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September 2016 - President's Message
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President's Message - SEPTEMBER

Stacy Horth-Neubert
WLALA President 2016-2017

In this, my first President’s message, I would like to express how thrilled I am to take the helm as President of this amazing organization, the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles.  I would like to thank everyone who attended our September 8, 2016 Awards and Installation Dinner at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, which by all measures was a smashing success.  I would like to extend a very special thank you to all of our dinner sponsors, as well as our inaugural group of Annual Sponsors, without whom our dinner would not have been possible.

It was an extraordinary evening, indeed, in which we honored the Honorable Maria Stratton, Public Counsel, Katherine Forster, Janice MacAvoy and Janie Schulman.  We also heard from the Honorable Margaret Morrow (ret.) of Public Counsel, Gail Midgal Title of ADR Services, Beth Parker of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, and Marilyn E. Bednarski of Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt, LLP.  And we were privileged to receive a special address by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who discussed his administration’s efforts to advance the cause of women.  All of the speakers were inspiring, and we are so grateful for their support of women in the legal profession.

Many of you who attended have asked me for a copy of my remarks.  I am happy to share them with you (modified slightly for the format, and citations added).  I hope we continue this dialogue over the course of the coming year.


Right Where You Belong

Our theme this year is Right Where You Belong.  I would like to take a moment this evening to remind you that if you love your job in the legal profession – or at least like it on most days – you are Right Where You Belong, in the profession of law.  

That is not to say that we as women lawyers always feel like we are right where we belong.  

The reality is that we work in a profession where women are under-represented, underpaid, and undervalued.  

The reality is that despite the fact that women comprise 47% of the domestic workforce and 52% of all workers in management and professional occupations,1 and have made up close to half of all law students for the past 25 years,2 today women hold about 17% of equity partnerships nationwide.3  

The reality is the percentage of female equity partners has increased only 2% in the last decade.4  American Lawyer magazine estimates that at the present rate of growth of women equity partnerships, we will achieve gender parity in a mere 165 years (circa 2181).

And the reality is even more bleak for those of us who are women of color --- who hold only 2% of equity partnerships6 – which means those few women of color who are equity partners are what my 14-year old might call a "unicorn."

And while it is true that women fare better in the so-called pink ghetto of non-equity partnership,7 men still are promoted to those positions at higher rates than women, with 38% of non-equity partnerships held by women and 62% by men.8  What is worse is that in the last few years, non-equity partnership tiers have become a seemingly permanent parking place for talented women lawyers;9 from 2011 to 2014, the number of female non-equity partners has increased by more than 10%, while at the same time, there has been zero increase in the number of women equity partners.10

Women continue to be under-represented in firm management as well, with an average increase of only 1 additional woman on firm governance committees in the last 10 years.11  In fact, one in five firms still has no women on their top governing committee.12  And only about 5.5% of firms are chaired by a women.13   

The reality is a little better when it comes to general counsel positions.  Women are 24% of the general counsel at Fortune 500 companies – although they are only 19% of the general counsel at Fortune 501-1000 companies.14   

In the judiciary, we also are doing better.  31% of all state court judges are women,15 and 33% of federal district court judges are women16 – and we can thank President Obama for that latter statistic.  He alone appointed 138 women to the federal bench during his presidency—more than any other President to date.17  And here in California, our State Supreme Court has the unusual distinction of having more than 50% women, and of course, a female Chief Justice, who WLALA had the privilege of honoring last year.  

That's the best news I have for you.  Because another reality is that, as women in our profession make it up the ranks, they are underpaid compared to their male peers.  

Women partners currently make about 80 percent of what their male colleagues make.18  And that is down from 2006, when women made 84% of what their male colleagues made.19  Indeed, the reality today is that although women and men post similar billable hours, there is $250,000 pay gap between comparable men and women Big Law partners – that is a difference of a whopping 32%.20  And a pay gap exists even when women originate the same amount of business as their male peers.21

In other words, to borrow a phrase my fellow Gen Xers will appreciate, Reality Bites.  Still.  

So instead of offering you some polite congratulations on the changes we as a profession have made that have resulted in real but underwhelming progress, I would instead like to invite each and every one of you to join the cause to work to make a new reality.  

Keep your women's group and your generous maternity leave and your on-ramp programs – those are all good.  We like those. They help some of us.  But let's also pledge to explore the possibility of making the hard changes that experts in this field have told us for years are the only way we are going to make meaningful progress in retaining and promoting women.

