“I’m not sure one person without support can do much, but one person with a lot of like-minded friends can make a difference,” says E. Lynn Grayson, a partner at Jenner & Block in Chicago, who recently received the Illinois State Bar Association’s 2012 Diversity Leadership Award. Grayson is recognized as one of the top environmental lawyers in the country and has worked throughout her 26-year career to bolster women and other historically disadvantaged groups in the legal profession. But, she says, all the credit shouldn’t go to her.
“I appreciate the award and I appreciate being nominated for it, but I’m not really sure that one person makes a difference,” Grayson says. “There are so many good people in the state bar association and my firm has been fabulous. …They’ve been really great about supporting me and supporting [the firm’s] diversity committee.”
The balance between work and home life as a “working woman and working mother,” Grayson says, influenced her early on to get involved with issues that affect women in law. As a result of her extensive advocacy work, Grayson received the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois Women with Vision Award in 2009, and the Chicago Bar Association for Women’s Alta May Hulett Award, which was named after the first female lawyer in the state, in 2002.
Grayson, a top 100 listee in Illinois, says she has widened her scope in the last decade to help create an “equal playing ground [in the legal profession], where everybody will have the same opportunities.” She currently serves on her firm’s diversity committee and women’s forum and was the inaugural chair of the State Bar Association Task Force on Diversity. As a result of the task force, the ISBA created its Diversity Leadership Council and now has a section of their website devoted to diversity.
“[The page on the bar’s website] seems like a little thing, but it’s such a big step to try to make sure that the priority remains focused on diversity,” Grayson says. “There are a lot of good-hearted people in the ISBA and a lot of people that support these initiatives. When everybody got together, great things happened, and [diversity has] continued to be a priority within the bar.”
The ISBA will present the award to her on June 15 during its annual meeting in Fontana, Wisconsin.