President's Message - Summer 2017
by Lisa Denig, Esq.
With the Annual Dinner just a few weeks behind us, I am anxious to keep the inspiration and good spirits of that night alive as we move through the summer months. As such, I am reprinting my speech here and I hope you will enjoy it as much the second time around!
Good Evening and welcome.
I want to thank Carol Robles Roman for her inspiring words. When I heard the news about Judge Abdus-Salaam’s tragic passing, I simply couldn’t envision anyone who could fill her spot but you have done so and with passion and energy that has inspired us all.
And better than that, I get to build on those inspirational words in my own remarks. Because I am here tonight to move you one step further. Not just to consider the importance of women’s bar associations or women’s groups in the abstract but to highlight the immense importance of our own Westchester Women’s Bar Association. Now if you’re a long time member of this group, I don’t have to tell you how important it is.
But we cannot deny that we’ve recently seen a drop off in membership in the WWBA and in women’s bar associations statewide. Why is this? Why now, when we are most under attack do people find it less important to be a member? I would argue to you that they don’t see the value of belonging to a group such as this.
So how do we make them see the value of this group? When I worked in politics, and especially on campaigns, we always struggled with this same question—how do we reach people who are busy working and raising families and basically just living and get them interested in what we needed them to be interested in? It always came down to one single thing—make it personal.
So that’s what I’m going to do tonight. I’m going to tell you about my very personal connection to the Westchester Women’s Bar Association and why it’s so important to me. So basically the WWBA is responsible for my entire legal career. No really. And some of you have heard this story but I’m going to tell it again.
So in 2008, when I was a Pace Law Student, I was honored to be the recipient of the Justice Sandra Miller Scholarship given out by the WWBA Foundation every year. We present this award at this dinner every year but we are also invited to present it at the Westchester Women’s Hall of Fame luncheon, a huge affair that draws roughly 500 people and various organizations. So in 2008, I was invited the Women’s Hall of Fame Luncheon, where I was presented with the award and had to give a short thank you speech. Unaware that I had to make remarks, I got to the podium and I told a quick story, as is my way. And the story that I told, which was completely true, was about how encouraging it was to receive the WWBA scholarship because, not long before that, I had a very discouraging experience at the NYU legal job fair. So let me set the scene, I was working fulltime as Chief of Staff to the Putnam County Executive and going to law school at night and raising two teenage girls all by myself. But I take the day off work and I trot down to NYU with my little briefcase full of resumes and my first stop is the Attorney General’s table. And I sit down and hand my crisp newly printed resume over to the woman across the table who takes one look at it and throws it back at me and says, “I would never hire you.” I was stunned. Here I was at the top of my law school class, law review case note editor, chief of staff running an entire county. So I slid my resume back across the table and said, “I think if you take a closer look you’ll see I have some very impressive qualifications.” And she shot back, “You don’t understand, kids coming out of law school today have internships and externships and hours and hours of practical experience. You have none of that. You’re too far behind.”
So I gathered up my papers and tucked them back in my little briefcase and went out on the sidewalk and bawled my eyes out. And after a few minutes, I pulled myself together, took a deep breath and said to myself, “When I’m elected Attorney General, I’m gonna fire that woman.”
Now remember, I’m telling this story to a room full of 500 people at the Women’s Hall of Fame luncheon. And I got a hearty laugh and a big round of applause and I exited the stage, grabbed my swag bag and headed back to my office in Putnam County—because it’s a weekday and I have to get back to work.
I’m not in my office five minutes when my assistant yells in that the Attorney General’s office is on the phone for me. The Attorney General? What business is Putnam County doing with the Attorney General? Oh, well, I take the call and the man on the other end says, “Lisa I hear you’re going to run against us.” Oh no! My big mouth! But he was so lovely and sympathetic, as someone who had also gone to law school at night, and we had a nice chat that ended in him telling me that when I graduated, I had a job at the Attorney General’s office. I thanked him profusely and before we got off the phone, I said, “Were you at that luncheon?” And he quickly responded, “No but a very good friend of mine was and she immediately called me and said that this very professional and articulate woman was going around saying that our office wouldn’t hire her. And she told me that if I didn’t hire you, she would.” I said, “Really, who was that?” And he said, “[Then] Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore.”
Well, then DA and now Chief Judge DiFiore did keep her promise and when I finished my clerkship with the Judge, she did hire me and I’ve been happily working at the DA’s office ever since. All because of a scholarship awarded to me by the WWBA Foundation. So see, the WWBA is entirely responsible for my whole career.
Ok, maybe that’s overstating it a bit, maybe I had something to do with it. And maybe your connection to the Women’s Bar is not quite so dramatic. But I bet as I told my story here tonight that you were thinking about your WWBA story. Perhaps you met your future firm partner here. Perhaps you retained your most important client from a referral by another WWBA member. Perhaps you attended a CLE that sparked your interest in a whole new area of law. Perhaps you made a difference in someone’s life through this group. Perhaps you simply found your best friend here. Whatever it is, I know that have a personal connection to this group, your own story. And what I want you to do is to get out there and share it. I want you to tell someone how important this group has been to you, how it has touched your life in a very real and important way. And encourage them to find that same personal connection here as well.
I can’t do this alone. Mine is only one story. But all our stories together can impact this group, and in turn, this group can impact this county, this state, even this nation, in a way we’ve never seen before. So I need you guys to be “all in” with me this year. And I’ve got one more quick story to illustrate the kind of support and dedication that I desperately need from you. And it involves my husband Jim.
So you can imagine how “all in” you have to be in order to be married to me. Last year, right about this time, my beloved Penguins were making their run for the Stanley Cup, and they were playing game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Jim and I were home in Carmel, Putnam County, both of us in our jammies, he was wearing his giant slippers that looked like big bear claws, and I had on my Eyeore robe complete with detachable tail, snuggled in watching the game. The Pens were up 2-1 late in the second period when the electricity went out. Ok, I wasn’t going to panic, we waited a few minutes with our cell phone flashlights on, it was about 10 o’clock, but clearly the electricity wasn’t coming back. So we started calling the local bars in the area to see if they had generators and if so, were they showing the Penguin game. No luck. I would later find out that a transformer had blown and all of northern Westchester and Putnam County was in the dark.
So now I’m frantic because I have to see if my team is going to the Stanley Cup finals! So my husband Jim says, “You know, there’s always Buffalo Wild Wings.” Now Buffalo Wild Wings is in Danbury, a good half hour away. We’re in our jammies, it’s after 10 PM, I have to get up at 4:30 AM to teach spin the next morning but this is important. So I call Buffalo Wild Wings….yes, they have electricity and of course they are showing the Penguin game. And as I hang up, I think to myself, how am I going to ask this man to get dressed, drive a half hour to a bar at 10 PM on a Thursday night just so we can see the last six minutes of the game. How am I going to do this? And as I turn around…there’s Jim, fully dressed, sitting on the bed, lacing up his sneakers. He knew we were going and he was all in! That’s what I need from you.
So as I look forward to my year as president, to all the hard work we have ahead of us and all the issues we have to tackle, I know that I can’t do this alone. So I say to you all tonight—my amazing executive officers, my hard-working executive board, to all my committee chairs and to all you members out there who tirelessly promote the WWBA, I say: Lace up your sneakers, here we go.