By Beth Bernstein • January 11, 2008•Firms and the Private Sector
1- “I feel like I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my circumstances, but I almost regret that I’m in the position I’m in…. The burden of running a home and taking care of kids is on me, and the work is incredibly stressful. And once a month, I’m the one who is paying the bills and I could be earning more, but I’m not willing to do that. So I’m at the point where I’m considering walking away.
But so many women associates in this office look to me as their role model, and I can’t tell you how many people come into my office, women associates come into my office, and say, ‘It’s so great you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s great. It’s so exciting that you made partner and you have kids and you are doing it all.’ And I feel this responsibility to these women, and I always joke with them and say, ‘Please don’t look at me as a role model. I’m a complete nut.’... I feel this moral responsibility to the other women who see me as a role model. I want to stick it out. I don’t want people to say, ‘Oh, it can’t be done. It was a mistake.’...
I feel like there is no scenario where I could work it out here. The workload is so demanding. I just want to get away from the stress. There are so many women who are now working in alternative environments. Some women work for non-profit organizations or outside of law firms, and they do this because there is less stress than other work environments and they find a balance of family and work. It’s preferable to be in a work environment that is not as stressful as you find in a private firm and that’s what I’m hoping to find.”
2- “I can honestly say that I was never treated any differently when I was a woman associate here without kids, and then once I had my kids. There was never a feeling that I was getting less complex cases as an associate than people who were working full-time, or people who didn’t have the same family commitments….”
Do you see your own experience in these women’s words?
The depth and honesty of these two quotes illustrates what Lauren Stiller Rikleen’s 2006 book Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women's Success in the Law does best. Her book on the status of women in the legal profession is brimming over with direct quotations taken from interviews with women at various stages of their law firm lives- from those in their first or second year as associates, to equity partners who have worked at the same firm for over twenty years, to women who left their firms as associates, or made partner and then left their firms because of the additional pressures they faced once they achieved that once-coveted position.
Rikleen is clearly extremely knowledgeable in this area: she is an equity partner at a large firm and a mother. However, she does not spend her book discussing her experience; rather, she uses her many, many interviews to help illustrate the experiences of many women, both good experiences and bad experiences. I have no doubt that any woman who is currently practicing at a big firm, hopes to one day do so, or has left such practice, will see a bit of herself in at least some of the quotations collected in Rikleen’s book. But Rikleen does not merely compile experiences of women in firms. She uses women’s voices to guide the reader through her superbly laid-out analysis.
The book begins with what Rikleen describes as “the gauntlet that women experience- the challenges and roadblocks they face as they struggle to succeed in law firms.” She then moves on to include the voices of women lawyers and managing partners, and especially highlights the places in which these perspectives diverge. And of course, no work on the status of women in the legal profession is complete without proposals for change, and Rikleen ends her book with concrete recommendations for action.
I highly recommend this book, if for no other reason than to show you that you’re not alone in your struggles with work/life balance, business generation troubles, sex stereotypes, and whatever other issues you face more strongly because you are a woman practicing law at a large firm.