'With arms wide open'

Kate Sharkey was new to the county when members made her feel at home

By Jo Mathis
Legal News

Kate Sharkey is excited to be the new president of WLAM/Washtenaw Region partly because its members did so much to make her feel welcome here three years ago.

Sharkey and her husband, Jake Miller, grabbed the opportunity to move back to their home state of Michigan in the fall of 2010 when Jake was transferred from Chicago to Fed Ex’s Saline office.

Still, the timing wasn’t the greatest.

An attorney for Cabrini Green Legal Aid in Chicago, Sharkey had two cases set for trial.

She was also ready to deliver her second child any moment.

Within a few weeks, she and her family (daughter Cecilia is now 5, and son, Jude, is 2) were living with her family until they found their own place in May of 2011.

After finally making many connections and seeing her career take off in Chicago, Sharkey’s career here was nonexistent.

Trying not to feel desperate about starting over in Washtenaw County, she was online looking for networking opportunities when she came across WLAM’s site and learned that the next day the Washtenaw chapter was hosting a “moms-in-law” brown bag lunch discussion group.

Her husband sat in the car outside 200 North Main with their infant and toddler while Sharkey went inside and met women who would quickly become friends and important connections.

In fact, she was referred to WLAM members Ann Routt and Rebecca Schiemke, who are now her bosses at Legal Services of South Central Michigan’s Family Law Project in Washtenaw County, where she is a staff attorney.

 “Those of you who have practiced in other areas of the state or country know what I know,” she said recently at the annual WLAM/Washtenaw Region election of officers. “This is not normal. This sort of arms wide open approach to new and transitioning attorneys is special. This is unique to Washtenaw County.”

As president of the region, she wants to continue reaching out to attorneys who are less represented than others, specifically public sector attorneys and legal services attorneys.

She is also concerned about the income disparity between the sexes. Sharkey told WLAM members that while she knows that when her term ends in May of 2014, the gaps won’t be eliminated—“I do think that our organization can be—if we want to be, if the commitment is there—an important part of this conversation, an important part of making sure our colleagues are paid as they should be, an important part of ensuring that our less-fortunate sisters are being treated fairly and compensated as their male equals are.”

Sharkey she loves her job at Legal Services, where she works with domestic violence survivors leaving abusive relationships.

“It is very difficult work,” she said, “but I am pretty sure I have one of the most rewarding attorney jobs out there.”

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