“Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back.” This statement has been proven true over and over throughout the development and launch of the Bexar County Women’s Bar Foundation LEAD Academy.
I served as President of the Bexar County Women’s Bar Association and Foundation in 2014. The group had such a rich and storied past, including an incredible track record of developing programs benefitting women and children in our community. I was charged with figuring out the BCWB’s “next big thing” – no small feat when there was so much to live up to. I decided to reach out to leading women in our legal community to gather their ideas about what might be next for BCWB.
During several sessions with past presidents and women in the judiciary, our conversations inevitably turned inward to the needs of women in our profession. In particular, we discussed the dismal and stagnant attrition rates of women in the practice— a survey by the National Association of Women Lawyers had just revealed that while 50 percent of law school graduates had been women for many years, only about 15 percent of law firm equity partners and chief legal officers were women, a number that hadn’t appreciably changed in almost 10 years—and the unshrinking compensation gap between women and men in the field. To that I added the fact I was personally unable to find any leadership development programs geared toward women in the law, and few for women in leadership generally.
Thus, the Bexar County Women’s Bar Foundation’s LEAD Academy (fondly referred to as just LEAD) was born. Beginning in 2015, I gathered a group of strong, accomplished, and dedicated women leaders in our legal community to serve as the program’s Steering Committee, and we began planning what would become LEAD. LEAD ’s mission is to assist women attorneys in attaining the highest level of success in their firms and organizations, in their communities, and in the legal profession. We aim to achieve this goal by teaching participants to lead in a way that is authentic and effective; empower themselves and others with awareness and c onfidence; advance professionally & personally; and develop robust professional networks. The program spans a calendar year, and our first class began in 2017. We graduated our third class this past December and our fourth class kicked-off in January.
Relying on a well-founded curriculum taught by preeminent national and statewide speakers, we were confident the content offered to our select class members would promote self-reflection and growth as attorneys and leaders. What we did not initially anticipate was the incredibly strong bonds that would develop between each set of class members, and throughout the LEAD community. From advice to encouragement to referrals and more, women involved with the LEAD Academy work together to lift each other up and empower all to succeed. It’s a beautiful thing.
In 2018, LEAD was awarded an Outstanding Program Award from the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations, and a Star of Achievement Award from the Texas State Bar. We have been the recipient of a Texas Bar Foundation grant and incredible support from the legal community. We sponsor an annual Empowered Women Leaders Luncheon each May, bringing together women leaders in the legal, business, and medical community to network together and learn from a national speaker on relevant leadership issues. To say I am proud of the program our Steering Committee has put together would be a gross understatement.
Beginning January 1, 2020, I stepped down as Director of the LEAD Academy to focus on further development and refinement of the program’s curriculum. Lucky for all of us, Elena Villaseñor Sullivan, a founding Steering Committee member who has been integral to the program’s success, is stepping up to serve as Director of the program. Elena is an amazing and proven attorney, leader, mentor, and advocate of women—as such, she is ideally situated to continue LEAD’s growth and development as a preeminent program for women in the legal community. I can’t wait to see what happens next! Tiffanie S. Clausewitz
Continue with the interview with LEAD Academy Director Elena Villaseñor Sullivan here. →