I Am Happy!

Contributor: Debora Civello 
Siracusa, Sicily, Italy
Debora Civello graduated from the Lumsa of Rome in November of 2004 with her Bachelor’s in Psychological Sciences and Techniques. She went on to receive her Graduate Degree in Mediation from the University of Catania in 2007. 

With a big smile on my lips and eyes shining, I look at you and say “Ask me if I’m happy”, the answer, of course, is a deep YES.

I am happy because the work I do fully expresses myself.

As a child I have believed that kindness can change the way of seeing and dealing the situations. When I was a child, about 10 years old, I had set the daily goal of smiling, and “calling the smile” to at least 5 people I did not know!


Because I wanted to change the world, make it a better place. I knew that to do it I had to start from small gestures … it’s a smile is a small but powerful gesture.

Growing up I did not miss this goal.

Before knowing, and falling in love with mediation, I have studied psychology and human behavior, and its relationship to Art.

I find Art an effective means of getting right to the soul of people.

Art, like the smile, is powerful.

If every person had the chance to be in touch with “Great Beauty,” their being would rise to stay on the highest point of the Maslow Pyramid, self-actualization.  Virtues, like humility, gratitude, empathy shine.

In 2005, during my studies on Relationship Mediation, I met the Argentine spouses Bermolen, they were Boal’s pupils and carried the Oppressive Theater in Italy. I was blown away.

I began thinking, studying, experimenting with a technique that united the Oppressed Theater to Mediation. I wanted to create a technique that ultimately resolved, quickly, and satisfying for everyone, the conflicts within groups, and did so with the strength and kindness of the smile and Art.

Opera della Mediazione was born from these goals.  This approach applies the art of opera to real life conflicts among groups.  It involves non-coercive strategies for three levels borrowed from the Greek theater:

– Theoria: story of the problem;
– Krisis: Awareness of the problem;
– Katharsis: resolution, in the most disparate ways, of the controversy.

This technique is particularly effective as it does not rely only upon words. Opera being intuitive and emotional theater makes it easy to use especially in cases where members of the group are subject to limitations (examples could be children, adolescents, addicts, people with mild or moderate mental retardation, or groups belonging to different cultures and languages).  This technique is also successful  in family conflicts and separations because it allows each individual member of the conflict to see and feeling what other people experience arising from their own behavior.

“Ask me if I’m happy?”

I’m happy because I can help others, I’m happy because I can help create a better world. I’m happy because I can share with my children precious times when share my work with them.  This is not just spending time together with them but growing with them, working with them live joyfully and to make others happy.

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Legacy Lawyer: Jessie L. Smith

Contributor Jessie L. Smith, Esq. Harrisburg, PA, Co-Chair Pennsylvania Bar Association Women in the Profession Commission 

Jessie L. Smith is a recently retired government and private practice trial attorney. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at Dickinson Law, as a Dauphin County Court Arbitrator, and in many local and state bar association roles focusing on leadership, Continuing Education programs and diversity and inclusion initiatives. She is currently the Co-Chair of the PBA Women in the Profession Commission and Chair of its Agricultural Law Committee. She trained as a mediator, and established the first Certified State Mediation Program for PA. Ms. Smith is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and the Pennsylvania State University.

Who I Am
I was one of the first women trial lawyers in many of the rural courts in which I practiced. I mentor, am committed to diversity, and am very active in state and local bar associations. I have a wide circle of professional acquaintances and spend time networking, referring, and getting and sharing information.

This I Believe
I believe in kindness. I believe in finding win-win situations, getting to yes, persistence and never giving up; integrity and trying new and challenging things.

What I Love about Practicing Law
Working with smart people, learning, insight into your community, uncovering motivations, wearing the white hat, writing and speaking, being able to converse with anyone, solving problems, accomplishing something complex and difficult, and being an advocate.

