Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Afternoon Fun

Ever think about whether Betty and Veronica might become lawyers as their future careers? Although Veronica might be considered by most to have stereotypical lawyer traits (there was never a fight with Mr. Lodge that she didn't win...), Betty also seems to have a steely resolve, along with her compassionate heart.

The 600th issue is due out in comic book stores in August and newsstands in September. As reported by CNN, the publisher's website says the issue features Archie and his friends after they graduate college, including the careers they seek.


The issue also reveals who Archie picks to marry. Read the CNN story here if you want to know.

Group Status Update Continued: MWL

MWL has also created five new strategic goals, with accompanying strategies, to work on for the next several years.

STRATEGIC GOAL A: Fundamentally elevate the status and position of women in the legal profession.

  1. Be a resource for baseline information and research on the current position of women in the profession as well as the state of the legal profession for women. Use the information to advocate for positive change.

  2. Create a President’s Leadership Circle comprised of top leaders in the legal profession to collaborate with MWL to advance our mission. Leverage this partnership to further impact the profession.

  3. Promote MWL members as experts on timely and important issues to reinforce the image of women as leaders.

  4. Position MWL as the best source on issues related to our mission for members of the community, (e.g. media, businesses, law faculty.)

  5. Increase the visibility and influence of MWL within the national community of women lawyers.

This goal appears to center on positioning MWL and its members to be able to speak to gender issues in the profession, especially the issues as they relate to this state. Perhaps a good way to further this goal as individuals is to give a voice to those issues we are interested and knowlegable in. Whether that is contributing a blog post (hint), finding a way to advocate for an issue at your place of work, or even just doing the research for someone else to be an advocate, the success of this goal depends mostly on the willingness of individuals to spread the word.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Put this in the "we're not laughing" file

Courtesy of Above the Law, this is a quote from a real motion filed in the southern district of Florida. It’s actually about a breach of contract over a boat:

“Unfortunately, these procedures, which were designed to decrease her weight and trim, and thereby enhance her performance, failed miserably. She got hot and wet, but too wet. (para. 97, 110, Ex. D to second amended complaint). Just as disturbing, what had at one time been a pleasing, cosmetically acceptable body, had now been transformed into a ghastly and unpleasing specimen.

“Alas, once a sea cow, always a sea cow.”

The whole motion goes on like this. It is so not funny I can’t really believe it happened. Just as disturbing,are the comments on Above the Law about the motion which range from cyber-guffaws to hopes that the lawyer will get a judge who is a “dykey feminazi judge in army boots.”
And I’m not impressed with Above the Law’s response.” [Miami Attorney Jack] Kallen gets a thumbs up from ATL for the entertainment value of his maiden voyage into quasi-pornographic pleadings. But we doubt this seaman talk will sail with the judge.” Really?

Women Lawyer Groups Status Update: MWL

As the official start of summer quickly approaches, it seems like an appropriate time to start updating Woman, Esq. with what the women lawyer groups in Minnesota are working on and striving for this summer, and in the coming year.

We'll start with Minnesota Women Lawyers: the 2009-10 Board of Directors was just put in place, and the 2009-12 Strategic Plan has been approved.

First, the mission:

To advance the success of women lawyers and strive for a just society.

Next, the vision:

In the coming years, MWL will take deliberate action to elevate the status and position of women lawyers both individually and systematically. MWL will leverage its strengths and reputation to be the best authority on information and strategies to help women lawyers succeed. Core programs will continue to provide high quality quality mentoring, networking, and educational opportunities that increase the success of individual women lawyers. MWL will ensure that all activities and programs are focused on the work that will have the greatest mission impact for both individual women lawyers as well as the profession itself.

All of us, whether MWL members or not, should take note of the proactive nature of the mission and vision. The group calls itself and its members to "take deliberate action" and "leverage strengths." Right now might be the perfect time for everyone to focus on what they are currently doing to further women in the profession, and, if they would like to do more, focus on how their strengths could best contribute to these ambitions.

Check back tomorrow for further information on MWL's stratgic goals for the coming years.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Black Women's Roundtable backs Sotomayor

The National Coalition on Black Civil Participation and the Black Women's Roundtable have issued a press release in support of the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor.

