By Susan Smith Blakely • September 05, 2018
Women lawyers are not equal — at least not in the private sector. Plain and simple. I know that you do not expect to hear this from me nor do you want to hear this from me, but it is true.
Equality is defined as “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.” If you compare private sector female lawyers to private sector male lawyers on issues of status and opportunities, you begin to see the inequality. (“Rights” are derived from constitutional law and legislation and are not addressed here. But, if you want a history of women’s rights in America, watch RBG.) So, let’s talk status and opportunities:
- On status: Women have the babies, and tradition and implicit bias too often drive the conclusion that it is the woman’s responsibility to be the primary care taker of her children. As the result of health considerations for women and their newborns, women lawyers typically take the maximum allowable maternity leave after childbirth. More likely than not, when she returns to work, the woman lawyer is treated differently from her male colleagues because implicit bias drives the further conclusion that young mothers are no longer dedicated to, committed to, and serious about their jobs. And because this attitude prevails, many young women lawyers are denied equal consideration for partnership, thereby doing irreparable damage to their professional status.
- On opportunities: Repeat the above. Once law firm management and leadership presumptively conclude that a young mother/attorney lacks dedication and commitment to her career, the opportunities for advancement dissolve.
So, what can be done about it? A lot, according to a recent article in The American Lawyer. This article is a group effort of the young lawyers editorial team at the magazine, and it is very ambitious in terms of the recommendations to law firms. However, it includes some excellent starting points for firms to consider and implement. Although I do not realistically expect that firms will implement all of the recommendations at once, most of them are possible over time.
Law firms need to take these issues very seriously for some very good reasons. In fact, the title of the article, “Law Firms Benefit by Showing Attorneys that Family Matters” implies benefits to law firms from instituting the recommended policies. Benefits not only for reasons of retention of talent, competition in the market place, and related self-serving profit motives, but, more importantly, because we are a profession that was founded on issues of fairness, respect and honorable behavior.
Simply stated, it is not nice to punish women professionals for having babies.
Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law. She is author of Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another. Her third book in the series, Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, focuses on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.
Ms. Blakely’s new book for ALL young lawyers, What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, will be released by Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers in the summer of 2018.
Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the ABA Journal, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, Women Lawyers Journal (NAWL), DC Spotlight, Lawyerist.com, Daily Muse, Lawyer and Statesman, Law.com, Georgetown Law Magazine, and Huffington Post Business. Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division. She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" and the Lawyer Monthly “Women in Law Award 2016”for her work on behalf of women in the law.
Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and is certified as a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy. For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com.