March 31, 2012

MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Jean Allard: Leader, Groundbreaker, Mentor, and Friend

Jean Allard, the first woman elected Chair of the Business Law Section, and the first recipient of the Glass Cutter Award named in her honor, passed away on Sunday, January 29, 2012, after a long illness. She was 87 and is survived by a son, John Allard, a granddaughter, and a niece.

Originally from Trenton, Mo., Allard came to Chicago as a student in the psychology doctoral program at the University of Chicago. Midway through her program, she sought and received permission from the university to take a few classes at the law school. Allard excelled in her studies, transferred to the law school, and went on to serve as the managing editor of the University of Chicago Law Review. She also won the ABA's national student moot court competition for best brief and second best oral argument. She finished her degree in 1953, one of only two women in that year's graduating class.

Despite her academic excellence, Allard was unable to find a law firm willing to hire her. Undeterred, she got her professional start as a research associate working for the husband and wife team of Karl Llewellyn and Soia Mentschikoff. (Llewellyn and Mentschikoff are well known legal scholars and two of the original team appointed by the American Law Institute to draft the Uniform Commercial Code. They later married and continued working together professionally.)

Allard's career spanned many diverse areas: as an antitrust lawyer; as general counsel for Maremont Corp., an auto parts manufacturer; as vice president of the University of Chicago; and as the first female partner at the law firm of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, now known as SNR Denton. She was appointed to and served on the boards of LaSalle Bank, Commonwealth Edison Co., and Marshall Field & Co. In 1987, she was included on the list of Chicago's 10 most powerful women compiled by the Chicago Tribune.

When asked about her success, Allard spoke of her penchant for volunteerism. As she told Today's Chicago Woman, "I volunteered for work a lot, which I think is one of the ways you become a more important person in any institution."

Corinne Cooper, herself a Glass Cutter Award recipient in 1996, became good friends with Allard during their work together in the Section. Cooper counts herself among those who benefited from Allard's guidance. Cooper says, "She appointed me to Chair my first committee, Arbitration, and then challenged me to grow the committee. If she felt that you were moving too fast, she would tell you that, too. And she wasn't afraid to say, 'Wait your turn!' She didn't mentor men any differently than she mentored women, but she was very aware of the need to include women in the leadership of the Section. She understood the pipeline. Because of Jean, we've had a series of outstanding women leaders in the Section."

Former Section Chair and Glass Cutter Award recipient (1995) Amy Boss recalls being simply in awe of Allard. She was "articulate, outgoing, in command, professional, and yet still retained her femininity. People were drawn to her. You wanted to be like her. She was quick to mentor others and share what she had learned." Boss describes the late 70s and early 80s as a time when it was not unusual for her to walk into a Section committee meeting and be the only woman in the room. But any meeting that included Allard had a "different atmosphere, one where you felt included."

For all of Allard's professional accomplishments, she always retained an innate graciousness and willingness to help others. Cindy Elliott met and was hired by Allard while she (Elliott) was in law school. Allard needed assistance editing The Business Lawyer and the print version of Business Law Today, and the two worked closely on Section business for several years.

Former Section Chair and 1998 Glass Cutter Award recipient, Barbara Mendel Mayden, recalls how much has changed within the Section over the past 20 years. Mayden describes "a time of closed committee meetings and an intimidating atmosphere," but that Allard was persistent in making sure there were places for talented people, "especially those who didn't fit the traditional mold." Mayden remembers, "Jean invented mentoring before anyone else really knew what it was. She was always on the lookout for young people who needed an introduction and a seat at the table. Even if you didn't have the gumption to try, she just kept pushing you forward. I feel very fortunate to have been mentored by her personally. Without Jean's influence, I would never have remained so involved with the Section."

Elliott also remembers Allard fondly. "Jean was an amazing person, so engaged in everything she was doing, and with more energy than anyone I've ever met. She was great to work with, very much a listener, but very decisive when she needed to be. She was extremely bright and competent, yet totally confident and relaxed. Jean always said there were two types of women in business, 'the kind who climb the ladder and pull it up after they get to the top, and the kind who climb the ladder and reach down to help those behind her manage the steep climb.' Jean was always helping those around her, always promoting capable people, and giving them opportunities to shine that they would not have had otherwise."

It was at a Section luncheon 25 years ago, at the Spring Meeting in St. Louis, that Elliott serendipitously was seated next to the man whom she would eventually marry, Mitchell Bach. While Allard never claimed credit for introducing the couple, Allard was responsible for finding the federal judge that married the couple in Chicago and was a special guest at their wedding. Bach recalls Allard as "a giant, way ahead of her time."

When Allard's son John was contacted and asked to share some thoughts about his mother, he recalled how happy she was to attend the Business Law Section meetings. She loved being around everyone and catching up with her friends. Thus it seems only fitting to honor Jean Allard at this year's Spring Meeting as the 20th Glass Cutter Award is bestowed on one of the Section's deserving female leaders.