Making the Connection: Women’s Leadership Initiative Summer Series Brings Together Albany Law School Students, Alumni

By Lauren Mineau
View Archives



During a time when many—particularly law students and young alumni—have craved connection and opportunities to make the best of an otherwise unsettled time, Albany Law School’s Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) 2020 Summer Series delivered.

Through seven virtual sessions, the WLI Summer Series introduced more than 250 attendees to a range of topics—from building your own firm to applying the law in our current public health situation.

And there’s more to come.

“I think it highlighted an area where we need more engagement. It’s nice to have an environment where women can be exposed to substantive talks and topics, but also look around the faces on the Zoom call and put names to them, developing another touchpoint for people who might be a good resource for students or someone like me—almost 10 years in,” said Erika Winkler ’10.

Winkler hosted a session to inform attendees on the role of in-house counsel, corporate responsibility, and advising clients.

“I completely can relate to a student having so many questions at the ground level of what it means to be an in-house lawyer,” she said. “I was hoping to demystify it a little bit.”

In May, Albany Law School trustee Kimberly C. (K.C.) Petillo-Décossard ’05 and her husband, Sakis Décossard, gave a $175,000 gift to establish the WLI, which is a partnership of the Career and Professional Development Center and Office of Alumni Engagement.  The following month, trustee Timothy O'Hara ’96 and his wife, Colleen, gave $125,000 in support of the initiative. Future offerings will include a fellowship program, leadership training opportunities, and networking events integrated with the law school’s Alumni Initiative in Mentoring program. This fall, as part of Reunion 2020, the WLI will offer a trailblazers panel to connect the law school community with women who have achieved significant successes in various legal realms.

Petillo-Décossard, a partner at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, also pledged to commit her time to spark further philanthropy and learning opportunities.

Petillo-Décossard hosted a session on her area of expertise—corporate law—which outlined the anatomy of a deal and offered what junior lawyers can expect early on in corporate law. She hopes the programming will inspire the next generation of young lawyers through the stories of women who are succeeding in various fields.

“One goal of the initiative is to introduce our younger, women lawyers to a variety of career paths,” she said. “Whether it’s through programming or networking, we’re trying to make an impact through the giving of information and the making of connections.”

The Summer Series also brought in alumni who weathered the Great Recession, such as Clotelle Drakeford ’11, principal at Drakeford Law Offices, PLLC. Drakeford shared tips and tricks to starting your own firm, including startup costs, business planning, and finding clients.

“So many of us during that time were really struggling. There was a bit of a transition because so many firms had to freeze hiring or slow down,” Drakeford said. “Maybe now is another window [of] opportunity for young lawyers to really think about what they can do with their education.”

After several years in law, Elizabeth Hofmeister '90 is now a career coach who helps people find career success and fulfillment. In her desire to give back to the law school, she approached the Career and Professional Development Center to offer support to those who may have experienced job loss or change during the pandemic. During her session, "Taking Control of Your Career in Uncertain Times," she gave attendees the tools to identify what will lead to professional fulfillment. She also offered attendees a complimentary one-hour coaching session.

"So much of the work that I do with people is focused on strengths-based leadership," she said. "The more you have self-awareness of your strengths, and the more you put them into play, the higher the probability that you will find career satisfaction. What better time to do this introspection than during a time of unforeseen career transition?"

The Career and Professional Development Center worked on many projects to keep the law school community connected during the spring 2020 semester. Many were eager to participate in offerings like the Summer Series to maximize this period of transition and uncertainty, said Mary Walsh Fitzpatrick, assistant dean of the Career and Professional Development Center.

“Our students are hungry for content-rich programming. The Women’s Leadership Initiative allows us to explore the wealth of knowledge and experience from our alumni, who have a lot of perspective to contribute,” she said. “It’s a different lens to think of how our alumni can pave the way for our students. It benefits everyone—from the students to the experts.”

Throughout her established career in corporate law, Petillo-Décossard often noticed that she was the only woman in the room. Through the WLI, she hopes to make that situation something of the past with further programming and investments.

“Putting successful women in front of a group of people and saying, ‘This is what worked for me, this is an option for you,’ and offering to be a resource, creates limitless possibilities,” she said. “It enables them to see successful women, women in leadership roles, and women who are forging paths they never considered before, and hopefully they follow suit—or better yet, blaze their own path.”