Because Justice is a woman

This is an adaptation of the speech I delivered at our Legally Female conference last weekend. If you are wondering what Ms. JD is (or should be) about, here is my take. You might have a different take. I hope you will share it with me!

As you can see at the top of this website, the Ms. JD logo is a version of Lady Justice, and the watch-words of Ms. JD are "changing the face of the legal profession."

[Continues after the jump]

Lady Justice personifies grace and power, balancing her scales with a sword at the ready. Yet a female mascot for the legal profession seems beyond ironic.

If Justice is a woman, why do women comprise less than a quarter of law partners, judges, and professors?

In this respect, Justice herself is a riddle we have yet to solve.

Because Justice is a woman, we gather to launch Ms. JD: faculty and students, professionals and apprentices, women and men.

* * *

I want to tell you the story of Ms. JD: how we got here, where this conference fits, and what happens next.

Fifteen months ago, Elizabeth Pederson and classmates at Stanford contacted women's student groups at top-ranked law schools. They invited fifteen schools to send two representatives to a startup meeting last March.

Yale sent me.

In less than 24 hours, we two dozen strangers discovered how many experiences we had in common: too few mentors; too much sexism. Questions ranging from small details--like, do I wear my wedding ring to my job interview?--to major decisions--like, which practice areas leave room for life outside the office?

In months of collaboration that followed, we two dozen strangers became colleagues and friends. We drafted a mission, elected a Board of Directors, and incorporated as a nonpartisan nonprofit. The founders of Ms. JD hail from private and public schools across the country: in Connecticut, California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

As important as who came to Stanford, however, is who could not come: at three of the top fifteen law schools in this country, women's student groups were not active enough to organize themselves to send a representative to California.

Of the schools that sent students, the twelfth school didn't check its women's group email inbox until two months after Elizabeth issued the invitation. They purchased last-minute plane tickets the same week as the conference.

Indeed most law schools--and most workplaces--may struggle to sustain the kinds of coordinated support for professional women that we deserve.

That is where Ms. JD comes in.

* * *

As one of three women at her law school in the 1960s, Judge Betty Fletcher recalls staffing a table in her student union. She set up shop there each weekend to answer women's questions about law school and help them apply.

Ms. JD is her 21st-century successor.

We have reached the limits of a "table-per-school" approach. Fifty percent of law students are women. But we are still running into walls. We need virtual help desks, workspaces, meeting places... infrastructure for sustained collaborations that transcend the walls of schools and offices.

We need a network.

"Network" is a noun and a verb. It is the literal connection of computers on the Internet. It is relationships. It is coordination among people and resources. It is the reason for being of Ms. JD.

You all here at this conference [or reading this website], take Ms. JD. Take it, build it, make it yours. This conference is a beginning. Our network is much larger than this room.

Because Justice is a woman, there are people who have joined the effort of Ms. JD though they could not be here.

There are more people who will join us if we reach them.

Let me tell you about a few of the people who have already reached me.

* * *

Ms. JD got an email from a law student named Tiffany, who comes from a family of lawyers. 'When I heard about Ms. JD,' she told us, 'I immediately alerted my dad to your efforts.'

Then we got a letter from Tiffany's dad, who turns out to be a federal judge. He offered an inside look at choosing law clerks. 'Far more males apply for clerkships than similarly qualified females,' he observed. 'I have been able to hire two men and two women for the next clerkship class, but I only found my female clerks by using the informal network of my current female clerks. I did not find them in my stack of applications.'

Networks draw us together. Ms. JD is not exclusionary. Men are wanted. Needed. We're glad you're here.

Because Justice is a woman, she is flesh and blood: of the same stuff as her fathers, brothers, friends, and lovers.

* * *

When Judge Dorothy Nelson became the first female dean of her law school, a colleague advised her to arrive at the next faculty meeting 15 minutes late just to show them "who was boss." Instead, she baked 5 dozen cookies and arrived 15 minutes early to greet everyone.

Because Justice is a woman, she sees her colleagues as potential collaborators as well as adversaries.

* * *

Mary wrote, 'No matter how much time I spend at school, I'm not a law student that has kids. I'm a mom that attends law school.'

'At [ages] 3 and 1 1/2, the kids are my inspiration. Every night, they help me study by sitting next to me and quietly playing with my school supplies as I read. I smile every time I open a casebook that has been lovingly scribbled with my highlighters. And, although my little boy has soldiered through a year of therapy for a speech delay, if you ask him what his mommy is going to be when she grows up, he will exclaim, "A LAW-YUR!"'

'I have big plans for the future. I want to give other moms the confidence that took me so long to find. Another mommy schoolmate and I want to endow a scholarship to help out crazy moms like us with tuition and childcare. I want to help people as an attorney. I want to teach. I want it all.'

'Others had their concerns about my enrollment in law school—Who will watch the kids? What about your husband?—but I think we're doing fine. And I can't help but be motivated by the thought of hearing my two little sweethearts say: "My mommy is a lawyer."'

Because Justice is a woman, she balances. She balances her personal and professional lives as deliberately as her scales.

* * *

Work and life aren't the only things Justice balances. Consider this:

Women and men enter law school with comparable credentials. But female students tend to underrate own their skills while male students tend to overrate theirs. A student at Penn explains,

'Guys think law school is hard, and we women just think we're stupid.'

Because Justice is a woman, she struggles to balance humility with confidence deserved!

* * *

As an Assistant Attorney General in the 1970s, Barbara Babcock was often asked what it felt like to get her job because she was a woman. She developed a stock answer: "It's far better than NOT getting it because I'm a woman."

Because Justice is a woman, she has developed a rich sense of irony!

* * *

Another lawyer told us, 'I got the idea to go to law school from a grammar school teacher. She decided to have a class debate. After it was over, she said to me, "If you were my daughter, I'd send you to law school." I ran home in great excitement, and said to my mom, "I'm going to law school!" Mom, a third grade teacher, was not encouraging. "No, you won't," she said. "Girls can't be lawyers. You'll be an elementary school teacher, just like me." In 1946, the evidence was all on her side. I went to college and enrolled in elementary education courses. In the end, though, I rejected my mom's career advice.'

The name of the lawyer who almost wasn't? Herma Hill Kay, one of our country's leading legal scholars.

We don't have all the support we need in the families we're born into, or the communities where we grow up. We might not even find the support we need in the schools where we study, or the offices where we work. I've shared with you these stories from our sisters in law because they touch me. They connect me to commonalities of experience, help me through the grind of lawyering at the low end of the totem pole. I hope that the stories also touch you. Each illustrates a different facet--a different face--of justice.

We need more stories, more faces.

Because Justice is a woman, we should see her face in the legal profession.

Author's Note: To concisely share stories in my speech, I omitted or rephrased some details. I have linked to each blog post that I am talking about, and I encourage you to take a look at them unabridged. They are really something to read!

Anna Lorien Nelson is a student at Yale Law and Vice President of Ms. JD. You can read more of her blog posts or email her anytime.



I love this comment: <i>Because Justice is a woman, she balances. She balances her personal and professional lives as deliberately as her scales.</i> I think I just found my mantra for the next three years…and thank heavens I found this site!

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