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May 2016 - President's Message
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President's Message - MAY

Kimberly Arnal
WLALA President 2015-2016

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a panel on perceived identity and how gender affects the way women lawyers are perceived by jurors, their peers and judges; and how implicit bias affects women lawyers’ ability to advocate on behalf of their clients.  Many of us have heard the stories of jurors focusing more on what a woman attorney was wearing than her arguments.  And, there are always the ever present examples of female attorneys being mistaken for the Court Reporter; or opposing counsel assuming the female partner is a junior attorney or secretary.

The panel discussion quickly evolved into an open dialog with the audience.  Many female audience members discussed how they often do not enjoy the same presumptions of competence and credibility as their male counterparts.  Rather, they found that they had to repeatedly establish that they were skilled lawyers and decision makers.  The discussion inevitability turned to whether women attorneys are best served by emulating their male counterparts or behaving in a way to minimize their femininity.  Should she lower her voice when she speaks?  Is it alright to show emotion?  Should she wear a skirt suit versus a pant suit?  Is it okay to wear a colorful blouse?  One panelist described the process of managing how her gender affects people’s opinion of her as exhausting.

Interestingly, one of the panelists - a jury consultant - shared the results of recent studies into jurors’ perceptions of gender.  Research actually indicates that both male and female jurors generally respond well to female attorneys; with women jurors responding more favorably than their male counterparts.  As the jury consultant explained, women are often perceived of as being warm and honest, thereby making them more relatable.  The same research, however, indicates that female attorneys have a narrower range of emotions that they are allowed to express before they are considered overly emotional, illogical or unreasonable.  In all of the discussion there were two things the panelist and audience agreed on.  First, it is important to be authentic.  To be effective, you have to be yourself.  People can tell if you are uncomfortable or not genuine.  Second, at times the practice of law and navigating people’s perception of you can be exhausting.  So, it’s important to participate in women bar associations and connect with other women attorneys.

With these challenges in mind, on May 24th, WLALA will hold “Growing Relationships Organically:  What to Do After You Get the Business Card”.  The program will focus on developing natural, meaningful and lasting relationships with potential clients.  This month you can also connect with other women attorneys.  On May 14, WLALA volunteers will meet at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank for Bar Association Volunteer Day.  The event starts and 9:00 am at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, located at 1701 E. 41st Place, Los Angeles; and this year children 5 years old or older are welcome to participate.