The Legal’s editorial staff recently set out on our biannual mission to identify the Women of the Year, a group of attorneys who stand out for their notable achievements. We name a new group of women every two years in an attempt to highlight the important work being done by women throughout Pennsylvania in all corners of the legal profession. Our staff reviewed our archives, asked for insight from respected legal professionals and debated the merits of dozens of candidates to be considered as Women of the Year. Our search looked to all regions of the state and all areas of the profession—law firms, public interest organizations, government and anywhere else that women are impacting the law.
The list could have been much longer if we had tried to include every woman attorney doing something outstanding over the past few years, but we think this group deserves special attention. These women demonstrated the incredibly high standards of Pennsylvania attorneys from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and everywhere in between. The group includes judges at the center of high-profile cases and the women representing clients with everything on the line in those courtrooms. These women are branching out on their own to start new firms and rising to new positions of prominence in some of the largest firms in the country. They are general counsel diligently protecting their companies from risk and directors of public interest groups protecting the state’s residents from harm.
We are honored to name the following women as The Legal’s 2014 Women of the Year.
Lorrie K. Albert
Over the past two years, Lorrie Albert has created a diverse set of new programs to help ensure the Allegheny County Bar Foundation will continue to perform its important work for the community and the legal profession. Albert is the associate executive director of the foundation.
In addition to recently launching a planned giving program for the foundation, Albert also created the Law Firm Leadership Circle campaign, which raised more than $325,000 to be paid over three years by participating firms. The campaign is expected to help support the foundation, and to help the staff develop long-term, financially sustainable programs and resources.
Albert also helped to expand the capacity of programs focusing on providing free legal services to low-income families by creating two programs set to provide paid law student summer internships for legal services throughout Allegheny County.
Albert, who joined the foundation in 2005, is tasked with overseeing, managing and administering the daily operations and fundraising activities of the ACBF.
Nitza QuiÑones Alejandro
U.S. District Judge Nitza Quiñones Alejandro of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania joined the federal bench in Philadelphia last year, a welcome addition to a court that has been losing active judges at a faster clip than new ones are named. She had been a judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas for 20 years, where she was the first female Hispanic judge.
Quiñones Alejandro was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where she earned both her undergraduate and law degrees. She began her legal career in Philadelphia in the mid-1970s and spanned an array of areas, including work for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Social Security Administration, the Office of Hearings and Appeals and Community Legal Services.
She is also the first openly gay Hispanic woman to serve on the federal bench and is one of a handful of openly gay judicial nominees from the Obama administration.
Karen Reid Bramblett
In her time as prothonotary for the Superior Court, the recently retired Karen Reid Bramblett was instrumental in moving the court forward. She pushed the court toward e-filing and assisted in the enhancement of the docket management system. She also served as a mentor, adviser and active member of the legal community, maintaining a consistent presence at state and local bar association meetings and through her involvement with CLEs and other educational seminars.
During Bramblett’s seven-and-a-half years as prothonotary, the prothonotary’s office processed more than 60,000 appeals and filed more than 40,000 opinions across its three offices. In addition to her busy role in the day-to-day operations of the court, Bramblett served as an ad hoc member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s appellate rules committee. Prior to becoming prothonotary, she had a career as a litigator. Her guidance and mentorship smoothed the processes of the court and encouraged the growth of future members of the legal profession.
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has served on Philadelphia’s federal bench since 1992 and has distinguished herself as a tough jurist with a welcoming courtroom manner. She has had a number of high-profile cases come before her in the last two years.
Brody didn’t rubberstamp the $760 million settlement between the National Football League and its former players who are suffering from traumatic brain injuries because she wasn’t convinced that all of the league’s thousands of former players would actually be able to collect a reasonable sum from the fund.
She also granted habeas relief to a man who had spent 20 years on death row after being convicted of killing a teenage girl during the theft of her earrings in 1991. She detailed three examples of exculpatory evidence that were withheld by prosecutors in the case. “I find that all three pieces of suppressed evidence are material for the purposes of Brady, and that the state courts’ findings otherwise were unreasonable. Each claim is sufficient, on its own, to warrant habeas relief,” Brody said in that opinion.
Jill Bronson is a partner in Drinker Biddle & Reath’s corporate and securities practice group and is team leader of the firm’s corporate finance team. She is also the regional partner in charge of the Philadelphia office.
Over the past two years, Bronson has had a hand in some of the firm’s largest deals. She worked on a team representing client Penske Truck Leasing in a $6 billion recaptialization and helped to represent client Enstar Group in a series of transactions.
