In celebration of Women's History Month, Chartwell Law’s women attorneys share their views on the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their personal and professional lives. This week, Brittany Atkinson, Jennifer Brennan, Kimberly Costello, Caitlin Sullivan, and Kimberly Zabroski tell us about the women in law who inspired them.
Brittany Atkinson (Moorestown, NJ): Succeeding in a male dominated industry is difficult enough. Adding a house, young kids and a spouse to the mix makes it even more challenging. Women are constantly pulled in so many different directions. So, when I think of one particular lawyer that has truly made a difference in my life and the others around her, I immediately think of my mentor and partner, Abbey Lacheen. I remember walking into her office for the first time. The first thing I noticed was a picture of her two young daughters. She was always the first to say that family is first. I went on to have two children of my own. I was worried that I would have to sacrifice one or the other – be there for my kids or be a successful lawyer at my firm. Abbey showed me that you can do both – and be really good at both. I watched her climb the ranks and become one of the most successful women at Chartwell while still making it to soccer games, cheer competitions and ski trips with her kids. Luckily, I get to work with a lot of women who are able to do both. My mother always said – we can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan.
Kimberly Costello (Valley Forge, PA): If I am being completely honest, my first introduction to “women in law” just so happened to be a blockbuster hit in 2001 when I was a thirteen-year-old girl. The movie – Legally Blonde. The woman - Elle Woods. While this may sound crazy to many, as a thirteen-year-old 7th grader, who just so happened to be blonde, I recognized certain qualities in Elle Woods that aligned with mine. And it was not just our mutual love for pink, fuzzy tipped pens, and small dogs. It was her “I can do anything” attitude and her “why not” spirit that really resonated with me as I tried to figure out what exactly I wanted to be when I grew up. It was this same “I can do anything” attitude that inspired me to go for it. Although I would love to credit all my inspiration to this fictional character, I would be lying. Once I realized I wanted to pursue a career in law I learned that there were so many women who had blazed a trail for the rest of us. Although I was inspired by the many legendary women in the legal profession who were instrumental in shaping what the practice for women looks like today, I must say that my female colleagues from law school and my current practice have and continue to inspire me daily.
Jennifer Brennan (Moorestown, NJ): Sandra Day O’Connor, who was the first woman to become a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States was an inspiration to me. As a young girl who always wanted to become a lawyer, seeing that there was a woman who had achieved such a high and respected position within the profession was inspirational. It showed me that the sky was truly the limit for women lawyers and paved the way for more women to become future Justices.
Caitlin Sullivan (Valley Forge, PA): Growing up the youngest of three girls, I was fortunate enough to always be surrounded by strong women. But by far, the one person who was instrumental in my career path to becoming an attorney is also the same person who drove me to soccer practice, cooked my favorite meals, and read me countless Berenstain Bear books – my Mom. My Mom graduated from Villanova Law School, Class of 1983, with my Dad and my five-year-old sister in attendance, proudly sharing in her achievement. My other sister was also in attendance – but she wouldn’t physically arrive on the scene until after the Bar Exam that summer. My Mom began her law school career at time when very few women were being accepted into law schools. Despite much criticism from family and friends, including male classmates, my Mom managed to graduate cum laude from Villanova and successfully practiced law as an estate and trust litigator for over thirty-five years. Her perseverance, dedication to her clients, and ability to manage both work and family inspired me to pursue a career in law. With her example, and her steadfast encouragement and support, I knew I could also have a career in the law and still have a family.
Kimberly Zabroski (Pittsburgh, PA): There have been many women, both colleagues and judges, who have pushed me to be my best self during my legal career. As a young lawyer, however, one woman who always stood out and truly inspired me was Kim Berkely Clark. Today, Kim Berkley Clark is the President Judge of the 5th Judicial District in Pennsylvania and hears cases in the Family Division. When I first met and watched Kim Berkely Clark in the courtroom, however, I was fresh out of law school, working for one of the toughest, no-nonsense Judges in the criminal division of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. Kim Berkley Clark was one of the few female prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office. She prosecuted some of the toughest, most heartbreaking, and depressing cases – everything from murder to child abuse – crimes with victims who had experienced some of the worst things that life can offer. Yet, Kim Berkley Clark handled every case with humility and grace. She had a huge presence in the courtroom. She was tough, but fair. She was a great communicator, and was so smart and well-respected, that she immediately became someone I wanted to emulate in my own career. I was lucky enough to watch her first-hand for three years. Thirty years later, I still remember watching her take command over the courtroom, while hoping that I, too, might become equally accomplished someday.