The numbers were incredible, but so too was the work done behind the scenes
Even though it’s been two months since CAALA’s annual convention, I still get a smile on my face when I think about it. CAALA Vegas is always a great event; but by all accounts, this year was one of the best.
The total attendance was 3,287. That’s the most we’ve ever had for a CAALA convention. This year’s attendance surpassed last year’s by more than 200 attendees. The number of CAALA members was a record 1,730, including attorneys, Legal Staff and Law Students. Nearly 500 trial lawyers from other associations also attended along with 66 sitting or retired judges, including virtually the entire judicial leadership of the L.A. Superior Court.
Attendance numbers are one way of judging the success of the convention, but I also like to look at less scientific ways of measuring whether the Convention met our high expectations. I spent a lot of time walking through the Exhibit Hall and attending Education sessions, and, of course, I attended all the social events and receptions. Everywhere I went, someone would come up to me to shake my hand and tell me what a great convention it was. Listening to the comments from the people who were there leaves no doubt that the Convention was successful. Over the past two months, many people have commented that the Convention had a new look and feel, from the logo to the closing night party. I agree, it did feel new and fresh.
Behind the scenes
Of course, the credit for putting on the Convention doesn’t go to me. Credit rightfully goes to CAALA’s Education Chair and Vice-Chairs (Liz Hernandez, Martin Aarons and Taylor Rayfield) and the Convention Co-Chairs (Christina Coleman, Tim Loranger, Minh Nguyen, Bob Simon, Natalie Weatherford and Twila White).
Credit also goes to CAALA’s remarkable staff (Liz Hagan, Kwedi Moore, Bill Smith, Jordan Smith, Margie Ruiz and Martha Ruiz). Under Stuart Zanville’s leadership, their hard work began months ago and went above and beyond expectation to put on the best convention in memory. They are the reason the Convention runs so smoothly even as it grows each year.
There are some things about the Convention that you might not be aware of, but they are things that make me proud and I’d like to share them with you. I believe both say a lot about the Convention, but they also say a lot about CAALA.
At this year’s Convention, there were 119 speakers on 102 different education topics over four days. That’s about the same number as at past conventions. Two things, however, are very different from past years. The first is that there were 38 first-time speakers; that’s more than 30 percent. The second is that there were 50 women speakers, that’s 42 percent. I’m very proud of both of those statistics. CAALA is making strides to reach out to new people and have the people on stage reflect the membership.
Women in the law programs
Every organization or association that I am a part of is striving to provide more opportunities for women to become leaders, and CAALA is no different. CAALA has been focused on this for many years, beginning with the quarterly Women in Law Roundtables and mixers that have grown in popularity every year. This year the Women in Law Committee is chaired by Louanne Masry and Candice Klein after several years of dedicated leadership from Amy Solomon and Ibiere Seck.
Just a few weeks ago, CAALA presented our third Trial Skills Conference for CAALA women members. The Conference Planning Committee of Taylor Rayfield, Louanne Masry and Jennifer Ostertag put on a tremendous two-day conference that brought prominent women trial lawyers from across the country to speak to hundreds of CAALA women.
The theme of the conference was “Empowering Each Other: Trial Skills for Women, An Inspirational and Educational Conference for Women.” The word “inspirational” not only describes the trial skills conference, but also the women of CAALA. I’d like to tell you a little bit about them.
First, Genie Harrison is CAALA’s First Vice President and will be our President in 2021. As many of you know, for many years Genie has had her own firm and has been lead trial attorney representing plaintiffs in high-profile employment and sexual abuse cases. Genie just announced that she will be writing a monthly column for Ms. Magazine, the iconic feminist publication founded by Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes that has become a landmark institution in both women’s rights and American journalism.
Genie told me that during her college years Ms. was a lifeline for her to the feminist movement. Genie will be writing about legal and social issues to provoke action. Genie is an inspiration to all of us.
Second, Shannon Ward is a CAALA member who graduated from law school, passed the bar and joined CAALA only four years ago. Shannon and her law partner Martin Aarons secured the largest sexual harassment verdict in California in the past 18 months. The verdict was $11 million, but Shannon says “the number isn’t what made me proud.” What made her proud was hearing the jury say to her client, “We believe you. We support you. What happened to you was wrong.” Like Genie, Shannon says she looks forward to “hard-fought battles, bittersweet victories and wringing justice from those too empty to do right.”
As we struggle to bring justice to people who have been injured or harmed, I am inspired by CAALA women like Genie Harrison and Shannon Ward and by the 50 women who spoke this year at our annual convention. I hope you are too.
Shawn McCann is a partner at Banafsheh, Danesh & Javid. He graduated from Loyola Law School in 2003. Shawn handles a broad variety of cases regarding personal injury and product liability. He serves on the Board of Governors for Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles and Consumer Attorneys of California and was recently admitted into American Board of Trial Advocates. He currently serves as CAALA President.
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