Lessons Learned

  1. There is a time to leave a job –a success peak or if you have an enemy there –and you should leave then so that you preserve your reputation, and avoid spending time in Machiavellian strategizing to outmaneuver your enemy.
  2. Try to learn everything you can from a workplace, factual and legal info, even if it’s not what you’re doing there.
  3. If you hate doing something, find a way to not do it, and don’t pretend you enjoy it, as you’ll just get more of it to do.

Personal & Professional Habits

  1. I have three large dogs, have always had dogs, and they entertain me as well as provide me with personal safety, home security, exercise, problem solving opportunities, and the discipline of caring for them daily.
  2. I do things at home to relax and think about something totally different –for me that’s cooking and “home economics” –care of an old house, arts events, and reading outside the law.
  3. I’ve been on several nonprofit boards and learned a lot from this.
  4. I read the Unity Daily Word, a booklet with a short daily ecumenical  message about positive thinking and practices and helping others.
  5. I go out to lunch at least once a week, with various people not just work-related, and to different places.
  6. I am not an early person so I schedule important things later in the day if at all possible –push yourself but don’t fight yourself.

Welcome to the Practice of Law

  1. Don’t complain to your peers –complain to someone who can solve the problem.
  2. Keep up you network of non-lawyer friends and contacts.
  3. If you aspire to some position (judge, legislator), get to know one well so you know what is actually involved and can go to that person as a mentor and sounding board.
  4. Learn the power and structure of your workplace –becoming close to someone who is negatively perceived or powerless, especially if they have been there a while, can actually be harmful to your reputation there, and their advice will be unhelpful.
  5. Do things to meet other lawyers in social settings.
  6. Fight for what you want, don’t acquiesce, compromise only for something better –with as much diplomacy as you can bring to the situation without weakening your message.
  7. Learn from the sales field –keep notes in your Outlook Contacts of the people you meet –where you met them, common ground, personal interest –you will NOT remember this stuff unless you do. This makes every conversation easier and shows your genuine interest in that person.

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Firm Commitment

Contributor: Diane Hauser, Esq.
Diane Hauser is an attorney at Paisner Litvin, LLP (www.paisnerlitvin.com). Ms. Hauser focuses her practice exclusively
on labor and employment law, including collective bargaining negotiations, labor arbitrations, unfair labor practice proceedings, EEO agency proceedings, FMLA, Title VII, ADA and wage and hour issues. Ms. Hauser is a magna cum laude graduate of Villanova School of Law, where she was an associate editor of the Villanova Law Review. She holds a bachelors degree from the University of Virginia. Ms. Hauser is a member of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey bars.

In November 2008, my two and a half year old son, Matthew, was diagnosed with stage four Burkitt’s Lymphoma. By the time it was discovered, the disease had spread to not only his lymph node system, but also his bone marrow and spinal fluid. Needless to say, this diagnosis was devastating news to my entire family, including me, my husband Bill, and our four year old son, Will.

At the time of Matthew’s diagnosis, I was working part time at a small law firm, Paisner Litvin, LLP, as a labor and employment law attorney. I joined Paisner Litvin, after working in-house for several years, in order to spend more time with my young children.  However, after Matthew was diagnosed, I was worried that I would not be able to maintain even a part-time schedule, as my husband and I were told that Matthew would require months of intensive chemotherapy, most of which would be in-patient at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  I didn’t know how I was going to manage Matthew’s treatment, take care of our older son Will, and also be able to work. I also was not sure how my firm would respond to my situation, given the challenges I would be facing.

Fortunately for me, Paisner Litvin handled the situation wonderfully.  They were not only supportive, but they gave me the flexibility to work when, where and how much I wanted during the period of Matthew’s treatment.  I was able to work at home, and even at the hospital, and had the ability to turn down work when it conflicted with Matthew’s treatment.  This flexibility gave me the ability to keep working during the entire period of Matthew’s treatment. The firm continued to give me this flexibility even after Matthew’s treatment was completed (successfully!), as his treatment caused some long term side effects, which – to this day – require many doctor’s appointments and procedures, including the need for a three hour IV infusion every four weeks, in order to boost his immune system.

