The rewards of risk-taking

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, L’85, H’13, told an audience of female lawyers and other professionals gathered at Northeastern on Friday morning risk-taking is a critical element to building their professional expertise and judgment.

Hassan served as the keynote speaker for Northeastern School of Law’s sixth annual Women in the Law conference, which provides career guidance and professional development growth to female attorneys and other professionals at all stages of their careers and brings together decision-makers from Boston and beyond.

“The more difficult types of experiences we have and the more exploring we do betters our judgment,” Hassan told the more than 90 attendees. “Our judgment is at its best when it is informed by our skills, mistakes, triumphs, education, and what we learn from everyone around us.”

The daylong conference, Fearless: Risk Equals Reward, also included two panel discussions and breakout sessions covering topics such as learning when to take risks and risk-taking in certain areas of law.

In his welcoming remarks, School of Law Dean Jeremy Paul acknowledged the conference organizers’ hard work and the importance of the law school hosting the annual event. Paul then introduced Hassan, whom he described as a “use-inspired politician” whose leadership has made a significant impact for the people of New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Gov. Margaret Wood Hassan, L'85, H'13, served as the keynote speaker at the Women in the Law conference on Friday. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

New Hampshire Gov. Margaret Wood Hassan, L’85, H’13, served as the keynote speaker at the Women in the Law conference on Friday. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Hassan was elected governor of New Hampshire last year after serving in the state Senate for six years. She shared with attendees a number of risks she has taken both professionally and personally, from how her son with cerebral palsy inspired her to be an advocate leading to her career in politics, to passing marriage equality legislation in New Hampshire.

“We take risks because we then unleash our own talents and energy,” Hassan said. “We take risks to change existing paradigms because we know someone needs to and we believe our lives will be better as a result.”

The conference’s first panel, moderated by School of Law professor Lucy Williams, addressed taking risks in an unforgiving world. The panelists were Northeastern School of Law professor Margaret Burnham; Adriane Dudley, L’72, senior partner at Dudley, Rich, and Davis; Erin Freeborn, L’10, executive director of the nonprofit organization Juvenile Court Restorative Justice Diversion; and Maura Healey, L’98, a candidate for Massachusetts attorney general.

Burnham, a civil and human rights expert, was the first African-American woman to serve in the Massachusetts judiciary and founded Northeastern’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Program. She said an important factor for her when taking risks is having a set of values and a supportive community.

“I think the most important risk-supportive environment that you can put yourself in, whatever that community is and whatever the values express, should be the environment in which you inform your career,” Burnham said.