I’m on Laura Flanders’ GritTV talking about the New York Bar Association’s tips for lady-lawyers:
I swear I am not actually that monotone in real life! Or maybe I am, and I need to hire a speaking coach. Either way.
Transcript below the fold.
Next week, the New York State Bar Association will hold its annual meeting. The Committee on Women in the Law decided to sponsor a day-long program for female lawyers, beginning with a panel titled “What’s Our Problem: Current Issues Facing Women,” wherein a group of female attorneys will discuss practicing law in a changing legal market. Immediately afterward, female lawyers are treated to “Their Point of View: Tips From the Other Side,” in which a “distinguished panel of gentlemen” opine on the strengths and weaknesses of women’s legal work.
Predictably, female lawyers were outraged.
I’m sure the panel was well-intentioned, and I don’t doubt that many of the gentleman panelists would have offered great advice on how to succeed. Apparently none of them knew the description of the panel or that it would be all-male before signing onto it, so no one is blaming them personally. No one is even suggesting that men can never advise women on how to be better lawyers.
But having a group of men tell an audience of women how to succeed reinforces the idea that lawyering is a man’s job; it reinforces the falsehood that female attorneys aren’t as good as their male counterparts. It sets up an old power dynamic wherein men teach and women learn, and men are superior and women subordinate. It assumes that women, as a group, have a “problem.”
To highlight how ridiculous this is, try reversing the genders. Can you imagine a group of successful, highly-educated male attorneys getting together to ask “What’s our problem?,” followed by a woman-only panel discussing the men’s strengths and weaknesses and the overall legal work of male attorneys?
It wouldn’t happen. And it shouldn’t happen, because it’s condescending and frankly insulting.
After push-back from female attorneys and a boycott threatened, the Bar Association tweaked the panels and scrapped the all-male feature. But this panel almost went forward in a country where half of all law school graduates are women – and have been since 1992 – but where women still have difficulty climbing the legal career ladder, and still do not come close to equality when you look at the gender break-down of judges, partners and senior attorneys.
Women should not have to feel like outsiders in the legal world. But panels like this bolster the assumption that attorneys are by default male – and that “women lawyers” are a separate class. Maybe that’s the problem.