Whenever she talks about her days as South Carolina’s first female fighter pilot, Tally Parham Casey, who now leads the Wyche Law Firm, likes to relate a conversation between her daughter, Mia, who was 3 at the time, and son Wyatt, then 5.
“One day, she said to him, ‘Wyatt, boys can’t be lawyers, only girls can do it!’” Casey recalls, surprised that the banter wasn’t about whether Mia could grow up to be like her mom.
Today, Lt. Col. Casey, a former South Carolina Air National Guard F-16 pilot who deployed to Iraq three times, serves as Wyche’s CEO and Executive Committee chair.
And now as part of the 100-year-old firm’s yearlong Centennial Legacy Project, Wyche is partnering with the Greenville Center for the Creative Arts to present the “City of Women.” The exhibition, set for spring, reimagines a community where landmarks are named after notable women, rather than reserving that honor for prominent men.
Sure, Wyche’s name comes from its all-male founders, but nowadays, women comprise 60% of the executive leadership there. In addition, the firm says, four of six attorneys promoted to shareholder in 2020-’21 have been women.
And why not? After all, in Roman and Greek mythology, a woman stands for justice; Lady Justice’s blindfold was introduced in the 16th century — and modern numbers appear to remain blinkered to gender.
In the U.S., female lawyers comprise roughly half of the average law firm, while only about 25% of women and fewer than 4% of women of color occupy the C-suite, according to a National Association of Law Placement report last February. That’s a statistically imperceptible change since a McKinsey & Company survey in October 2017.
Not at Wyche, where Meliah Bowers Jefferson is a shareholder and the firm’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion chair.
Immediately after earning her degree from the University of South Carolina Law School, she clerked for Jean Toal, the first female chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court.
“I saw her lead and I knew that it was possible for me,” says Jefferson, who specializes in business litigation and intellectual property.
When she joined Wyche in 2013, she says, “I didn’t have to be distracted or spend my time thinking about or working to overcome the stigma that might be attached to me being a woman or, more so, a woman of color.”
While Jefferson and Casey point out that women have been given a seat at the firm’s table for decades, Rita Bolt Barker adds to their voices.
“Obviously, Tally, Meliah and I were all looking for a firm where, as Meliah said, possibility was a given,” says Barker, a 2004 Harvard Law School graduate whose specialties include environmental work, commercial litigation and insurance coverage.
Oh, and Barker chairs Wyche’s recruiting committee. More women, more diverse opinions and, as she calls it, a healthy environment attract better talent while fostering retention.
Jefferson goes on to make a couple of points that may seem obvious, but appear overlooked: providing career-building opportunities today nurtures tomorrow’s leaders.
“When we are able to cultivate leadership in women within our walls,” she says, “that also cultivates leadership outside of our walls.“
Meet Wyche’s Women Leaders
Rita Bolt Barker, joined Wyche in 2007
Environmental work, commercial litigation, insurance coverage
Chairs the firm’s Recruiting Committee
Harvard Law School 2004
Tally Parham Casey, joined Wyche in 2000
CEO and chair of Wyche’s Executive Committee
Commercial and securities litigation, health care and qui tam litigation (a type of whistleblower lawsuit), products liability, insurance and aerospace law
University of Virginia School of Law, 1996
Jo Hackl, joined Wyche in 1989
Corporate Governance and Corporate Law and Securities Law.
Bestselling children’s-book author
Yale Law School, 1988
Inez Tenenbaum, joined Wyche in 2016
Leads the firm’s Consumer Product Safety and Risk Management practice.
Former State Superintendent of Education, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission chair
University of South Carolina School of Law, 1986
“City of Women”
The Greenville Center for the Creative Arts is calling for artist submissions for a “City of Women” exhibition slated to run March 4 through April 27, 2022.
The show seeks to “highlight historical and contemporary women who have made a significant impact on the community we are today in the areas of health care and well-being, education, economic opportunity, science and technology, civic engagement and arts and culture,” the GCCA says.
The free public exhibition includes a virtual gallery and a special juried exhibition.
Deadline for submissions: midnight EST, Jan. 6.
For more information, visit the GCCA website