Bronson also recently represented the issuer, a food distributor, in a $1 billion private placement of debt instruments; the agent for a syndicate of banks in a $2.5 billion commercial paper back-up facility; and a borrower in an out-of–court restructuring of its several-hundred-million dollars of debt.
As counsel to lending institutions, Bronson has represented major regional and national banks and other financial institutions in diverse types of financing matters. As counsel to borrowers, Bronson has represented private equity funds, public companies and privately held entities.
Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads partner Ellen Brotman is no stranger to representing criminal defendants in high-profile cases. But 2013 brought with it perhaps her most-well-publicized trial yet.
If you turned on the national network news in March or looked at the cover of The New York Times or Wall Street Journal, you just may have seen Brotman commenting on the culmination of a yearlong effort to defend Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair on rape, sexual assault and adultery charges, to name a few.
Brotman was part of a defense team that waded its way into the military justice system to defend a client whom they said the military was hoping would serve as an example of its response to a perceived sexual-assault epidemic.
After a hard-fought battle in the courtroom, Brotman and the team at Montgomery McCracken successfully had the toughest charges against Sinclair dropped, paving the way for a plea deal that resulted in no jail time and a relatively small fine.
Brotman’s practice focuses on government investigations and white-collar criminal defense and the representation of attorneys before the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
For 30 years, Catherine Carr has devoted herself to ensuring that Philadelphia’s indigent population has access to legal assistance in the most critical circumstances. Carr became executive director of Community Legal Services in 1995 after 11 years of service as a staff attorney at the organization. Carr has said that the program helps the poorest of the poor—people who have income below 125 percent of the federal poverty line, which for one person means annual income under $14,400.
In addition to leading CLS, Carr is co-chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Civil Gideon task force, a group charged with finding and promoting ways to bring cost-free legal representation to the poor in civil matters such as landlord-tenant disputes and child-custody cases, to name a few. Carr also works with the Civil Legal Justice Coalition, formed by the Allegheny County, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania bar associations to further Civil Gideon initiatives statewide.
Joy Flowers Conti
U.S. District Court Judge Joy Flowers Conti of the Western District of Pennsylvania assumed the role of chief judge in 2013, just over a decade after she joined the bench in 2002 after being appointed by President George W. Bush. She is one of the half-dozen judges to take part in the 10-year pilot project in the Western District intended to bolster the expertise of district court judges hearing patent cases.
Conti, a native of Western Pennsylvania, has presided over some of the most controversial litigation to develop in that part of the state. She took the reins in the fiercely fought antitrust litigation between Pittsburgh’s major medical systems and guided them to a negotiated settlement at the end of 2013.
She has also handled a Christian college’s objection to the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare, which has been challenged in several districts, including the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. A similar case originating in the Philadelphia federal court worked its way through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and was recently argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Linda A. Galante
Linda Galante is a partner in Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young’s Philadelphia office. Her practice focuses on banking and real estate law.
Throughout her career, Galante has handled some of the largest real estate developments in the Philadelphia area. She recently represented the developer and owner of a $100 million mixed-use project at 38th and Chestnut streets in Philadelphia. The transaction involved several levels of equity investment, debt financing and tax-credit financing.
Galante is very involved in community service. She is the former chairwoman of the board of directors for Drueding Center, a nonprofit that provides transitional housing and support services for women and children. Galante also sits on the board of both the Center City District and the Arts and Business Council of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
A 1979 University of Pennsylvania Law School graduate, Galante is a past chairwoman of Stradley Ronon’s real estate and banking and financial services practice groups and a former member of the firm’s board of directors and partner compensation committee.
Susan Peikes Gantman
Susan Peikes Gantman began her tenure as president judge of the Pennsylvania Superior Court in January. Maintaining a court that is accessible to both attorneys and members of the public is one of Gantman’s priorities as president judge. She had said that it is “important that the public has confidence in the judiciary.” Gantman’s new role also requires her to oversee the management of the court’s three offices in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, as well as management of the court’s staff.
The Legal previously reported that in 2011, Gantman led a unanimous three-judge panel in Butler v. Charles Powers Estate, one of the most significant oil and gas opinions to come through the appellate courts since the Marcellus Shale boom. Before serving on the Superior Court, Gantman was the senior member and co-chair of the family law section at Cozen & O’Connor, and she is a former Montgomery County prosecutor.
In 2010, at the height of the recession, Francine Griesing left Greenberg Traurig’s Philadelphia office, where she was a shareholder, to open Griesing Law, a woman-owned and operated firm focused on commercial litigation, business and employment law and alternative dispute resolution.
