By Noha Sidhom • April 10, 2009•Superwomen JDs and What You Can Learn From Them
This Week's Superwoman JD Laverne Gaskins: Laverne Lewis Gaskins is employed as the University Attorney for Valdosta State University.
Ms. Gaskins earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, (cum laude), from Valdosta State University, and thereafter received her Master of
Education degree in Guidance and Counseling. She earned her Juris Doctor
degree from Florida State University's College of Law. Prior to beginning
her career in education law, she was engaged in the private practice of law.
Ms. Gaskins is actively involved with a number of entities. To list a few:
she serves on Editorial Board of The Journal of College and University Law,
she is a member of the State Bar of Georgia's Board of Governors, a Fellow
of the American Bar Foundation, the Valdosta Rotary, Florida State
University's College of Law Alumni Board and was the immediate past
President of the AAUW's Valdosta Branch. Ms. Gaskins has written several
articles that have appeared in national and state publications. Ms. Gaskins,
a 2008 Nominee for Woman of the Year sponsored by Valdosta Junior Woman's
Club, in was recently honored with the State Bar of Georgia's 2009 Justice
Brenham's Award for Community Service.
1. How has being a woman affected your career or legal education?
While I recognize that I am functioning in a male-dominated profession, I have not experienced any pronounced impediment to career advancement based on my gender.
2. What advice do you wish someone had given you when you first started practicing law?
I would have benefited from mentoring and expanded networking opportunities as I firmly believe that these experiences contribute to professional growth.
3. What do you think the legal profession can do to increase the number of senior level females?
Growth in this area is depended upon a recognition of and commitment to the goals and benefits of diversity. If our profession embraces the value of diversity the natural outcome of this attitude would be an increase in female attorneys functioning in senior level positions.
4. Being a first year attorney anywhere is tough. How do you think young attorneys can really hone their skills in their first few years?
Irrespective of ultimate career goals, I think it is important for all attorneys to experience being in the trenches-that is to experience the traditional practice of law (i.e. drafting pleadings and litigation). This fundamental background can provide a valuable foundation for fully understanding a particular legal issue or concern from a variety of perspectives.
5. Our profession is male dominated. How can young women balance being feminine and professional at the same time? I meet many women that simply act like one of the boys; I do not think that is the solution. Do you have any advice for handling social situations, outings with clients, etc.?
I think the legal profession is no different from any other in that women should not feel compelled to yield to any expectation of behavior that is rooted in antiquated or archaic stereotypes. Strides where made so women could experience freedom to choose career options and “behave” consistently with individual freedom. Therefore, care should be exercised that we not regress to thinking that we must conform to certain prescriptive for behavior. Ultimately, I believe that networking with others similarly situated is critical for success on a variety of levels. As a wife and mother of two adult children, I sought out those women who could best understand my struggles with balancing family life and career-networking is a survival skill.
6. What advice do you have for young female attorneys looking for a mentor? Do you feel that there is added value in finding a female mentor? What should they be looking for in a mentor, and what can they do to make themselves someone you would want to mentor?
Female attorneys should join and remain active in not only the mandatory bar of their state, but the voluntary bars organized with issues particular to the concerns of minorities and/or women.
7. What is your favorite thing about being a lawyer? I am sure you have a moment of achievement that made the sacrifices seem worth it. Can you tell us about a highlight in your career?
The best thing about a law degree is that it offers flexibility. I’ve owned my own firm as a sole practitioner and now I am employed as in-house counsel. My experiences have been varied and interesting. Earlier in my career, I provided representation to a client, who sought me out because I was a female. My “ moment of achievement that made the sacrifices seem worth it” was when I successfully resolved her issue and I began to more fully appreciate my ability as an attorney to effectuate change and positively impact the lives of others.
8. Men still get paid more and get promoted faster. What advice do you have for young women to help them accelerate their careers?
Don’t practice in isolation-network whenever the opportunity presents itself and networking should not be confined to lawyer organizations. In keeping with my philosophy that volunteering is a good thing, while we should always be concerned about giving back and contributing to our community, attorneys should not discount the ancillary benefit from joining various civic organizations. Many of the organizations offer a valuable vehicle for meeting others whom may positively impact one’s career.
9. What are your interests/hobbies outside of the legal practice? How important do you think those interests/hobbies have been in maintaining some work life balance?
I believe in volunteerism and contributing to my community, therefore, I am involved with various activities. These outside interests keep me balanced –neither work or play should be all consuming.
10. If you could go back, what would you have done differently in how you approached your legal education and career?
I would have entered the legal profession earlier.
A Message from the Author: This column is a Q&A with senior level female attorneys offering advice and mentorship to young female lawyers. The questions below were sent to the interviewees and responses have not been edited for content. The advice, experiences, personalities, and approaches of these women are extremely diverse and more importantly very useful to future generations of female attorneys. I hope this column will offer helpful advice, and inspire healthy discussions. I have an exciting lineup of female leaders in the profession, but if you have someone you would like to nominate, or you yourself would like to be interviewed, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Bio for the author of the column: Noha Sidhom is a proud graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Law. Before attending law school, Noha interned on Capitol Hill for the Honorable Charles Timothy Hagel and went on to campaign for Senate candidate Peter Ricketts. During law school, she clerked at Husch Blackwell Sanders, formerly Blackwell Sanders. She also did an internship at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Enforcement and an internship at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where she is now an attorney in the Office of General Counsel. Noha is licensed in New York and New Jersey, and currently resides with her husband in Washington, D.C.