The Star Tribune and Sotomayor

The Star Tribune today featured several items showcasing the varied feelings of Minnesotans (and, assumingly, Americans) on President Obama's pick of 2nd Circuit Judge Sotomayor. As always, the opinion seems to ultimately stem from what side of the aisle you're on.

Katherine Kersten, a weekly columnist, also maintains a blog ("Think Again") that expresses one view. Kersten expresses her concern with "The Supreme Court nominee who thinks she is better than a white male." Although Kersten only relies on the main two quotes that many commentators are using as evidence that she should not be confirmed, Kersten gives a sense of what people opposed to the nomination are thinking.

D.J. Leary, a former political and public affairs media consultant, addresses many of these thoughts in his piece on "Conservatives: They've Already Decided." Leary gives his (favorable) opinion on how he views the nomination, and his (unfavorable) view on the “attack chorus” that has already begun.

Finally, an editoral gives a broader perspective on how In Sotomayor nod, the dream endures. This article calls for everyone to take a moment, no matter what side you are clamoring loudly on, and "contemplate the cultural transformation Tuesday's announcement represents."

If you're looking for how the other half thinks, no matter what you think, another thing to check out is the comments made to these stories....if you can stand it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obama video on Sotomayor

I received one of those personal e mails from Barack Obama today, addressed to me by name and containing this video about the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor. But I shouldn't tease about Obama's Internet prowess, look where it has gotten him and the country. And I'm thrilled he's using in on behalf of the appointment of a woman to the Supreme Court.

Obama selects Sotomayor

President Obama, perhaps in an effort to get everyone quickly back in the swing of things after Memorial Day weekend, has decided to nominate federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. Sotomayor, who has served on the 2nd Circuit for over a decade, would be the nation's first Hispanic justice.

And, happily for Woman, Esq., would add another woman to the Court.

The New York Times has compiled the background information here, only the first of many stories and speculations on Judge Sotomayor's future as a Supreme Court Justice.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The first to go...

It's a problem that everyone is facing--in a recession, with receding budgets and steady or growing expenses, what is the first to go? What programs can be eliminated, without dramatically altering the composition of an entity?

Law firms and government offices are asking those tough questions, and a lot of times those answers force institutions to dramatic solutions, such as layoffs. Most can acknowledge that we'd like almost anything cut before lay offs are considered.

But, as we start getting to the grayer areas of what should be cut, a certain degree of vigilance is required so that when the economy comes around again, we aren't back to square one on diversity and leadership gains.

Recent media attention to this top articles have signals that red flags are going up: first, the National Law Journal reports on the number of institutions that have cut both their leadership programs and diversity budgets.

One consultant estimates that 60% of the law firms that were seriously committed to leadership development before the recession have cut back on their leadership spending. The other 40% have either maintained or stepped up their efforts. But ultimately, as budgets get tighter, a lot of the more "long term" goals are giving way to "short term" needs.

Some similar speculation is found in an article from the Daily Business Review, which speculates whether diversity is suffering from the current economy because of the job marken. This article takes an interesting approach, noting that now that so many new lawyers are looking for a job, all kinds of diversity--gender, racial, socioeconomic--may be being impacted as all employers can pick from the top schools, which might not have as diverse of a student body. Cuts to recruiting budgets might also impact the diversity of new hires.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pamela Karlan: Reflections on the "Short list"

In a coincidental turn of events, Stanford Professor Pamela Karlan directly spoke to her feelings on one of the questions posed in last Thursday's post: are the choices women make to get to the top also going to stand in the way of a nomination?

Karlan, one of the names widely circulated as being on the "short list" for a Supreme Court nomination, spoke at Stanford law school's graduation for the Class of 2009.

Would I like to be on the Supreme Court? You bet I would. But not enough to have trimmed my sails for half a lifetime. Sure, I’ve done lots of things I regret over the years. But the things I regret aren’t the things that keep someone from being nominated or getting confirmed. I regret being unkind to people I love and respect and admire. I regret getting frustrated by little things. I regret never taking a summer off. I regret not being able to stick to a diet. But I don’t regret taking sides on questions involving the Voting Rights Act. I don’t regret helping to defend the constitutional rights of criminal defendants. I don’t regret litigating cases on behalf of gay people. I don’t even regret being sort of snarky.