Since then, Griesing has grown the firm from three to eight attorneys, seven of whom are women.
A fierce advocate for gender equality in the workplace, Griesing filed a $200 million gender discrimination putative class action against Greenberg Traurig in December 2012.
Griesing alleged in her complaint that she was told to look for other employment after complaining about Greenberg Traurig’s compensation policies, which she said created a “boys’ club of origination” that stifled women’s ability to generate business and bill as many hours as men.
Greenberg Traurig adamantly denied the claims and the two sides settled under undisclosed terms in May 2013.
Speaking at a panel discussion last year about her motivation for starting her own firm, Griesing said, “I really wanted to create an environment where every woman or man who worked there could work without the fear you get in most traditional law firm settings.”
Kristen D. Han
As vice president, general counsel and assistant secretary of Destination Maternity Corp., Kristen Han is responsible for managing litigation and the legal budget, selecting outside counsel and protecting the intellectual property of one of the largest publication corporations in Pennsylvania. Han joined the company as deputy general counsel in July 2005, and she was promoted to general counsel in August 2013.
Destination Maternity is the world’s largest designer and retailer of maternity clothing. It has more than 1,900 retail locations in North America. Han oversees the company’s commercial contracting, dealing with international franchise agreements and licensing. She is involved in developing the company’s domestic and international trademark strategy and working with the merchandising and design teams on new product development. She also leads the company’s employee relations group.
Prior to joining Destination Maternity, Han was an associate in the corporate practice group at Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg.
Kathleen Kane made history on multiple fronts when she was elected in November 2012 to serve as Pennsylvania’s attorney general.
Kane became the first woman and the first Democrat ever elected to the position.
Since taking on the role of attorney general, Kane has been involved in a number of high-profile, albeit sometimes controversial, matters. She ran for the office on the platform that she would review her predecessor’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky investigation and has spent the first year of her tenure doing just that.
Kane also made waves when she announced she would not defend Pennsylvania’s mini-DOMA in state law challenges to the ban on same-sex marriage. Kane said she felt the law was unconstitutional in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking similar portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Before taking on the top prosecutorial role in the state, Kane had served as a prosecutor in Lackawanna County. Prior to her role as assistant district attorney in Lackawanna, Kane worked on civil litigation cases at Post & Schell in Philadelphia.
Jannie Lau was appointed executive vice president, general counsel and secretary of InterDigital Inc. in December 2012. She joined the wireless technology development company as associate general counsel in 2008 and was elevated to deputy general counsel in 2010.
Lau oversees a robust legal department charged with protecting the company’s significant intellectual property interests.
One such patent case led to a dispute with China in which InterDigital employees said they were threatened with arrest by the country after InterDigital tried to assert patent rights against a Chinese company.
Before joining InterDigital, Lau served as securities and transactional counsel at IKON Office Solutions Inc. Before beginning her in-house career, she was a corporate associate at global law firms in New York and Boston, where she represented public and pre-IPO companies, as well as private equity and venture capital fund managers.
Jami Wintz McKeon
Jami Wintz McKeon is set to take over as chair of Philadelphia-based Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in October, at which point she will become one of only a handful of female firm leaders in the Am Law 100.
The firm announced McKeon, who currently sits on the firm’s 18-member advisory board and heads up the 700-lawyer litigation practice, as its new chair last October. She will replace Francis M. Milone, who has served as the firm’s chairman since 1999.
Despite being a Philadelphia-based litigator, McKeon has a deep familiarity with the firm’s West Coast presence, having spent eight years in San Francisco building up the firm’s California offices. McKeon was particularly instrumental in the firm’s acquisition of nearly 150 lawyers from the now-defunct San Francisco firm Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison.
McKeon has spent her entire career at Morgan Lewis, joining the firm in 1981 after graduating from Villanova University School of Law. Over the years, in addition to leading the firm’s litigation group and sitting on its advisory board, she has served on the compensation, professional evaluation and recruiting committees.
Dianne M. Nast
In late 2012, after nearly two decades with RodaNast, Dianne Nast split off to open her own firm in Philadelphia, NastLaw. The firm, which has six attorneys, handles complex civil litigation matters.
Nast serves as co-lead counsel of the Zoloft multidistrict litigation’s plaintiffs steering committee’s executive committee, and for years has been a major player in mass tort litigation around the country. The Zoloft MDL is currently being heard by U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In addition to her court-appointed leadership role in the Zoloft MDL, Nast is a steering committee member in the Avandia products liability ligitation and co-lead counsel in Philadelphia for the Yasmin/Yaz products liability litigation.
