By Sophie Jeewon Choi C’13
Abbe F. Fletman L’88 delivered a keynote speech Feb. 16 to an audience of students, professors, alumni and attorneys gathered in Penn Law’s Levy Conference Center for the 5th Annual Penn Law Women’s Association (PLWA) Dinner. The annual event convenes scholars, practitioners, students, and others to celebrate and support women in the legal profession.
Fletman, an author and litigator at Flaster/Greenberg PC, began her speech titled, “A Charmed Life,” by reminding everyone of the reality of the still meager percentage of women in the legal profession and government. “I wish I could at least tell you that 50 percent of our judges were women,” she said. She noted the lack of women representatives for Pennsylvania in the federal government, pointing out that the state has yet to elect a female senator and that only one congresswoman currently represents the state. Fletman, quipping that she had “made everyone depressed,” then changed the mood of the speech with a humble narration of her successful life.
Fletman described her childhood in Philadelphia and her early awareness of the social changes in regards to women’s rights, explaining her decision to change her career from journalism to law, expressing her desire to actively participate in the community rather than simply observe it. She also shared her experiences at Penn Law, highlighting her internship with Judge Norma Shapiro, who was present at the dinner. After outlining her successful legal career at Pepper Hamilton, Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg, WolfBlock, and Flaster/Greenberg PC, Fletman listed her “Top 10 Skills That Women Lawyers and Litigators Need to Cultivate to Be Successful.”
Fletman first advised the women in the room to take risks. Referencing her own experiences as well as the movie Indiana Jones, she encouraged female lawyers to take “the walk of faith” even when a leap of faith seems impossible. Second, she advised, “You have to sow the seeds to be lucky.” She shared her experiences of fortunate opportunities as well as her connections that led to them, transitioning into her third piece of advice, “Tend your relationships.” Honoring Judge Shapiro as her mentor, she emphasized the importance of actively maintaining and creating relationships with mentors and clients, as well as peers and family.
Acknowledging the possible discomfort many may feel networking, she revealed her next skill: “Don’t be afraid to self-promote.” She also added a useful tip for those who still feel uncomfortable, to find a trustworthy partner and promote each other.
Fletman pointed out the ample opportunities and experiences available outside of the law firm office, encouraging the future lawyers to explore. She further advised students, “Take ownership of your own matters,” highlighting the value of a lawyer that actively contributes her ideas to the team.
Stressing the importance of teamwork, she further advised, “Give credit to others,” reasoning that it is not only ethical but also beneficial for the team’s achievement in the future. She then advised, “Admit you’re wrong,” stressing the importance of learning from mistakes. Next, she said, “Find the support of your life partner.” She expressed gratitude to her supportive partner and underlined the importance of spending time with family.
The last item on her top 10 list was, “You are the captain of your own ship,” and she concluded her speech by noting to the women in the room, “It’s your career. You are the most important judge of if you got the most out of it.”
The keynote began with Dean of Students Gary Clinton’s introduction, who lauded the progress of women in the legal profession. “I’d like to raise a toast to the women pioneers in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and now,” he said, “to all the women of Penn Law School, who are all pioneers.” He began his introduction of Fletman by reading an excerpt from her Penn Law School application essay in 1985, giving everyone a glimpse of Fletman’s strong values. Summarizing her academic journey and career achievements, Dean Clinton reminded the students of Penn Law, “You are where the talent lies.”
Humira Noorestani L’11 commented that the event was a great opportunity to network and meet accomplished women, adding, “I’ve known many of the students here, but never had a chance to have these conversations.” Christopher Schmitt L’11, one of the few male students present, remarked that the dinner was a great learning experience. Expressing his support and interest for the cause, he added, “You can learn a lot. I think more guys should be here!”
Alumni and firm representatives also commended the event. Yvonne Haddad L’86 said, “It’s about time for events like this. There’s enough of us [alumnae] to be of great networking resource.” William Skinner L’86, a member of Flaster/Greenberg’s executive committee, also attended the dinner to show his support for Fletman and the cause. He said, “We support women’s achievement in the profession and we’re glad to be a part of this.”