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New GRAWA committee holds inaugural event

Panelists Justice Evelyn Frazee, Debra Martin, Amy Coté and Lovely Warren each provided a summary of their legal career experience.

In the current job market, it isn’t just new law graduates who can use career advice — women in all stages of their legal careers appreciate a network of colleagues who might help them find a position that fits or help them through a career transition. With that in mind, the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys has combined two committees to specifically focus on making connections.

The former Mentoring and Attorneys in Transition committees have recognized the similarity in their goals and combined energy into the newly formed Women’s Connections Committee, which hosted a panel discussion/networking dinner Feb. 16.

The panel of speakers included Lovely Warren, lead counsel and chief of staff for Assemblyman David F. Gantt; Justice Evelyn Frazee, New York State Supreme Court judge; Amy Coté, special counsel in the Litigation Department at Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP; and Debra Martin, assistant attorney general in charge of the Rochester regional office.

The evening began with a selection of finger foods and beverages, as the group enjoyed the accommodations of Nixon Peabody LLP’s 14th floor, and food underwritten by Harris Beach PLLC. A good mix of younger and more experienced attorneys came out to socialize and to hear the stories behind the diverse careers of the panel members.

Women’s Connections Committee spokeswoman, Noreen Connelly, noted the Emerson quotation: “Life is a journey, not a destination” as she opened the formal part of the program. Ardeth Houde, Debra Martin and Diane Cecero were also instrumental in organizing the event and lining up the speakers. Connelly and her colleagues also conducted a brief break-out exercise to get immediate input on the development of the new combined-purpose committee.

The speakers

Warren, who is also the youngest Rochester City Council president ever to serve, said: “When I was in second grade, my grandfather was shot four times, so I grew up with plans to be a prosecutor. … Assemblyman Gantt was instrumental in drawing me back to Rochester when I finished law school in 2004.”

She admitted that losing her first City Council race by seven votes was devastating, but it taught her valuable lessons and did not shake her dedication to give back to the city where she was raised.

Martin noted she is on her sixth job as a legal professional, and has taken a number of risks over the course of her career. Right out of law school she focused on environmental law with a nonprofit, and after she left Washington, D.C., she worked for a law firm in Vermont.

Her Rochester experience began with Harris Beach PLLC, then she went to work for Aetna insurance, focused on insurance defense work. When Aetna discontinued in-house counsel in Rochester, Martin started her own firm — Martin and Iati — where she stayed for 20 years, before taking on her current role for the state of New York.

Many were surprised to learn that Coté started college with her sights on wildlife biology. During undergraduate school she discovered she was perhaps better suited to connecting with people, which in turn led her to law school.

Coté started her law career at a big firm, then moved to the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, where she practiced for six years. She is proud of her work there, but is finding her new position at Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP both challenging and stimulating.

“GRAWA connections have helped me in each career move I made,” she acknowledged.

Before heading to law school, Justice Frazee taught school for a few years. Looking for something more, she earned her juris doctor from Rutgers and landed a job at a medium-sized Rochester firm. An opportunity as Judge Andrew Siracuse’s law clerk helped shape her experience towards the bench.

“One of life’s lessons is to be flexible,” Justice Frazee notes. “Networking is very important.”

Next up

The Women’s Connections Committee is planning a “speed mentoring” event this spring. Watch the GRAWA website for details.

— Photos by Nora A. Jones

Working on a break-out exercise, GRAWA President Kari Smoker is joined by Kate Callery, Carolyn Nussbaum, LaMarr Jackson and Lovely Warren.

Networking and enjoying the food, GRAWA members gathered at Nixon Peabody’s 14th floor on Feb. 16.

Jennifer Meldrum, Amanda Ordyk and Julie Cook look forward to the panel discussion.

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