Words from Wise Women Leaders: Timeless Tips for Law, Insurance, Business, and Life

Author: Pamela Palpallatoc

Guest Editor: Brittany Torrence

May 14, 2019 8:59am

I honestly struggled drafting the feature article for the employment practices newsletter on pay equality published in March, 2019.  I had no idea it would be featured.  I knew I wanted to write about best practices in diversity and inclusion.  But after I began brainstorming, I reviewed and began incorporating information from a Law 360 article.  When I completed my article, I second guessed myself.  I thought it might be too different, or too controversial. I was also prepared to receive feedback about the article’s inadequacies in order to be published.  And then it got approved, published, and featured. That felt great because I knew I wrote about a topic I personally and professionally valued, and I could be my whole-self when writing it. I have previously felt the need to make adjustments to blend in or fit in with most workplaces I have experienced in the past, but not at Tyson & Mendes.

As I brainstormed for this women’s initiative article, I thought of several different topics: a part-two to pay equality, a tribute to women leaders who are mothers, wellness, women leaders in artificial intelligence, women bringing mindfulness to our professions, and women working for justice for all.  The result of this brainstorm is that I have written a compilation of timely guidance and timeless tips from my mentors and thought leaders.  I am thankful for the opportunity to bring my whole-self to work, and proud to share lessons from amazing women with our clients, colleagues, and even our adversaries.

Professor of Law Rhonda Magee on Mindfulness

“It is only by healing from the injustices done against us and dissolving our personal barriers to connection that we develop the ability to view others with compassion and to live in community with people of vastly different backgrounds and viewpoints.”

– Excerpt from the description of Professor Magee’s forthcoming book The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness

Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as: (1) the quality or state of being aware, (2) the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.  Meditation has been used as a tool to help humans practice mindfulness.

I first attended a meditation led by Professor Magee at the University of San Francisco School of Law in the early 2000s.  At the time, mindfulness for law students and lawyers was arguably in its earliest stages of infancy.  I had so little energy as a result of studying and preparing for law exams, during meditation, I fell asleep. This is often the experience of stressed-out law students, attorneys, and the overworked population in general who attempt to meditate for the first time during their careers.  But with encouragement from Professor Magee, I did not give up.  It took quite a few years of practicing meditation, including studying meditation, sorting through lessons of meditation taught by my father and grandfather, reading articles on wellness, and therapy (inclusive of sessions offered by the Lawyers Assistance Program), to understand the methods that help me practice mindfulness both professionally and personally.  I do not recommend that anyone else needs to devote as much energy as I have to understand what I personally require to practice mindfulness. I share my experience because I reached a point in my life where I was completely absent from myself.  I share what I experienced to become present for myself, so that today, I can be present and mindful for our clients and others in our professions.  Just like law, which is a practice, mindfulness is also a practice – neither of which I expect to perfect, but I acknowledge and strive to improve at daily.

Senior Vice President of Loss Prevention at CAMICO Suzanne Holl on Embracing the Risk Management Process

“If the milk spills, clean it up.”

After SVP Holl first articulated this analogy to me in the context of providing in-house advisory services to CAMICO insureds, I continue to use this analogy to explain risk management and mitigation of damages. A simple and clear visual can help maneuver through a web of issues to resolve problems.  In our work, as highly driven professionals, we often get laser-focused on achieving an exact outcome, be that winning with a defense verdict at trial or settling at mediation within the initial budgeted authority at the outset of the session.  But stuff happens, and we do not always obtain the exact result we sought out.  In post-mortems, we can look back in hindsight and explain what went wrong and where we can learn for improvement.  Instead of persisting through litigation and claims handling laser-focused on the outcome, what if we shift our mindsets to the process of getting to the result.  Perhaps practicing mindfulness in the process, the act of focusing on cleaning up the milk, getting the towels and wiping it up, updating our litigation budgets through trial, and updating the reserves, will help us do our best jobs at managing risk and mitigating damages. In turn, this will help professionals achieve the best results and justice for all.