After reading Karlan's speech, the only thing I regret is the low probability that I'll ever get to meet her.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Out of the office? Never!

AmLaw Daily has reported that an attorney in the London office of Cleary Gottlieb has suggested that “out of office” messages on one’s e mail accounts are unacceptable and lawyers should never be unavailable unless they are on an airplane. In the latter instance, the lawyer should identify the time zone he or she is traveling to and future availability. Apparently referring your correspondents to another lawyer isn’t enough. Crazy.

Meanwhile, over on this side of the pond, and back in the real world, the Rutgers Center for Women and Work has released a survey confirming what we thought: women lawyers are increasingly switching firms in search of more flexible work schedules. Of those lawyers who changed firms, 70 percent said their former employers did not offer options such as working from home or working part-time. But is the woman lawyer's pursuit of flexibility sincere or an innocuous label that can be attached to an untenable law firm situation?

USSC oks ongoing pregnancy discrimination in "Hulteen"

Today the U.S. Supreme Court released A.T. & T. v. Hulteen, which says that the company may calculate current pension payments using a length of service calculation that omitted pregnancy leaves taken prior to the 1979 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. In a 7-2 ruling the court overturned the Ninth Circuit. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg dissented, and was joined by Justice Stephen Breyer.

Ginsberg wrote: “ I would hold that AT&T committed a current violation of Title VII when, post-PDA,it did not totally discontinue reliance upon a pension calculation premised on the notion that pregnancy-based classifications display no gender bias. … Congress did not provide a remedy for pregnancy based discrimination already experienced before the PDA became effective. I am persuaded by the Act’s text and legislative history, however, that Congress intended no continuing reduction of women’s compensation, pension benefits included, attributable to their placement on pregnancy leave. ...

It is at least reasonable to read the PDA to say, from and after the effective date of the Act, no woman’s pension payments are to be diminished by the pretense that pregnancy-based discrimination displays no gender bias.

I would construe the Act to embrace plaintiffs’ complaint…”

The only good thing about this case is that only women who are receiving pensions now that include pre-1979 pregnancy leave can be subjected to ongoing gender-based discrimination. The bad news is that there must be a lot of women who were pregnant 30 or more years ago who are heading into retirement.

Perhaps the Lily Ledbetter act should be amended to cover this situation. Given how hard it was to pass that law, that may not be a likely outcome.

Another Complication in Marriage Laws

Kelly Francis gives her own woman lawyer's perspective on a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece by Jennifer Finney Boylan that explores: "Is My Marriage Gay?"

Last week Maine became the fifth state in the union to legalize gay marriage. As Boylan points out however, it is likely that there are a number of legal "gay" marriages even in states which have not legalized such unions. These are marriages such as Boylan's, in which one partner has undergone a gender transformation.

Confounding the problem that many states do not recognize gay marriages, is the problem that some states do not recognize sex changes. As Boylan points out, had she divorced her partner after her transformation (and prior to the legalization of gay marriage in Maine) she would have been allowed to marry only a male partner in Maine, which recognizes sex changes, but only a female partner in Ohio, which does not.

Boylan goes on to discuss the case of J'noel Gardiner from Kansas who, though anatomically female, was denied her husband's inheritance on the grounds that her marriage to another man was invalid.

Part of the problem stems from contradictions in how we define gender. Some decisions are based on the presence or absence of chromosomes, while some are based on anatomy and physical characteristics.

It has been argued that discrimination against GLBT individuals is an extension of sexism. We expect men and women to behave according to pre-established gender roles. Effeminate men and aggressive women cause a great deal of discomfort, sexual orientation aside. The continuing confusion is a direct result of our stubborn insistence on pegging individuals into one category or the other: Male or Female. In reality however, it would appear that gender exists along a spectrum, with individuals displaying different traits, with different intensities all along that spectrum. In some ways, further acceptance of these variances can lead to more freedom for men and women who still feel confined by traditional stereotypes of what it means to be a man or a woman.

