A Chapter of the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY)

Interview of the Month

An Interview with Susan Edwards Colson

Susan L. Pollet
Chair of the Archive and Historian Committee

Q: As the immediate Past President of the WWBA, as you look back on your year as President, whatwere the most significant accomplishments?
I am proud of many moments I shared with officers, board members and members of the WWBA.  After all, WWBA is at its essence a membership organization and all accomplishments, significant or not, are the result of many, many individual efforts.  But if I had to choose one or two I would start with WWBA receiving the Pace Women’s Justice Center’s Making a Difference Award last October.  It was humbling to realize the vision, and the countless hours, that WWBA members and volunteers worked toward PWJC’s mission.  This was truly women helping women.  I am also proud that the Westchester Chapter nominated so many members for local, statewide, and national awards.  My thanks to our award committee chairs, Elizabeth Barnhard and Kim Berg, for collecting so many letters and meeting so many deadlines to get our members the recognition they so deeply deserve.
On a more mundane, but important, level there was the bylaw revision and the addition of the one-email-per-week plan with the Weekly Update each Friday.


Q:  What were the biggest challenges?
Engaging hundreds of members and dozens of committees is not easy.  In the end, each member has his or her own reasons for joining, volunteering and serving.  Reaching out to each of them in a meaningful way was a lofty goal and ongoing challenge.  Also, working effectively with other chapters and WBASNY is a worthy, but challenging goal.  There are a lot of moving parts to WBASNY.    


Q:  Which efforts would you like to see continued in the coming years?
WWBA is a valuable network.  Anything that will enhance our network and networking experience must continue, particularly as it involves having WWBA work with other community organizations.  I’m really happy to see social media becoming a priority, too.
Past president, Linda Markowitz stepped forward last fall and volunteered to participate in WBASNY’s long-term planning. This type of planning is so important when the roster of officers changes each year and with WBASNY’s limited staff. 


Q:  Please tell us about your career, and how it has developed over time?
Like many women, my career has not followed a straight line.  I clerked for the ACLU full time after my first year of law school, and went to night school.  After I graduated, I moved to a different part of Ohio and spent several years with a rural legal services program.  During that time, a close friend (and the only other person from my law school in the area) had a severe brain injury-he never recovered-from an altercation with a sheriff deputy while assisting with a migrant worker rights program.  This was devastating and it still impacts how I think about misuse of power and resistance to social change.
In 1986, I moved to Washington, D.C., then in 1990, to Buffalo, New York.  I arrived in Westchester in 2000 and the WWBA helped me get established locally.  I will be forever grateful.


Q:  What would you like to accomplish in your career going forward?
I’ve spent a lot of time working and volunteering in the nonprofit world. There are so many organizations with wonderful missions that are underfunded, often with heavy demands for their services.  I really like to bolster nonprofits with clear goals, good governance and resource development so they can accomplish their mission more fully.
I’ve been so happy in the last few years with my own practice!  In a Trusts and Estates/Charitable Giving practice, I’ve had lots of opportunities to help individuals and families shape important decisions.  As I’ve said, perhaps too directly, to many clients:  the story will go on without you at some point, what do you want that story to be? 


Q:  What advice do you have for new women lawyers entering the profession?
Even if you have to make temporary sacrifices, which you will, stay true to yourself.  Stay in touch with who you are, what you like, and what you are good at.  Don’t let others discourage you or set your agenda.


Q:  What are your personal hobbies and activities?
I’m sort of a self-improvement junkie.  Just recently, I said to my husband “Maybe we should eliminate glu...”  Before I could finish, he replied, “Oh. No. We’re not going to improve ourselves anymore, in any way.  We’re not going to eat paleo, sign up for a Tough Mudder, or run (another!) marathon.  We’re just going to be who we are.  That’s it.” 


Q:  How have you balanced work and family over the years?
Sometimes very well, by organizing things and never getting too close to deadlines. Many times: badly.  Balance is not, by definition, static.
Like all women, I’ve taken on more than I could accomplish, often with a plan and the best of intentions. Then, things unfolded in chaos. I’m actually pretty good at sorting out chaos now, I’ve lived through it so many times.  Plus, each of my children have great stories and can do a mean impression of me running up the stairs, waiving my arms yelling “Everybody just try to stay alive.  Find some food.  Look through the laundry. There must be something you can wear.” 

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