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Celebrate Women's History Month

As we wrap up and reflect on Women’s History Month 2024, we celebrate the accomplishments of women throughout history, as well as NNJLS’ very own Executive Director Leah Ashe, Esq., the first woman and the first woman of color leading the non-profit legal organization, with three offices serving Hudson, Bergen and Passaic counties.

Leah has been with NNJLS for 26 years, promoted to Executive Director in 2022 from Deputy Director and the Managing Attorney of the Public Benefits Unit. It was with the encouragement of some staff and her mentor Anna Navatta, who was Director of Bergen County Legal Services before the merger with Hudson County Legal Services and Passaic County Legal Aid, that Leah sought the top leadership role.

“Prior to Anna, the Executive Directors that I worked with had been men,” Leah said. “I never thought that I would become an Executive Director because my passion had always been the casework and representing clients. That is what I went to law school for and was what I loved to do.”

"However as Executive Director, I am now in a position to help our clients even more by making decisions for the program that will enhance the quality of services we provide, as well as, expand on the types of services we provide."

Much has changed for women in the legal field since Leah first entered the profession. When Leah first started at legal services in Bergen County, there were a few more women attorneys in the office than men, but none in supervisory positions, she recalled.

“I was the youngest attorney and only woman attorney of color in the office, and I did not see many women of color or attorneys of color period practicing in Bergen County,” Leah said. “Over the years not only did I see a growth in the number of women and women of color practicing, but some were in supervisory positions. More women have been given opportunities to advance in the field and they are taking those opportunities and excelling.” Leah always knew that she wanted to work in the public service field and when she graduated from law school, she sought out a legal services job.

"I was happy to find a position with Bergen County Legal Services and start my career as a legal services attorney where I could help those most in need." “I never considered myself a role model however including even when I first became Executive Director. I just always wanted to do the best I could, which to me meant going above and beyond expectations in every position that I have had at NNJLS,” she said.

Throughout her career at NNJLS, Leah served in supervisory roles, which she hopes will help other up-and-coming women attorneys see a path forward for their future. “I have been told by a couple of younger women attorneys at and outside of NNJLS that I am a role model to them not only as a woman, but as a woman of color, which has really made me proud and more cognizant of how important it is for me to excel in my role as Executive Director, and create opportunities for other women attorneys,” Leah said.

“The work we do at legal services is so important and I hope that my experience as Executive Director at NNJLS will make a way for up-and-coming women attorneys to envision themselves in positions of leadership, particularly at legal services programs.”



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