The manner in which Paisner Litvin handled my situation both during and after Matthew’s treatment garnered tremendous amounts of gratitude and loyalty, which cannot be overstated.  In 2014, I became a full-time partner with the firm.  I never would have considered taking on this full-time role with the firm, had I not had the confidence that the firm would be supportive of my situation and allow me the flexibility that I needed to manage a full-time work load and also take care of my personal situation.  Since joining the firm as a full-time partner in 2014, I have been presented with several other job opportunities. As tempting as some of them have been, I have stayed with the firm because I appreciate all that the firm has done for me, and because I have the confidence that I will be able to balance my personal and work load during the years to come, regardless of the challenges that face me.

Despite his side effects, Matthew is now a happy, healthy eleven year old boy. I am eternally grateful that I am able to be there for him and his brother as a mom, and also be able to manage a full-time labor and employment law practice.  I believe that my situation has benefited not just me and my family, but my firm as well, as the firm has the benefit of a loyal and dedicated attorney who appreciates all that has been done for her and who plans on sticking around for the long term.

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All That Jazz… & More!

Contributor: Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee is an American jazz & blues vocalist, songwriter (ASCAP) and recording artist, born in Manassas, VA. Lee grew up in Franklin, PA, studying classical piano since the age of 5. During college, her interest in jazz blossomed after a chance encounter with Paul Jeffrey, Director of Jazz Studies, Duke University, with whom she studied jazz history and improvisation and who encouraged her to begin her life-long study of jazz piano, vocals and improvisation. Jessica graduated from Duke University (1991) where she continued her study and performance of music, piano, creative writing and voice, and subsequently graduated from Duke University School of Law (1994) where she studied business and entertainment law.
Jazz Artist Entrepreneur (www.jessicaleejazz.com) & Social Entrepreneur (www.pghgateways.org)

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I have played piano and sung since age five, and I always knew that I wanted to make music part of my career path if at all possible.  While studying music and creative writing at Duke University, I had the chance to have a long discussion with an Entertainment Law Professor at Duke Law School who advised me to consider attending law school as a way of learning about contracts, copyrights and more – all of which would be important in my entrepreneurial music career.  Lucky enough to earn a partial scholarship to Duke Law School, I did attend, graduate and continue on to become both a professional Jazz Singer and a young law partner – after approximately 7 years of practice – at a private law firm with a focus on entrepreneurship and business law.

Although I had learned much in private law practice, I began to look for a next career step that would benefit from my private law practice knowledge and experience and that would focus on creative and social entrepreneurship.  I did discover an innovative nonprofit in the Pittsburgh region with the mission of economic development and social entrepreneurship, and I built a relationship with its founder and President/C.E.O.  After working together via contract on several matters, I ultimately made the decision to leave private law practice and make the leap to focusing solely on artist entrepreneurship through my new music production company, ViveVenture, LLC, and on social entrepreneurship through this boutique nonprofit organization, Pittsburgh Gateways Corporation, as a management team member.

Many people thought that I was crazy to leave private law practice.  But, I was not truly fulfilled and realized that my full potential would not be realized if I did not make a career change.  I have had an amazing 20-year career as a professional Jazz Singer, band leader and producer, recording multiple CDs with tracks included on international albums with Norah Jones and many others, and performing live in Jazz clubs and performance series, festivals, charitable events and more regionally and nationally with some of the top Jazz musicians.  As a social entrepreneur and V.P. of Pittsburgh Gateways Corporation, I have helped to create and manage creativity and career programs, new Innovation Centers such as the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, and even to help to save and renovate historic arts and music venues such as the August Wilson home and the Crawford Grill Jazz Club.

