon for a woman to be in a judicial position. People don’t think twice whether it’s a man or woman running. “
But the work is not over.
“There are still a lot of glass ceilings left,” Manzo said. “We need to make inroads. We’re not represented on corporate boards as much as our numbers would indicate. [About] 83% of Congress is male. Some say our numbers are dropping and we need to wake up. We’ve become complacent. We should be leaders. Fifty percent of the population is female and we are not in leadership roles. This is a national treasure we are not utilizing. We are competing on a global scale for everything. Why not use all of your population when it comes to leadership roles.”
“The goal of the organization as a whole is to promote the advancement of women in the legal profession and improve the status of women in society,” said the organization’s current president Tara Scully. “The SCWBA has impact on the local level, but, what many don’t realize is that the organization has significance statewide, nationally, and internationally as well. Locally we do things like provide free mammograms to the community by bringing in mammogram vans twice a year, we take collections for service members on active duty, we collect clothing for domestic violence victims reentering the workforce, assist the Cohalan Child Care Center in fundraising, food and book donation collections. As a statewide voice, the organization is regularly asked to comment on legislation impacting the profession and/or women. Internationally, the WBASNY has a special consultative status to the United Nations.”
On a personal level, Scully said the group has provided her with a professional home. A group of women, of broad and diverse backgrounds that are accessible to her at any given time for any reason.
Later this month the group will install its new officers with Lisa S. Fine taking over as president.