As mass torts have shifted from state courts to federal courts and multidistrict litigation, Nast has been a constant presence. She has previously been co-lead counsel in multimillion-dollar settlements such as the In re Diet Drugs settlement out of the Eastern District. Nast is based in Philadelphia, but her practice is national in scope, with roughly half of her cases taking her outside of the city.
Stephanie Resnick is the recent past chair of Fox Rothschild’s litigation department, overseeing more than 200 attorneys in 19 offices nationwide.
Resnick is a senior trial lawyer who has handled shareholder and partnership disputes, class actions, director’s liability cases, unfair business practices and competition litigation, and insurance and reinsurance issues.
A member of the firm’s executive, diversity and e-discovery committees, Resnick is also the former chairwoman of Fox Rothschild’s partnership advancement committee. She previously served as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit’s representative to the American Bar Association’s standing committee on the federal judiciary. The committee evaluates candidates for the federal judiciary for the United States’ district, circuit and supreme courts.
Resnick provides pro bono legal work on behalf of Support Center for Child Advocates and volunteers for numerous other nonprofit organizations. She is also the former chair of Women’s Way, the nation’s oldest and largest funding federation for services for women and children.
Geraldine Sinatra has had a blockbuster practice over the past year-and-a-half. Sinatra, a partner in Dechert’s corporate practice, represents private equity sponsors through the life of their investments in portfolio companies. And those clients have been busy.
Most recently, in March, Sinatra led Dechert’s representation of the Certares investor group in American Express Co.’s $900 million creation of a joint venture for business travel. The Certares investor group included Certares, Qatar Holding, Blackrock-managed funds and Macquarie Capital.
In October 2013, Sinatra led a team representing global specialty chemicals company MacDermid Inc. in the company’s $1.8 billion sale to Platform Acquisition Holdings Limited.
In December 2013, she led the firm’s team in the $500 million sale of hospitality IT company Newmarket International to Spain-based Amadeus.
And in April 2013 Sinatra led the team representing $2.3 billion IT services company CompuCom in its sale to private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners from CompuCom owner and longtime Dechert client Court Square Capital Partners.
Kim R. Smith
In January, Kim R. Smith became the first female managing partner of Hartman Underhill & Brubaker, Lancaster, Pa.’s second-largest firm.
Because the firm does not impose term limits on its managing partners, Smith, who took over the position from partner Mark Stanley, is only the fifth attorney to serve in that role in the firm’s 35-year history.
Smith has been a member of the firm’s management committee since 2006 and currently chairs its school and municipal law group, focusing her practice on advising public- and private-sector clients on employment law matters.
Smith said she plans to continue her full-time practice but will, over the next few years, transition her practice head position to another attorney at the firm.
As managing partner, Smith said her role will largely involve spearheading the firm’s growth and client service initiatives, with one of the major focal points being succession planning.
Before assuming the role of president judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in late 2013, Sheila Woods-Skipper was supervising judge of the court’s criminal division since 2008. While at that post, Woods-Skipper instituted programs to increase case-processing efficiency and reduce the prison population. She also presided over the First Judicial District’s Mental Health Court, which provides nonviolent offenders suffering from mental illnesses with alternatives to serving prison time, as well as treatment and preparation for re-entry into society.
One of Woods-Skipper’s goals as president judge is to better educate the public on the importance and inner workings of the Philadelphia court system. “I think it’s important that the public understand that judges really do a lot of things other than what they do on the bench,” Woods-Skipper previously told The Legal.
Before joining Post & Schell as a principal in the commercial litigation and professional licensure practice groups last summer, Sarah Yerger served as a senior deputy attorney general in the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, where she worked for more than a decade, counseling state agencies and employees on federal constitutional issues, employment and discrimination cases.
As a co-chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s commission on women in the profession, Yerger has been a prominent voice for women in the legal profession. She recently helped to organize the commission’s annual retreat, which focused on how the ambition gap impacts professional women, how female attorneys have overcome substantial obstacles in building their practices and how women can best negotiate fair pay and benefits.
Yerger has also been a strong voice in the legal community at large, serving as president of the James S. Bowman Inn of Courts, vice president of the Federal Bar Association—Middle District of Pennsylvania Chapter, and as a member of the lawyers advisory committee for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. But Yerger’s hard work does not stop with the legal community. She also works tirelessly for charitable causes, and was recognized by the American Heart Association as Volunteer of the Year, Capital Region Division, in 2003. •