The times certainly are changing. With the election of Grand Rapids native Mary Massaron Ross –– partner with Bloomfield Hills-based Plunkett & Cooney –– to serve as president of the DRI, The Voice of the Defense Bar, women are now heading the nation’s three largest attorney organizations.
In addition to Ross’s DRI presidency, Laurel Bellows, principal in The Bellows Law Group of Chicago, and Mary Alice McLarty, co-founder of McLarty Pope in Dallas, are serving as presidents of the American Bar Association and the American Association for Justice (plaintiffs' bar), respectively.
“I was surprised and pleased,” said Ross, following her election. “I think it speaks well to the legal profession as a whole and its commitment to ensuring that all members of the profession have an opportunity to serve at the highest level of leadership. It confirms, I think, what we all have known for many years, which is that women have a great deal to offer as strong, powerful leaders.”
Ross is only the second woman to serve as president of the DRI; the last female president was elected more than a decade ago.
Ross believes that opportunities for women are growing and the commitment of many within the profession is helping women move into positions once unavailable to them.
“The legal profession, like many professions, was — in the distant, distant past — extremely difficult for women to enter,” Ross explained. “Over the last several decades, more and more women have gone to law school and gone into the area of litigation and have begun increasingly to participate in the organizations of the bar. The DRI has worked very hard over the years to increase the diversity of its membership as well as of its leadership.”
The DRI is a 22,000-member organization that works for the advancement of a fair and balanced judicial system and provides cutting edge legal education to its members to help them attain their professional goals.
DRI presidents are expected to have many years of service with the organization through serving on its committees or task forces, as well as serving as a member of the organization’s board of directors.
Ross has been a member of the DRI since 1990 and has served the organization in many capacities, including as both program chair and chair for the appellate advocacy committee and as a member of the nominating committee. She also has contributed articles to the organization’s monthly magazine. In addition, she was elected second vice president and then served as the first vice president and president elect.
Ross said that one of the biggest contributors to women –– and, really, any attorney’s success –– has to do with mentorship programs. Attorneys need to be provided with a clear understanding of how to achieve their goals within their firm and the path to partnership. She said that this should be considered vital to any firm’s diversity initiative.
Additionally, Ross is aware of Grand Rapids’ Managing Partners Diversity Collaborative, an effort to increase the number of women and minorities within local law firms, and she applauds that effort.