President of Sonoma State University Dr. Judy K. Sakaki on Belonging

For you

are lifting as you rise

– Excerpt from A Tribute to the Seventh President of Sonoma State University Dr. Judy K. Sakaki by Dr. Kim D. Hester Williams, Professor of English and American Multicultural Studies

At President Sakaki’s investiture, she expressed gratitude to all who supported her journey.  She made several statements sharing the “shoulders” of whom she stood on to achieve her goals, including her parents, mentors, and colleagues.  As one of her former student employees at the University of California, Davis Office of the Vice Chancellor, I did not expect to hear my name during her remarks.  However, President Sakaki stated, “I stand on the shoulders of students,” and proceeded to list names of students who influenced her path, including me and two others in attendance.  The three of us discussed our surprise.  One past student stated that she probably checked the RSVP list to confirm we were attending and that’s how she decided to include us in her remarks.  Another past student stated that she truly loves us as her students and included us in her remarks because we genuinely impacted her career, which is why we had seats at her investiture.  I leaned in to the latter, and as we celebrated her, I also celebrated us for being a part of her accomplishment.  I took this as a lesson matching the poignant and fitting tribute written for President Sakaki, to lift as I rise, by celebrating all who help me exist as who I am today, to embrace my whole-self.  If I cannot feel like I belong, how can I bring the lessons from my mentors, and the mentees who I hope will surpass me, to the table?  If I leave myself out, I leave them out, too. “When you shine, you give others permission to shine.  By your very presence, you are sending a message: You belong, too,” explained Retired California Court of Appeal Justice Martin Jenkins and current California Governor Gavin Newsom’s Judicial Appointments Secretary, at the recent Pilipino American Bar Association annual installation and awards gala.

A practice supporting the theme of “lifting as we rise,” gleaned from the recent “Best Practices in Diversity and Inclusion March, 2019” Continuing Legal Education panel, is a law firm’s formal mentorship program for associates.  Each associate attorney, on their first day, is matched up with a senior attorney, who serves as a resource to the associate for the duration of their time with the firm.   Separate and apart from a supervising attorney, a formal mentor can offer guidance on professional development and another set of eyes for challenges experienced in practice.

A practice supporting the theme of “lifting as we rise,” shared by panelists at the April, 2019 San Diego Lawyers Club Annual Equal Pay Luncheon, is to get a seat at the table and create a seat for additional women at the table.  Metaphorically, do not take the ladder with you; lift as you climb.  In accordance with this notion, the Lawyers Club hosted “The Good Guys” event, which invited male allies to participate in initiatives and discussions such as pay equality.

Chief Executive Officer at Dallas Mavericks Cynthia Marshall on Diversity & Inclusion

Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. True inclusion is when people are invited in on the conversation and they’re invited in on the strategy.”

– Today Show Interview

“Respect ALL people and make others respect ALL people.  Never discount someone because of their position or stature in life.  You never know who you are REALLY talking to.”

– Number 8 from Cynt’s Ten Step “PEP” talk – Professional, Encouraging & Personal Advice, 2006

As my mentor, CEO Marshall provided a wealth of wisdom during my public policy fellowship at the Greenlining Institute, which I have implemented in my subsequent professional endeavors.  These two notions above are moral compasses which apply not only in the workplace, but also in every aspect of life. What is the point of leaving anyone out of the discourse? Ignore their problems, shove them in the back of the closet, or bury them in a deep hole, to what result?  “To not have the conversation because of discomfort is the definition of privilege,” explains Brene Brown in Brene Brown: The Call to Courage. Have the challenging discussion to get to the root of the problem and find out what people need.  We are all on the same team: humankind.

A couple of recommendations from the Best Practices In Diversity and Inclusion March 2019 continuing legal education panel are to (1) commit a fulltime employee to diversity and inclusion to ensure these values become implemented into the workplace culture, and (2) implement an alternate part-time partner track to allow attorneys to advance, despite challenges that come with parenting and adult caregiving.  As Tyson & Mendes launches its Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, it is exciting to see how different industries learn from best practices to enhance their own respective initiatives.


The aforementioned words highlight professional goals, such as practicing mindfulness and embracing the process, belonging and “lifting as we rise,” respecting and including all people, and to keep working for justice for all.

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