Melanie Black

We still need the support of our elders

The idea that women do not belong in the legal field is a sentiment that my generation grew up knowing only as an ancient belief captured in our history books. As a child of the late eighties and early nineties, I was constantly told that the sky is the limit, to pursue my goals, that no obstacle was too high, and that nothing would prevent me from being whomever I pleased. It is easy to take law school for granted, to view it as just another hoop in the journey to being fabulous. But it wasn't that long ago that law school was a path that only a few driven and fortunate women felt honored to walk down, perhaps a bit cautiously and certainly courageously.

I know this is true because I am the first woman in my family to go to law school. I am the first woman, not because others before me lacked the desire to go. Yet I am the first because finally my generation is encouraged and welcomed into the legal profession. So I go forward with only the apprehension that any law student holds towards their future in the legal profession, nothing more because of my gender.

It is only after conversations with my mother, grandmother, aunts, and female family friends that I begin to understand what a unique position my fellow female law students and I are in. Instead of worrying about how to balance a family with Contracts and Con Law I, the women in my law school class get to decide between a summer in Paris or New York, whether to finish tomorrow's Property reading or go out for a drink or two at bar review, between the crazy hours of a big firm or the demanding hours of a non-profit organization. Most of us are worldly single girls still enjoying the art of dating, very few are married and even fewer have children. This circumstance places us in a distinctly different place than our mother's generation. We enjoy a freedom to embrace the legal profession unabashedly in a way unknown before.

Yet I wonder if this blind arrogance of the women of my generation is perhaps a bit premature?

Today we push through the glass court room ceiling, but don't we still face the dilemmas of our mother's generation? Due to our independent lifestyle we may get a head start in the legal profession today, but what about later? What happens when we do decide to get married (or not) or have children (or not)? I know women who fear they will have to hide their engagement ring when shopping for jobs and worry what pregnancy may mean for their future. Is the mommy track automatically assigned to us? Do we get lower salaries as a result of our choices? Have we really moved that far ahead? Have we really escaped the stereotypes and obstacles that held our mothers back? I'm not sure.

I do know that the women who join me in law school move forward with an unwavering confidence in their abilities as a woman in the legal profession. But still these questions are on the back of most of our minds. While the notion of inequality in the legal profession is not blatantly advertised so much anymore and seldom spoken of, it creeps up unannounced in many of our conversations. It creeps up in conversations about the future, through discussions of marriage, internships, moving, jobs, salaries, and babies.

We are still women, a "minority" in the legal profession, despite our independence. We still face obstacles, despite our independence. But I believe the only way to make our way in the legal profession is to look to the daring and brave women who paved the way for us, both in the legal profession and outside of it. Look to the women who were able to balance family, law school, and careers while still breaking through the glass courtroom ceiling. And look to the women who did not have the opportunity to pursue a legal career. We have our mothers and our grandmothers and our aunts. These women gave us this unique opportunity to make our way in the legal profession independently. They can give us the tools, the advice, and the encouragement to continue the fight forward.

We may now have the confidence to move forward with our male contemporaries, but we still need the support of our elder sisters. If the new female legal professionals are going to tackle these new or old questions and challenges we will need continued support of those who went before us.

My experience in the legal profession is still fresh and naive. Yet from the perspective of a rising 2L, this is my keenest reflection of the legal profession which I now enter.

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