Kathleen Lynott

The Onus Is On Us: We need to work harder to be heard in law school and beyond

Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to be nominated as Vice President of the United States, once said, "We've chosen the path to equality, don't let them turn us around." I believe that equality in the workplace is of the utmost importance and that in order to continue to strive for equality, women must work hard to rise in their chosen profession. The importance of women being able to choose their own career path and make their own living has been made clear over the past few decades; women are now allowed to engage in nearly every profession that men are. Yet, for as far as women have come, there is still a long way to go, especially in the law.

I am always shocked to hear statistics regarding women in my chosen profession. Despite the nearly equal number of men and women attending law school, the National Association for Law Placement reported in 2005 that only about 17 percent of partners at major law firms nationwide were women. This enormous discrepancy shocks and disappoints me. However, it also motivates me to work harder. I believe that women greatly benefit the legal profession, and could benefit it even more were we to fight harder for our deserved places at the top. The first step is to fight the long-held misconception that women are inferior to men in adversarial situations. We must make clear that women are strong, assertive, and are not afraid of conflict. We must also tackle the long-debated issue of work-family balance. Because our society refuses to let go of the idea that the woman is the primary care-giver, this has been looked at as a "woman's issue." However, the problem of balancing a career and a family must be addressed by all working people; only then will the burden of choosing between them cease to fall on women alone, and only then will we see more women allowed to rise to the top of their industries.

I recently became aware of the Opt-in Project, which was started by Lisa Belkin and the Heller Ehrman firm. I believe that this project is a huge step in the right direction for the legal profession. The project focuses on the massive incidence of women with the highest levels of graduate degrees, specifically law degrees, leaving the workplace. The project seeks solutions to this exodus which will improve the amount of representation by women at the highest levels of the law. I believe that this is very worthwhile work, and hope that I will be among those women who work hard to rise to the top. Mohandas K. Gandhi said, "There is no occasion for women to consider themselves subordinate or inferior to men." Only when both men and women truly believe this will we see the change that this project strives for.

My experience with the legal profession has been somewhat limited as I have just completed my 1L year and have not yet started my summer job. However, my experience in law school has somewhat revealed the differences between men and women in this profession. For the most part, I have observed that men and women are treated equally by administrators and professors. However, the difference comes in how the students act. Male law students are more willing to speak up in class, and are more forceful with their opinions. Many of the female students seem to struggle just to speak loudly enough in class for anyone to hear them, and rarely take as forceful a stance. I think that women law students need to learn how to speak up more in class so that that they can speak up more in the workplace and make more of a mark on the law.

On the other hand, my participation in Minnesota Women Lawyers and the Women Law Students Association has shown me that there are many women who love the law and are willing to work extremely hard to change things and level the playing field for all women lawyers. I believe that this generation of women lawyers will be the one to prove that the legal profession needs women and that it will not give up until 50% of partners are women. I'm proud to part of this generation, as I am proud to be one of the many students entering the legal profession. I look forward to its many challenges and will work hard to ensure that my education is taken full advantage of throughout my life.

2 Comments

iowa

Early one morning, as breakfast was being prepared, my daughter rushed into the kitchen.  "Was it true?  Was Geraldine Ferraro elected?"  My daughter, at five years old, was dreaming.  We had to console her.  She is grown now but she still dreams.  Maybe Hillary?

jessie

This is long overdue, but Patricia Gillette started the Opt-in Project, whereas Lisa Belkin wrote in the NYTimes about what she called "the Opt-Out Revolution." I had the pleasure of hearing Gillette speak about the Opt-In project recently so this caught my attention.

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