The Florida Bar Young Lawyer Division (YLD) recently released a statement about the results of a survey in which 3,137 young female Florida attorneys shocking YLD President Gordon Glover, and Florida Bar President Ramón Abadin. The YLD includes attorneys who are 36 or younger or practicing for five years or less. The comments alone shocked many and sparked a movement to start Continuing Legal Education seminars, “Balancing in Heels: Self, Family, and the Practice of Law Interview Series;” “Balancing in Heels: Webinar Series;” and “Engage: The Women’s Power Summit.”
No woman is shocked:
Gentleman, I have news for you. These results come as no surprise to any of your female counterparts. And these seminars and webinars are kind of offensive. Women don't need education. We don't need to be empowered...we went to law school, and are killing it in our practice. I would say that the men need to be educated, but they don't. Everyone knows better. Everyone knows that women tend to have more responsibility at home than men. Some people (men and women) are just a**holes. Others are just oblivious to the fact that a young woman may be more intelligent, better educated, or better at their job than a man. OR they just simply forget that women actually pass the Bar too.
The first woman to join the Florida Bar, Winifred Wentworth was turned down from every law firm in 1951. In 1967, the second woman to join the Bar heard the same message: "no girls allowed." Even Janet Reno, Harvard educated, was turned away from the Miami law firm that ultimately made her partner.
We recently connected with a great lawyer, Jack who passed the Bar 60 years ago. A true gentleman, he has never made us (two young female lawyers) feel like we were anything less than an equal. The fact remains, however that he had no women colleagues for the majority of his career. Female attorneys are new to him.
Younger attorneys studied in law school classrooms where the majority of the students are women, so they are less biased. However, as our careers progress, women tend to disappear from the practice, which leads all attorneys to make a harmful conclusion: all female attorneys are a professional liability.
Why the Bias?
I don't believe that most discrimination is rooted in the believe that men are better than women. It seems to be based in the sense that women are a bad investment because they are going to quit sooner either due to children or to pursue other goals.
Honestly, I think there is some truth to this. A lot of women leave the profession or work in a less demanding position when kids come along. Based on conversations that I have had with moms, this is not because they do not want to put in the work. This is because it does not make economic sense to pay for childcare when you're only making enough to cover the cost of said childcare. While it is OK not acknowledge the trend, the problem is assuming that all women are going to have kids or work less when kids are around.
Women are Less Competent:
The bigger issue is not in the assumption that women will not take the job seriously, but the assumption that women are not as capable as men. I don't look at other attorneys and assume (based on appearance) that they are less capable or less intelligent than I am. So, the men and women who engage in the practice of discrediting young women are pathetic, weak, and not doing their job as well as I am as they underestimate me while I am preparing for their best effort.
Women, especially attractive women are presumed to be less qualified or not really a lawyer. People tend to think that it's too hard to be pretty and smart. However, very attractive women are dominating the legal profession every day. Case on point: the supermodel/lawyer married to a certain George.
Laura Smith is an associate at Heaviside Reed Zaic. Even if you don't recognize the name, you know the firm's work. They represent consumers in medical products cases and against big pharma. Like I said, she's killing it. She writes: "As the acclaimed #Girlboss, Sophia Amoruso, said 'I believe that there is a silver lining in everything, and once you begin to see it, you'll need sunglasses to combat the glare.' Let them [hairy, old white dudes] wear sunglasses! Heck, I'll buy them all a pair."
Ashley Hayes is an associate at de Beaubien, Knight, Simmons, Mantzaris & Neal, LLP. Ashley was recently asked is she was the court reporter in a deposition.
No, I'm not the Court Reporter:
There is nothing wrong with being a paralegal, a stenographer, a secretary, an interpreter and assistant. There are some great people in these positions. The problem is that when people walk into a courtroom, a mediation, or a deposition, the majority of older men assume that the women in the room are the support staff. When you bust your behind prepping for a deposition, nothing gets you more fired up than being mistaken for the support staff.
Opposing counsel tends to make the mistake less and less. As far as opposing counsel goes, a part of my personal success is that I relish in my underestimation. If another attorney thinks that I am a dumb blonde, they are not paying attention when I am destroying their case and they are shocked when I win. I would guess that they don't make the same mistake twice.
The bigger concern are the clients. Every woman who practices long enough will experience gender discrimination from a client. Here are some personal examples:
- Many clients call me sweetheart;
- Potential clients assume that I am the assistant or secretary to the attorney; and
- Client who I was appointed to looked at me and said "oh, hell no!" and walked out of the conversation.
Changing Consumer Perception:
The gender bias isn't personally hurtful, or offensive, it's just annoying. It does, however hurt the profession because consumers do not have faith in female attorneys for the "tough" areas of law.
Not long after the opening of our firm, I noticed that the majority of our clients were women. Other than family and friends, we only got calls from women. I was flattered that women trusted us, but I wondered where all the men were going. For an entire year, women dominated our client base. So we did something drastic, we brought in a man to parade on the front page of our website. Lo and behold, we have more male clients.
Convincing consumers that I am equally, if not more qualified to be their attorney is a very tough job. Theirs is the only opinion that matters. This is a business and I want to be hired. I have considered not wearing makeup to make myself less attractive, removing photos from our website, but we settled on just hiring a man. He's front and center in firm photos for a reason.
Where do we go from here:
I don't know. I can tell you where we should not go... stop creating offensive seminars that emphasize the problem. This summer, I went to a conference. The host decided to facilitate yet another CLE for (or for the benefit of) women called...wait for it.... "The Crap People Say About Women but Won't Admit." The panel (all women) just started stereotyping women, and enraging everyone in the room. One man actually said, "this is making me very uncomfortable." To make matters worse, they tried to add humor to the program. It was awkward.
Again, women don't need to know what everyone thinks or actually says out loud. We are fully aware. Furthermore, we are not going to change people who simply think women are less able to be attorneys. We need people in positions of authority in the legal profession who foster a culture of equality and zero-tolerance for gender discrimination. And if you are discriminated against, you should walk out. No job is worth your dignity.