By jessie kornberg • June 24, 2009•Mentoring and Networking
Editor's Note: As part of Ms. JD's 5th Birthday celebration, we'll be looking back at our favorite posts over the years.
Recently, I heard Adrienne Suarez deliver her Code of Ethics for Female Attorneys. Favorite excepts include:
Number 4: Given the choice of being a mentor or a tormentor to a younger, less experienced female attorney, I actively choose to be a mentor.
Number 7: I recognize that even though we may be of the same sex, I will not like every female attorney I meet. I pledge, however, not to call her a “bitch,” or any other name powerful because of its misogynist origins.
The Code represents a perspective probably not shared by everyone that there are inter-generational issues among female attorneys that prevent them from helping one another succeed. Suarez takes a proactive, sometimes snarky, and thoroughly thoughtful approach to the problem.
Suarez's explanation and the full list of pledges follow after the jump...
I wrote “A Code of Ethics for Female Attorneys” late last year as a meditation on the relationships among women in law. The Code was just a product of my own experiences and those of others that I witnessed. I noticed that some female attorneys went out of their way to bring attention to women's issues and to mentor other women. I also noticed that some female attorneys went out of their way to make the lives of other female attorneys difficult. I noticed that the women around me – even ones who had “made it” – seemed disquieted about work/life balance and women’s professional advancement. I also noticed that my generation of women lawyers worked as isolated, competitive individuals. There was very little sense of connection as women. There was also no sense of history and future. No one really talked about the barriers that the older women overcame or the future that the younger women would help create. We all seemed to just have our heads down.
In writing the Code, the question foremost in my mind then was what explicit behaviors and habits of mind underlie the best woman-to-woman relationships in our profession? In writing this piece, I did not intend to lay the problems of women in law at the feet of other women in law. The problems we collectively face are not of our making, and they've persisted for longer than some of us have been alive. The point of the Code is to nudge all of us into acknowledging that we are running the risk of becoming disunited now at a time when we can least afford it. The Code is intended to make female attorneys nod with (sometimes uncomfortable) recognition, or to reject some of the points in the Code, but-- at the very least-- to talk! What I enjoyed most about the panel discussion at the Women's Power Summit was how open-hearted, free-flowing, and candid it was. I remember thinking, “These are exactly the kinds of conversations women attorneys everywhere should be having.” I know if I had been part of these conversations earlier in my career, my perspective on being a woman in law would have snapped into focus.
It’s energizing to see yourself as part of a movement instead of as an isolated individual. The pioneering generation of women powered through so many barriers and made it so that no one doubts that my generation of women has a place in law. I think it is up to my generation of women lawyers to contribute our numbers, our talent and energy, and our skepticism about the so-called “realities” of legal practice to transform our profession. We cannot do any of this unless we're all united and facing forward.
A Code of Ethics for Female Attorneys
1. I pledge to respect the female attorneys who came before me, because their paths were steeper, rougher, and unfamiliar. I pledge to respect the female attorneys who come after me, even though their paths may be gentler, smoother, and well worn. We are all traveling down the same path.
2. I pledge to continue to make the way even smoother for future female attorneys. While women make up 51% of the United States population, we constitute 47% of law students, 32% of lawyers in the legal profession, 18% of partners in private firms and general counsel for Fortune 500 companies, and this figure has remained static since the mid-1990s. (Statistics drawn from reports published at http://www.abanet.org/women/). Clearly, we still have work to do.
3. As a woman, I will not judge other female attorneys who have come before me or who will come after me for (1) getting married; (2) not getting married; (3) having children; (4) not having children; (5) or making any other major life decisions because of, or in spite of, balancing a legal career.
4. Given the choice of being a mentor or a tormentor to a younger, less experienced female attorney, I actively choose to be a mentor. When a younger, less experienced female attorney comes to me with a question or for advice, I will not revel in how much more I know than she; I will share that knowledge and experience.
5. There are no “dues” that a younger, less experienced female attorney needs to pay to me. I will not waste my time minding tollbooths when I have a ways down the path yet to go myself.
6. In the game of law, I will help younger, less experienced female attorneys as though we were playing leapfrog, not red rover.
7. I recognize that even though we may be of the same sex, I will not like every female attorney I meet. I pledge, however, not to call her a “bitch,” or any other name powerful because of its misogynist origins.
8. If my voice is louder or carries more weight, then I will speak up for my fellow female attorneys’ needs, like a flexible schedule, even if those are not my personal needs at the moment.
9. I pledge to reach out, through pro bono service, to the women in my community who need a lawyer’s help, who admire that that lawyer is another woman, and who appreciate how that woman may understand their problems and resolve them justly.
10. I pledge to be me. There is a younger female attorney out there who sees herself in me. I pledge to succeed for her.