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APRIL 2013 NEWSLETTER - Generational Perspectives
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Generational Perspectives on the State of Women in Law

Editors Note:  Inspired by the many speakers WLALA has presented over the years, we’ve taken notice that we can all benefit by sharing our experiences, wisdom, ideas and hopes for the future.  For the younger generation, it is easy to forget how far we’ve come and the paths those before us have paved.  For the older generation,  the focus on work-life balance and the drop-out rate among younger attorneys may seem disappointing.  In this “Generational Perspectives” series, WLALA will feature articles written by female attorneys of all ages – from those who have been practicing for more than 35 years to those who recently graduated from law school -- to share their thoughts on how far we’ve come and where we are headed. 

 

by Frances Lewis

As a new member of the Los Angeles legal community, I have greatly enjoyed reading the WLALA Generational Perspective Series and the great advice it brings. I particularly appreciated Deborah Crandall Saxe’s piece last fall encouraging everyone to “put a woman on the list” when making professional recommendations to others. It reminded me of my own education at an all-female high school, where every year the English department emphasized female authors, and school assemblies often included prominent women in the Nashville community from all professions.  
In fact, for my entire life, I have been surrounded by powerful women. I grew up as one of three sisters with a mother who previously supervised test kitchens for several Fortune 500 food companies. I exceled at math and science at my high school, and our all-female mock trial team regularly defeated our rivals from the boys school down the road. In college, I discovered my two best friends were both valedictorians of their co-ed high schools. Both are now getting PhDs. The number one student in my law school -- the Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review and the one with the Supreme Court clerkship -- was female. I started my career at a law firm where several of the top earning partners were female, including one of the named partners, and then left to clerk for a female Judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. My move to California has meant that both of my U.S. Senators are women. Women are now astronauts, lawyers, doctors, and world leaders in astounding numbers compared to just a generation before.
My road was and will be easier because someone before me fought through the weeds and the snow and the obstacles to clear my path. Equally important, but often less discussed, this road was also paved by inspirational men who chose not to make gender an issue for them. When I was about ten, I remember my father called into a radio show to complain that the guest, a prominent coach of a college women’s team, kept referring to his players as “my girls.” “They aren’t your girls,” my dad pointed out, “they are independent young women and should be treated that way.” (Female coaches of men’s teams – there’s a glass ceiling yet to be broken.) My dad may have been overreacting, but with three young daughters I appreciated his concern for how we would be treated when we left home as young adults. Some of my best teachers were men, both at the all-female high school and my co-ed middle school, who challenged me academically without regard to my gender. At both my current firm and my former firm, I worked closely with male partners who allowed me to take opportunities and assignments based solely on my interest and abilities, not my gender.
This is the point where most of you probably want to interject and say “but there’s still so much more left to be done!” I agree completely, and that’s why Deborah Crandall Saxe’s advice of continuing to put women on the list is so important.  But I’ve noticed that in our zeal to advance equality for women, the discussion on how to attain parity in the upper echelons of any industry sometimes conflates difficult life choices with women’s choices. Framing the work-life balance discussion with questions of whether women can have flexible work schedules, whether women get sufficient maternity leave, or whether women have better access to child care at work simply reinforces the initial premise that these are responsibilities for women, not all parents.  The desire for work-life balance is not unique to women, yet the solutions discussed often are. As women, we can do our part to make sure our significant others (if we have them) are sharing these responsibilities before coming to the conclusion that we can’t “have it all.” And as women, we can do our part to demand these same opportunities for all employees, regardless of gender. 
Ruth Bader Ginsburg reportedly told a great story once about how, as a law professor with a young child, she finally responded to the constant phone calls from his school about his behavior: “This child has two parents,” she said. “I suggest you alternate calls.”[1] Of course, not every parent has a partner with whom they can share responsibilities. But the issues faced by working moms, stay-at-home moms, single moms, and not-going-to-be moms are more likely to be addressed if we also include the working dads, the stay-at-home dads, the single dads, and the not-going-to-be dads. I’ll therefore end by adding to Deborah Crandall Saxe’s proposal: In areas of professional practice, by all means, let’s put more women on the list. But when proposing a candidate for a task of a different kind—who will pick up a child from daycare, who will get the groceries or do the laundry—let’s follow Justice Ginsburg’s advice and alternate putting men on the list as well.
Frances Lewis is a 2010 graduate of University of Michigan Law School and an Associate at Susman Godfrey LLP.
 


[1] Debra Cassens Weiss, “How Justice Ginsburg Handled Phone Calls About Her Misbehaving Kid,” ABA Journal, Aug. 20, 2010, available at http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/how_justice_ginsburg_handled_phone_calls_about_her_misbehaving_kid/

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*If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact the WLALA Communications Officer, Amy Brantly at brantly@glwllp.com.

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