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Women’s History Month Spotlight: Carole Neff – Partner at Sessions, Fishman, & Nathan, LLC

March 10, 2022 (6 min read)

“I was among the first group of women who were determined to do it all – we knew we could be wives, mothers, and practice law. It sometimes felt like we were being stretched thin but that’s just how it was 45 years ago.”

Carole Neff - Sessions, Fishman, & Nathan, LLC | Louisiana Estate Planning, Will Drafting and Estate Administration with Forms.

In observance of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, LexisNexis is spotlighting law book authors and editors who have set the bar for excellence and leadership among women in legal professions.

Carole Cukell Neff is a Board-Certified Estate Planning & Administration Specialist certified by the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization. She co-authored a three-volume treatise with now-deceased partner Max Nathan, Jr. entitled Louisiana Estate Planning, Will Drafting and Estate Administration with Forms (Lexis Law Publishing).

She graduated Order of the Coif from the Tulane University School of Law, where she served on the Board of Editors of the Tulane Law Review. After graduation, she clerked for Justice John A. Dixon, Jr. of the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Neff is a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, being elected the first woman and the youngest person from the State of Louisiana. She is the sole New Orleans member of the Special Needs Alliance, a group of professionals across the country whose work includes special needs planning.

She’s listed in The Best Lawyers in America and in Louisiana Super Lawyers 2015 Top 10 Lawyers, she has served as Chair of the Pro Bono Project, Chair of the New Orleans Rotary Fund, Inc., President of the Women’s Professional Council, President of the Professional Financial Planners of Greater New Orleans, President of the New Orleans Estate Planning Council, Chair of the Avodah New Orleans Advisory Council and President of the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana. She served on the Boards of the New Orleans Rotary Club, the Algiers Economic Development Foundation, and the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans. She served as President of the Board of the Jewish Community Day School.

She was also Chair of the 2018 Impact 100 Advisory Council of the Greater New Orleans Foundation. Ms. Neff is a frequent, sought-after speaker at estate planning seminars and institutes to fellow professionals and to lay audiences.

International Women’s Day 2022

LexisNexis: The theme of International Women’s Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias. As a female leader, what has been the most significant biases you’ve faced in your career? How did you break the bias? 

Neff: When I entered law school in 1974, our class was maybe 15-percent women. And more than half of those women didn’t stay in the profession very long afterwards – you just didn’t see very many women practicing law yet. Many of the men were getting interviews and these nice offers at large firms while the women were getting “polite” one-liner rejection letters. And when we did get an interview with a large firm, they were asking questions that have since become disallowed under the law – things related to potential pregnancy and my husband’s status rather than my merits as an attorney. It was a time where I had to just ‘keep-on-keeping-on’ to break into the field. I was among the first group of women who were determined to do it all – we knew we could be wives, mothers, and practice law. It sometimes felt like we were being stretched thin but that’s just how it was 45 years ago.

When it became clear that women professionals didn’t have the same type of networking opportunities that men had (because we weren’t allowed into the men’s only health clubs and golf courses to hobnob), a group of women from a variety a professions decided to get together to remedy that. It started as a social event where we invited women from our respective professions, and it developed into a group for women who were experts in their fields called the Women’s Professional Council. This allowed us to have a reliable network of women professionals – attorneys, realtors, CPAs, accountants, and others – who we could refer to anytime. I was a founding member and an early president of that organization, and it’s still around and has grown.

LexisNexis: In what ways are you working to promote gender equality in your professional life? 

Neff: After college and working with a Louisiana Supreme Court Justice, I, along with several other women, started an organization called the Association for Women Attorneys. We started that in 1978 with a goal of supporting women attorneys in New Orleans. I was a founding member of that organization and one of the early presidents, and I’m happy to say it’s still going strong.

I’ve always been a mentor to young women in this profession. In my practice I’ve always reached out, taught, and encouraged young women to try things that would push their careers forward and pursue opportunities they might not have pursued otherwise. I had a tremendous role model and I’ve used that model to do the same for others, and I’m proud to say many women who I’ve mentored are very successful and flourishing today.  

LexisNexis: What, or who, influenced you to start writing? To become an author with LexisNexis? 

Neff: Max Nathan, who was my mentor for many years and co-author of Louisiana Estate Planning, Will Drafting and Estate Administration with Forms,  took me under his wing and chose me to help. It was a huge undertaking and very challenging, but it ended up being one of the best things I ever did for my career. He knew that. It’s been a moniker I’ve been able to have and to hold, and had it not been for Max Nathan pushing me and saying “you can do this,” I may not have ever had an opportunity like that. It was a beautiful example of promoting and pushing someone professionally – believing in them in a way they may not even believe in themselves.

LexisNexis: Are there any advantages you feel like you have had as woman in your chosen career field?  

Neff: I rose to the occasion in law school and after to become the first woman accomplish certain things that had never been achieved by a woman before, and that has its advantages. For example, I ended up being the first woman and youngest person admitted to the American College of Trusts and Estates in the State of Louisiana, so it’s nice to have that as an accomplishment behind my name. It’s allowed me to stand-out a little more and be more distinctive throughout my career.

LexisNexis: What advice would you give to other women in legal professions or women just beginning their careers?  

Neff: If you’re able to find a mentor or a role model, take full advantage of it and foster that relationship. IF you’re not lucky enough to have that, seek out people who you can emulate – people who set the standard for the type of professional you want to become. I’d also say to my fellow women in the profession now and those who will come after, we should constantly promote one another. Before I got into this profession, I think the women who preceded me were more competitive and not supportive of one another. I think we have turned the tide some and I think we really owe it to each other to promote other women.

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