When asked from time to time for career tips, two of the best that I have ever been given came from my Jazz mentors:  1) Do whatever you need to do to continue to challenge yourself to grow – take risks and don’t be afraid to fail, as it is only in trying new and uncomfortable things that you will ensure continued growth, improve your skills and become more and more excellent in your chosen career pathway.  2) If you believe in God, pray and listen to both God and to your own heart.  When others tell you that what you sincerely wish to do cannot be done, don’t listen to them and don’t stop working hard to develop your skills and to use those skills in service to others.  Even today, I am challenging myself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and to continue to grow and serve others.

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The American Dream is Human Rights

The following is an article by Fayezeh Haji Hassan which was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette February 5, 2017.
Ms. Hassan graduated from Duquesne University School of Law in June 2017.

The American Dream is human rights

I have lived in chaos where there is no rule of law. Please, Americans, do not turn us away

I am a woman, a Muslim and an Iranian immigrant living in Pittsburgh. My family was forced to flee to Afghanistan and live under the Taliban because of the constant death threats my father received from the Iranian government for defending religious minority groups.

The Taliban forbade women from going to school; this was the most traumatic experience of my life because all I wanted to do was to study. I escaped the death threats of one dictator regime in Iran to endure the death of my dreams under another one in Afghanistan. But it did not stop me. I opened a home school in our neighborhood and taught younger girls.

This is my last year of law school at Duquesne University, and I know I have answered my life’s call. I have lived in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt. I am in America studying law because of the human rights violations I have experienced. I came here to equip myself with the best tools to help people at home. When I say home, I do not mean Iran. I mean any place —  I love every country that I have lived in — that needs my help and any child who is experiencing what I have experienced.

I learned early on that rights are not always given; sometimes rights must be taken. Now I am shifting gears. When I came here seven years ago, I did not believe my human-rights education would be needed in the United States. Now, I am planning to stay, to defend what is mine, and what is ours.

The new immigration ban on Muslim-majority countries has generated worldwide anxiety and stress. It has compelled me to understand the culture, values and mindset of my new home. Therefore, I subscribed to President Donald Trump’s Facebook page and have spent hours reading the comments to understand why people support this immigration ban. Here is what I have observed:

• This is a political game for many people, but it is not for those of us affected. I have not seen my family for seven years. I have gone through the long process of immigration, and I still do not even have my green card. I feel that most people who support this ban lack empathy. Some may feel that this is “their country” and that security should be a priority, but what is going on now has resulted in the reverse. I am not a religious person, but I cherish my Muslim identity more today than I ever have in my life.

• Some Americans are scared; it is an irrational phobia and not a valid fear. The New York Times recently published a list describing the long years and daunting security clearances that refugees must go through to get into the United States. It is extreme vetting. A similar process is in place to get a visa. The promise of the Trump campaign was to eliminate illegal immigration, but now the legal process has been targeted. Why? Perhaps because it is easy; supporters of the immigration ban want some kind of action, and they are getting some. They do not care whether it is right or wrong, effective or ineffective.

• Some people point out that, so far, this is a temporary ban. The lack of empathy behind such words makes my heart ache. If these people have an airline flight delayed, even once, they will make a big fuss. Refugees and immigrants have complied with endless procedures, paid their fees and waited with bated breath on every legal step. When they are on the edge of being granted admission to the United States, they are turned away by the stroke of a pen. The effect of this, I promise, is not temporary.

• The United States is my utopia. I came here to learn, to live and to prosper. I am not going to let anyone ruin it for me, so I will stay to fight to make sure we keep this country the way the U.S. Constitution defines it: a beacon of hope and dedicated to the rule of law. I have seen the worst chaos from the absence of the rule of law, and I will try my best to prevent it from happening here.

• The American Dream is human rights. This is a bold statement, but it is the brand that has been sold to the rest of the world, and it is the responsibility of the United States to uphold it. It is the American Dream that gives the United States the power to invade, to sanction, to lead and to draw talent from all around the world. America is the land of immigrants, and we, today’s immigrants, are not giving up on our human rights.

