Women in the Law

According to ABA statistics, half of all law school graduates are women and have been since 1992. Yet it seems that, in the legal profession, women, as a group, have a “problem.” The traditional power dynamic where men teach and women learn, and men are superior and women subordinate, still survives and women do not have equality in terms of the gender break-down of judges, partners and senior attorneys. A Law.com article N.Y. State Bar Revises All-Male Panel on Women in Law reports that, faced with a call for a boycott of a discussion at its annual meeting, the New York State Bar Association revised its plans to have a panel of “distinguished gentlemen” expound on the “strengths and weaknesses” of women in the legal profession. The Committee on Women in the Law planned to sponsor a day-long program for female lawyers, beginning with a panel titled “What’s Our Problem: Current Issues Facing Women,” with a group of female attorneys discussing practicing law in a changing legal market. Immediately afterward was to be another panel “Their Point of View: Tips From the Other Side,” in which a “distinguished panel of gentlemen” were to opine on the strengths and weaknesses of women’s legal work.

After a threatened boycott from female attorneys, the Bar Association scrapped the all-male feature. Among the women lawyers expressing their disapproval was Brooklyn Law School Professor of Law Anita Bernstein who objected to the description of the panel and its all-male composition saying “The notion of men evaluating women to ask whether they are good enough is just too familiar for women lawyers. I don’t think they intended to make women ‘the other’ and ask whether they were good enough, but that was the reading that one could make of it.” The well-intentioned panel, with members
who would have likely offered great advice on how to succeed, showed a lack of awareness that having a group of men tell an audience of women how to succeed reinforces the idea that lawyering is a man’s job and that it reinforces the falsehood that female attorneys are somehow not as good as their male counterparts.