Put a Woman on the List!!
I received my J.D. from UCLA in 1978 and retired from the practice of law in July 2012. When I retired, I had been a partner or shareholder at major international law firms for more than 25 years and had represented employers in labor and employment law matters for more than 30 years. I am now a full-time arbitrator and mediator for labor and employment law matters.
As a young lawyer in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, being female was a distinct disadvantage. Most lawyers (including law firm partners) and judges were men and, with some notable exceptions, they tended not to respect the views of young women. Business development was particularly difficult because, at the time, almost all in-house counsel were men and few outside counsel were women. The male in-house counsel I worked with seemed to be uncomfortable engaging in any kind of out-of-the-office activity with a young woman to whom they were not married. I will never forget the male client representative who took me to dinner when I was working on a project at his company for a few days, but made me ride in the back seat because we were the only people in the car and he did not want to be seen “going out” with a woman who was not his wife. I also will never forget the judge who, when I asked for a trial continuance because I was due to have a child during the scheduled trial, told me he had never missed a day of work because of the birth of any of his five children. All of this got easier as I got older and, simultaneously, it became more common for women to be lawyers and judges.
The most significant change for women in the legal industry since 1978 is the increase in the number of women in all areas. The more women lawyers there are, the more client representatives, Judges, and lawyers get used to the idea of women lawyers and come to accept them. It also is important that we all can now identify women lawyers who have had legal careers spanning several decades, signifying that women can be successful and respected lawyers, judges, and even Supreme Court Justices.
Women now comprise almost 50% of the graduating classes at many law schools and that alone should lead to a continued increase in the number of women in the legal industry. However, it remains true that women comprise less than 25% of the partnership at most large law firms, only a few women in-house counsel have become General Counsel, and (at large firms or not) women lawyers often struggle to develop the kind of business they need for satisfying careers.
The number of successful women in the legal profession will increase more quickly (to the benefit of all women lawyers) if everyone makes it a point to help talented women lawyers with their careers. We need to sponsor (not just mentor) other women lawyers. It is not enough to passively mentor someone who comes to you for assistance. To cause real change, we all should actively promote other women lawyers. There are many ways to do this. At a minimum, when asked for a referral to another lawyer, an expert witness, a mediator, arbitrator, discovery referee, etc., we all should remember to put at least one woman on the list. There are talented women in all areas of the legal industry and we do ourselves a disservice if we do not make an effort to identify them and go out of our way to praise and recommend them. We can “float all boats” by doing our part to make sure talented women lawyers are considered for every position in the industry.
Deborah Crandall Saxe is the chair of the WLALA Appointive Office Committee. Ms. Saxe is a Mediator at Saxe Arbitration and Mediation Services.