Changes such as those called "bias interrupters" – where the aim is not to "fix" women by making them fit existing business models, but rather, to fix the business models to address implicit bias.22

This means more than just mandatory gender bias training – although let's all do that - and for good measure, let's include mandatory racial, ethnic and other bias training too.  

But what I'm talking about is gathering data on disparities within your own organization, sharing that data with the partnership or management, and then using that data to focus changes, like revamping your evaluation, promotion and compensation systems, to strip them of the effects of implicit bias.23

Changes that strip away the stigma that lead so many women to leave the practice rather than take advantage of dead-end part-time tracks.  What would such a change look like?  Endorsement of multiple types of promotional tracks, including a path to equity partnership for those who take advantage of part-time work options.24

Changes like – dare I say it?  -- numeric targets for promotion of women,25 just as we have billable hours targets and realization rate targets and other numeric targets for issues that matter to us.

And why should we make these hard changes?  It is not just because we women deserve it – although we do.  But it is also because having women on your team in meaningful numbers will enhance the delivery of justice and service to our clients.  

Of course, generally speaking, if you have an unbiased system of evaluation, promotion and compensation, you end up with the best talent pool in your partnership and management ranks.26

But let me give you some specific examples as well.

Where women have reached critical mass of between 20 and 30 percent in the judiciary, there has been a rise in so-called "problem-solving courts" such as programs designed to prevent people from ending up on trial.27

Even case results are impacted.  A study published by the Yale Law Journal found that judicial panels with only male judges ruled for female plaintiffs in just 17 percent of sexual harassment and sex discrimination cases, but when just one female judge was present, the number doubled to 34% and when two female judges were present, it increased to 43 percent.28   

And we also know that in firms with at least two women on their compensation committee, women earn 87% of what their male peers earn, compared to just 77% at firms with fewer than two women on their compensation committee.29

In other words, women in the profession:  you are Right Where You Belong.  

Our theme this year means, more, however.  We also want to encourage you to Do Right Where You Belong.  

By that, we mean, participate in pro bono work, community service and bar work.  

We know you already do these things, so I don't need to extoll the virtues of pro bono work and community service.  But what I would like to encourage you to do is not feel pressured to give up this work in your quest to make partner or earn a promotion. Because doing work that achieves a normative good also can help you achieve your career goals.  

Pro bono work can enhance your skill set, and your reputation in the community, and also can create opportunities to co-counsel with your paying clients or potential clients.  And doing pro bono work you will energize you as a lawyer, and will enhance your career satisfaction.

Similar opportunities are presented by bar service.  Women lawyers are well represented in Bar Service – in better numbers than we are in management of law firms.30  Those who make time to serve on a bar organization invariably make connections that not only enhance their own career satisfaction, but also help propel their careers to the next level.  Just ask the many judges and in house counsel and partners in the room how service on the WLALA Board has helped them land their current jobs.

Indeed, I'd like to suggest that WLALA is Right Where You Belong

WLALA's mission is "promoting the full participation of women lawyers and judges in the legal profession, maintaining the integrity of our legal system by advocating principles of fairness and equality, improving the status of women in our society including their exercise of equal rights and reproductive choice, and actively working towards the furtherance of these goals through WLALA's committees, sections and activities."
To those ends: 

WLALA offers scholarships to students who have demonstrated a commitment to issues affecting women and/or children;

WLALA offers public interest grants to law students for projects that make governmental and social institutions and agencies more accessible and responsive to members of society whose interests are not otherwise adequately recognized or asserted;

WLALA offers pro bono and community service opportunities, such as clinic work at a domestic violence shelter, and the Power Lunch Program, in which volunteers teach disadvantaged kids about our legal system through a visit to a courthouse to meet lawyers, judges and court staff; and other pro bono opportunities through our connection with Bet Tzedek Legal Services;

WLALA offers career mentoring for practicing lawyers, as well as mentoring for law students;

• WLALA offers MCLE programs on substantive topics such as Criminal Law, Family Law, and Litigation; and programs geared towards solo and small firm practitioners, and in house counsel; as well as programs relating to topics of particular interest to women lawyers, such as those offered by our Career Development and Life Balance, and to Pro Choice and Reproductive Rights committees.

In addition, this year we will continue our efforts started last year under the leadership of President Kim Arnal to enhance the diversity of our organization, to strengthen our relationships with our sister bar organizations, and to create programming on diversity and inclusion topics.  