Muslim immigrants are a bridge between the United States and much of the world. And it is not an easy place to be. Do not embarrass us, please. I hate the fact that, when I defend America, I often hear, “You defend the country that discriminates against you for your religion and your country of birth!” Anyone can possess the American Dream, but not every dreamer is brave enough to follow it through.

It takes courage to leave your country, your family, your friends, and to go to a new country where the language is foreign, to start from zero, to work hard, and harder and harder, to see your dreams come true.

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Lawline’s 2016 Top Women Faculty

The following is an excerpt from Sigalle Barness, Lawline’s Top 20 Women Faculty of 2016, Lawline.com (Apr. 18, 2017).

Lawline’s content team dug deep into 2016 data, including the top courses and our most successful faculty. In particular, the team focused on identifying the top women faculty who, through their powerful CLE programs, influenced and inspired thousands of attorneys across the country.

We focused on the top-rated, most viewed and thoughtfully reviewed 2016 courses taught by a woman. This allowed us to not only gauge the impact of these individual women but also recognize the reach they had on the legal community. We congratulate these women on their accomplishments and the excellent work they do—both inside and outside of the Lawline studio.

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Women’s Satisfaction with the Law

The following is an excerpt from Rachel Marx Boufford, Why Are Women Lawyers Unhappy? Vault Law Firm Diversity Database (March 21, 2013).

Both men and women rate their satisfaction levels highest during their first year at the firm, and both men and women experience a significant drop in satisfaction between years one and two (Toto, we’re not in law school anymore!). Satisfaction continues to drop gradually until after the fifth year, when for men, satisfaction rises quite a bit throughout the sixth and seventh years, while women remain stagnant at their fifth-year low point. The only time when satisfaction levels match up for men and women is during the eighth year.

So what does all this mean, and why is it happening?

First, many female associates feel that it is impossible to have a family and make partner—and so they take themselves off the partnership track, even before they have children (in other words, they’re the poster children for not “leaning in”). Here’s what a few sixth-year female associates had to say in our survey:

  • “There is certainly a belief among women associates that you can either have a family, or be a partner—not both.”
  • “A disproportionate number of the female partners are childless. It seems extremely difficult to be a female with a child and make partner. The male partners almost all have children.”
  • “It is a friendly, welcoming atmosphere for people of different races, ethnicities and sexual orientations but I feel as a woman attorney that I should not even try for partnership because it won’t be possible with a child.”

Second, female associates complain that their male counterparts have different—and better—opportunities for business development, important assignments and mentorship (again, all these quotes come from 6th-year female associates):

  • “I do not feel that work gets distributed fairly among associates (particularly between men and women associates), from case to case or within each team.”
  • “Much of the focus [of the firm’s women’s initiative] is on work/life balance and alternative hours arrangements which is most meaningful if you have kids (which many women at the firm do not). I wish they would address issues that apply to all women, like communication strategies, selling work in what is still often a man’s world (at the client level), building a network, etc.”
  • “If there were more women here then we’d likely have more female partners and I would have more women to look up to as mentors.”

Finally, a common complaint among senior women associates is that their potential for making partnership is not clear enough:

  • “I enjoy what I do, and I really like the people I work with. However, I am very unsure and concerned about my long term career potential at this firm.”
  • “Partnership requirements seem to be changing, but nobody will actually admit that anything has changed, nor will anybody tell us what the actual expectations are.”
  • “There is almost no hope of making partner here, and that influences my satisfaction and long-term goals.”

Perhaps women need to do a better job of claiming a seat at the table and pursuing their goals, as Sheryl Sandberg argues. Maybe, as Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote, firms need to do a better job of creating “better models and possibilities of fitting work and life together.” Or—most likely—both are right. What’s less debatable, however, are the numbers: the most recent Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey found that women represent approximately 45% of associates, but only 20% of partners. Moreover, only 32.5% of partners promoted in 2011 were women (granted, this is an increase from 2010, when 29.71% of partners promoted were women).

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