Five AUWCL Women Graduates Cracking the Glass Ceiling

Women's History Month panel discussion inspired and informed enthusiastic male and female law students 

 Standing: Professor Lia Epperson. Seated left to right, Tara Castillo, Pam Deese, Claudia Lewis, Melissa Lim Patterson, Dana Rosenfeld.

As the first law school in the world founded by women, American University Washington College of Law has a long history of breaking glass ceilings. To continue the celebration of Women's History Month, the College hosted a well-attended panel discussion entitled "Making Cracks in the Glass Ceiling: AUWCL Women Graduating Navigating Big Law," featuring five esteemed alumni, including Tara Castillo '07, Pamela Deese '83, Claudia Lewis '95, Melissa Lim Patterson '13, and Dana Rosenfeld '84. The panelists shared their experiences navigating big firm environments as women, including their trials and tribulations, as well as the power of the people who looked out for them. The conversation was moderated by Professor Lia Epperson.

The panelists spoke about a range of experiences, highlighting the various avenues at the Washington College of Law that helped them build the skills that have led to their success. The collaborative nature of the school was a particular draw for Castillo, chair of the Structured & Warehouse Finance Team and a partner in Alston & Bird's Finance Group.

 Tara Castillo shares insights as Moderator, Lia Epperson looks on.

"I wanted a legal background, but in terms of looking for a law firm, in order for me to succeed, I needed to be somewhere equally collaborative," Castillo said.

Deese, a partner at ArentFox Schiff and co-chair of the DC Office Women's Initiative, emphasized the importance of having a woman professional as a leader in an organization where she worked with her, never for her.

"I have taken that mentoring with me where anyone that works alongside me is working with me, never for me," she said. "I cannot emphasize the importance of good mentors."

Rosenfeld, managing partner of Kelley Drye and member of the firm's Executive Committee and past chair of the firm's Privacy and Information Security practice, encouraged law students to take advantage of government agency opportunities in Washington, D.C. She also shared how she overcame challenges as a litigator, including being called "cupcake" by a judge who could not remember her name.

"You hold your head up and make your way through," she advised. "It's about looking for the people who are looking out for you."

 Melissa Lim Patterson

Patterson, a first-generation lawyer who recently made partner at Jones Day, shared her experience of being underestimated. "I know what my powers and skills are, and you guys have them too," she said. "It's about leveraging what your authentic style of lawyering is. Firms like WCL students because we are hard workers."

Lewis, a partner at Venable and co-chair of their Food and Drug Administration Group, emphasized the importance of finding opportunities and making oneself indispensable. "Make sure you are not putting all your eggs in your basket," she advised. "Make yourself so valuable by being able to see things through two different lenses."

 Student thanks Tara Castillo for her inspiration.

The panel discussion offered valuable insights and advice for up-and-coming law students, emphasizing the importance of collaboration, mentorship, advocacy, and finding opportunities to make oneself indispensable. The Washington College of Law continues to pave the way for breaking glass ceilings in the legal profession.

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~Story by Hasini Jayawardena and Keith Pierce. Photos by Keith Pierce.