Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Women in the Law

Food for thought, two articles:

1. A New York Times interview with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A sample:

Q: What has [being the lone woman on the court] been like?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: It’s almost like being back in law school in 1956, when there were 9 of us in a class of over 500, so that meant most sections had just 2 women, and you felt that every eye was on you. Every time you went to answer a question, you were answering for your entire sex. It may not have been true, but certainly you felt that way. You were different and the object of curiosity.

One more:

Q: Is [your tenure at Columbia] another example of how you’ve worked with men over the years?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: I always thought that there was nothing an antifeminist would want more than to have women only in women’s organizations, in their own little corner empathizing with each other and not touching a man’s world. If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.

All of that sounds very familiar. Which leads to the second article.

2. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog asks "Are Women at Law Firms too Passive?"

For many years now, women have been graduating from U.S. law schools at rates nearly equal to those of men. Still, at the big law firms, only 19 and 2 percent of the partners and law-firm heads, respectively, are women.

Why? They refer to a an article from The American Lawyer in which Patricia Gillette writes:

Are men in law firms really so much more qualified than the women in those firms to hold the majority of the leadership positions? Are men in law firms really so much better at developing business that they should have the largest books? Of course they're not. What men still have, in part due to the lack of female partners and the exodus of women from law firms, is the power to decide who gets the nod for new opportunities and who doesn't. In fact, if truth be told, the old boys' club, unconscious bias, and outright resentment of women who ask for business or leadership opportunities are all alive and well in many law firms.

While it's easy--and fair--to point a finger at all these factors, however, women have played some part in creating the current situation by following the Dorothy [in the Wizard of Oz] model of "don't ask and don't tell." Many women don't ask for business and career opportunities, for leadership positions, for chances to strut our stuff. Correspondingly, many women don't tell (read: acknowledge their wins) when they are successful. Instead, women tend to wait for the recognition and reward--a wait that can last a career. This is not the sole reason or even the primary reason for the lack of women in positions of power, but it is a contributor.

On the other hand, sometimes you just get tired of being different and beating your head against a brick wall. We're not all cut out to be a Ruth Bader Ginsburg.