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Elizabeth Vrato initially set out to write a book about influential women lawyers to bring guidance to the lives of her readers. But in the process, she managed to transform the direction of her professional life. When she started her book, “The Counselors: Conversations With 18 Courageous Women Who Have Changed the World,” she realized that the project would cut in half her time commitment to her associate job at Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen. Such a reduction did not fit into the big-firm world of billable hours and attracting clients. After an interview with Lynn Hecht Schafran of the National Organization for Women Legal Defense Fund for chapter one of her book, Vrato was offered a position with the organization. She left Wolf Block in pursuit of the position, where she is charged with addressing gender stereotypes within the legal system. “When you become a judge, you often bring societal stereotypes, which can get into the decision-making process,” Vrato said. “This project is based on the idea that more information will help to make fairer decisions for both genders.” Vrato’s book, which came out in March, consists of “fantasy mentoring sessions” in which she interviews women who have “crashed through the glass ceiling while helping other women.” Influenced by the void of women mentors in her own growth as a lawyer, Vrato has taken it upon herself to provide secondhand guidance to other young women through the book. She was able to get former President Bill Clinton to write the foreword. Vrato said she wanted Clinton because of the major steps taken under his administration toward the political advancement of women. She said that his administration saw the most female appointments, citing former Attorney General Janet Reno and former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. In contrast, Vrato said she found that previous presidents had merely offered women “token positions of power.” The 33 percent female ratio within the federal judiciary and the simultaneous appointments of Reno and Albright were unconventional strides toward a new direction, she said. The book is composed of 18 of the winners of the American Bar Association’s Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award. The award, founded by former first lady and current U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, recognizes female lawyers who have made outstanding contributions in the practice of law and have helped other women in their legal careers. Vrato, in addition to Albright, Reno and Schafran, also interviewed former Colorado Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor, Dallas lawyer Louise Raggio, Fannie Mae Vice Chairwoman Jamie Gorelick, Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Margaret Hillary Marshall, NAACP Legal Defense Fund president Elaine Jones, D.C. Court of Appeals Judge Pat Wald, Los Angeles Judge Joan Dempsey, former University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law professor Herma Hill Kay, civil rights activist Nancy Davis, former executive director of the San Francisco Bar Association Drucilla Ramey, General Motors Canada president Maureen Kempston Darkes, Mexican American Legal Defense Fund president Antonia Hernandez, California Supreme Court Justice Joyce Kennard and Philadelphia’s own U.S. District Judge Norma Shapiro. Vrato said the advantage of using this pool of women was in their willingness to impart their body of knowledge to other women. Shapiro, the first woman appointed to the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, embodied this desire, Vrato said. After interviewing friends of Shapiro’s, she found that the judge called upon women who went to the bench after her to offer counsel and guidance. One friend called her a “mentoring tree,” meaning that the advice she offered to female judges would in turn be passed on to other women. Vrato said that her book mirrored this mentoring chain. She focused her interviews around the central question of what these internationally acclaimed women would like girls in school and women embarking on careers to know. “I want my readers to feel like they’ve just had a cup of coffee with Sandra Day O’Connor,” Vrato said. “She might say something that she wouldn’t just say to someone at some cocktail party.” Vrato said that the appeal of the book was not limited to women. She said that while the initial focus was toward a female audience, she has received input that men interested in law and politics are enjoying the book as well. Some men have complained that it was not being marketed correctly. “The idea is that for a long time, women took inspiration from men,” she said. “There’s no reason that men can’t be inspired by the words of powerful women as well.” Years ago, when Vrato was a college student interning at Wolf Block, she turned to eminent litigator Jerome Shestack, who became her mentor. Vrato and Shestack often discussed the importance of mentors, upon which the conversation took a turn toward women-to-women mentors. She said this new breed of mentors addressed the female struggle of balancing a career with other obligations. “Women-to-women mentoring balances different issues and concerns,” she said. “The advice you get from women has different sensibilities to it.”

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