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GRAWA President’s Message: Support, respect make great things possible

Melanie Wolk

As the new GRAWA bar year begins, we look back at our accomplishments over the past year and forward to our new goals for the upcoming year. We remember the successful networking events, committee meetings, awards and continuing legal education programs as we begin to plan for the next year. However, that is the mere mechanics of GRAWA and does not truly define or explain the organization.

In mid-May we had our Installation Dinner where GRAWA members gathered to acknowledge the accomplishments of the past year and its many dedicated individuals. Anyone that has attended an Installation Dinner knows that it is a night full of laughter, praise and socializing, which often results in an extended cocktail hour and the members having an extended stay at the event venue. The interactions that take place at GRAWA’s Installation Dinner provide the true examples of what makes GRAWA a unique bar association.

Those that attend a GRAWA event can see and feel the essence of the organization. While that essence can easily be described as promoting and encouraging women in their pursuits, there is something deeper and more meaningful that gives the organization a different feel that is difficult to put into words.

It is abundantly clear that the members actually support and care for each other. These ladies admire and treat each other with respect and consideration. The members of GRAWA continually prove that women can be advocates, colleagues, adversaries, and compete for employment and honors while still maintaining respectful and meaningful relationships among themselves. These are women and men that truly care about each other and want to spend time together to reconnect about families and business.

My first involvement with GRAWA was at an Installation Dinner a mere five years ago. While I have always believed strongly in women supporting women, I had never witnessed it in such an overwhelming welcoming way before that night. Fresh from practice in New York City, I did not know one single person at this Installation Dinner when I walked in the room; when I left, I had met dozens of women and experienced one of the most awe-inspiring evenings.

I will readily admit that I don’t remember who was being sworn in on the board or who received awards. I do remember the feeling and context of the room that is almost impossible to describe unless one has experienced it. I watched as woman after woman greeted each other with genuine pleasure and affection. I witnessed the program start late, because the members simply would not stop “catching-up” on all things important in their lives.

I observed women after women offer assistance to each other ranging from job opportunities, legal thoughts to suggestions on how to quiet a teething child. I experienced something that evening that many other female lawyers in other areas will never witness, a women’s bar association that is built on support from within.

GRAWA is not an organization that is supported by one single group of women. In fact, it couldn’t be more clear than it was at the Installation Dinner that it has maintained its sense of connectiveness because of its diversity from three groups.

First are the women that 31 years ago decided to create an organization that supported and created cohesive lasting relationships, rather than creating a community that alienated and competed against one another. While they blazed a new trail, they sowed the seeds that have created the essence of the organization today.

Second, the newly admitted attorneys who consistently and respectively push the boundaries and provide a unique perspective. They provide a fiery breath of energy with new requests that keep the organization relevant.

The third group is all those attorneys that fall in the middle. These are the women that are neither new nor founding members; these are the women that continue to search for their own path in their careers and strive to balance the demands of families and job opportunities. This third group is the elastic band that holds the other two groups together and plays an integral part in continuing the traditions of respect, compassion and consideration.

GRAWA has something special, which is rarely discussed and is often taken for granted. Not every women’s bar association has the tight-knit, integral respect and admiration of its members flowing through it. The true essence of GRAWA is why five years ago, I made a conscious decision to become involved. I simply wanted to be part of an organization that so unknowingly and unpresumingly supports its members.

In addition to the worthwhile events, acknowledgments and programs that GRAWA will continue this year, my goal is to revel and fully acknowledge this special organization and its unique essence of support, admiration and respect amongst its members. I welcome the opportunity to celebrate and continue these traditions.

Melanie S. Wolk is special counsel with the law firm of Goldberg Segalla LLP, the 31st president of the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys and soon to be a first-time mother.