And I am excited to announce that this year, for the first time, we have created a Public Interest Law committee.  The goal of this committee—to be chaired by my friend Jennie Pasquerella of the ACLU of Southern California – is to increase participation in WLALA by women working in public interest law, who face many of the same barriers to retention and promotion as private firm lawyers, but often do not have access to the formal infrastructures of women's initiatives and support systems.  This committee also will be tasked with creating affordable programming of interest to public interest lawyers.  And, to help public interest lawyers to able to take advantage of the benefits of WLALA, we have for the first time created a lower membership rate for public interest lawyers.  

For all these reasons, I know of no better place to find guidance and opportunities to Be and Do Right than WLALA. 

I suppose you don't need WLALA if:

you've had both strong mentors and strong sponsors, 

and you've been promoted at the first opportunity all the way through the highest positions in your office -- even if there was a guy up for the same position,

and you are bringing in millions in business a year or filing exactly the cases or doing exactly the deals you want, 

and you are perfectly balancing work and your personal life, 

oh, and your client has never asked you to get the coffee, 

and your opposing counsel has never complimented you -- in court -- on your shoes;

and you've never had a judge refer to you as "honey,"

and you always get asked to go out to lunch with the guys,

and you've never been called too assertive, or not assertive enough, or too sensitive, or not sensitive enough,

and you've never even heard of the maternal wall.

Well, if all of these things are true for you, then I suppose you don't need WLALA.  But for the rest of us – WLALA is Right Where We Belong.  It is the platform from which we are working for a new reality.  Please join us.


[1]       Karen Sloan, Where Are the Women in Big Law?, The American Lawyer, Aug. 1, 2016; Kim Kleman, Top 10 Numbers From Our Special Report on Women, The American Lawyer, June 23, 2015.

[2]       ABA – First Year and Total J.D. Enrollment by Gender 1947-2011, available at  See also National Women’s Law Center, Women in the Federal Judiciary:  Still A Long Way to Go, Fact Sheet, July 2016.

[3]       Sloan, supra note 1.

[4]       NAWL: 2015 NAWL Survey,

[5]       Kleman, supra note 1.

[6]       Julie Triedman, A Few Good Women, The American Lawyer, May 28, 2015.

[7]       See id.

[8]       NAWL: 2015 NAWL Survey,; Lauren Stiller Rikleen, Women Lawyers Continue to Lag Behind Male Colleagues, Report of the Ninth Annual NAWL National Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms, at 3 (2015).

[9]       Triedman, supra note 6.

[10]       Stiller Rikleen, supra note 8, at 2; Triedman, supra note 6.

[11]       Stiller Rikleen, supra note 8, at 10.

[12]       Triedman, supra note 6.

[13]       Id.

[14]       American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, A Current Glance at Women in the Law, May 2016, at 5, available at

[15]       A Current Glance at Women in the Law, supra note 14, at 3.

[16]       National Women’s Law Center, Women in the Federal Judiciary:  Still A Long Way to Go, Fact Sheet, July 2016, available at

[17]       Women in the Federal Judiciary:  Still A Long Way to Go, supra note 16.

[18]       Stiller Rikleen, supra note 8, at 7; Triedman, supra note 6.

[19]       Stiller Rikleen, supra note 8, at 7.

[20]       Triedman, supra note 6.

[21]       Id.

[22]       Id.  See also Stiller Rikleen, supra note 8, at 12 (“When a Women’s Initiative focuses primarily on female skill development, it unfairly assumes the women themselves are the barrier to their own achievement of parity.  Decades of research prove otherwise.”).

[23]       See, e.g., Triedman, supra note 6; see also Herminia Ibarra, Robin Ely, and Deborah Kolb, Women Rising:  The Unseen Barriers, Harvard Business Review (Sept. 2013).

[24]       See Triedman, supra note 6.

[25]       See Triedman, supra note 6; Actions for Advancing Women Into Law Firm Leadership, Report of the National Association of Women Lawyers, National Leadership Summit, July 2008, at 15; see also Ibarra, Ely, and Kolb, supra note 23.

[26]       See generally, Fair Measure:  Towards Effective Attorney Evaluations, Second Edition, American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession (2008); Joan C. Williams and Veta T. Richardson, New Millennium, Same Glass Ceiling?  The Impact of Law Firm Compensation Systems on Women, The Project for Attorney Retention, July 2010; Linda Bray Chanow, supra note 25.

[27]       Jay Newton-Small, More Women in the Judiciary Means Justice for All, The National Law Journal, Jan. 11, 2016.

[28]       Id.

[29]       NAWL: 2015 NAWL Survey,; Stiller Rikleen, supra note 8, at 3.

[30]       See A Current Glance at Women in the Law, supra note 14, at 7.