Quoting directly from Boylan's article on the absurdity of the country's gender laws, a lawyer for a transgendered plaintiff in San Antonio put it this way:

“Taking this situation to its logical conclusion, Mrs. Littleton, while in San Antonio, Tex., is a male and has a void marriage; as she travels to Houston, Tex., and enters federal property, she is female and a widow; upon traveling to Kentucky she is female and a widow; but, upon entering Ohio, she is once again male and prohibited from marriage; entering Connecticut, she is again female and may marry; if her travel takes her north to Vermont, she is male and may marry a female; if instead she travels south to New Jersey, she may marry a male.”

Sunday, May 17, 2009

First law job observations from the First Lady

Now admit it--most of us avidly read the stories on Michelle Obama's fashion sense. We cannot help but comment on the coverage of her bare arms--and how she should keep them uncovered. But, we're ready for more substance on the First Lady: her hopes for the future, her current plans, and her past experiences. Most relevantly for Woman, Esq., her years as a woman lawyer in a large city.

On Thursday, the Chicago Sun Times featured a story on Michelle Obama's speech to a Corporation for National and Community Service event. In it, we get a glimpse into some of the First Lady's first reflections on her law career aspirations.

And I went from college to law school to a big ol' fancy law firm where I was making more money than both of my parents combined. I thought I had arrived. I was working on the 47th floor of one of the largest buildings in the city of Chicago. And I thought, well, I must be doing okay.

But then several things happened over the course of my life in a year to make me stop and actually think for the first time about what I wanted. I lost my father. I lost one of my good friends to cancer suddenly. She was in her mid-20s when she died. And I thought that -- for the first time I had to think about life and the life that I was building for myself, and I had to ask myself whether, if I died tomorrow, would I want this to be my legacy, working in a corporate firm, working for big companies? And when I asked myself the question, the resounding answer was, absolutely not. This isn't what I want to leave behind, this isn't why I went to Princeton and Harvard, this isn't why I was doing what I was doing. I thought I had more to give.

So people were quite surprised when I told them at the firm that I was going to leave this big lucrative paycheck behind and a promising career, and go on to do something more service-oriented. They all told me to wait and to become a partner first, and then leave. And I was -- that was financially the better option, but I knew in my heart that I was making the right decision to leave then.

An important message to take from Michelle Obama's words is to take time for self-reflection and evaluation. With the economy right now, it may be hard to imagine that now is the time to change your career path. But it's never the wrong time to think about where you want to be, and develop networks and relationships that could get you to that place.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Infinity says, vet the women first

The Infinity Project has weighed in on the upcoming Supreme Court nomination, courtesy of Marie Failinger, assistant dean for academic affairs at Hamline University School of Law. The Infinity Project is dedicated to increasing the gender diversity of the federal bench to ensure the quality of justice in the Eighth Circuit.

Let's see. Someone who is "thoughtful, brilliant, caring and modest. . . a voice of reason." Who is "nice, well-mannered, and thoroughly decent." Someone whose opinions "are soft-spoken and gentle. . . .precise, nuanced, and carefully reasoned but. . resonate with conviction." Someone who is "temperate," in whom there is no "bombast, sarcasm or disrespect." "A serious thinker, a prodigious reader, a hard worker, and a scrupulously careful lawyer" with an "almost romantic passion for the law." Someone who says that at the end of the day, real human beings are being affected by the Supreme Court's decisions, so that justices need to employ all of their powers of heart, mind and being to get it right. Someone whose life didn't fit the standard pattern.

Woman or man?

We should want these qualities in a Supreme Court justice, particularly on a Court which has in recent years issued many contentious, even sarcastic opinions reflecting anything but this description. We should look for those whose life experiences help them understand a broader swath of human beings than those the current justices know.

So let's start with the pool of likely suspects. If you gave me this description, I would have looked for a woman, though surely many men would also fit it. In this case, a man did--this is a description of Justice David Souter by those who watched him most carefully. . . And maybe that's where the search will end, another guy who looks like him.

But if we want the Court to keep---and improve---its current balance of character and perspective, shouldn't we go to the "most likely suspects" first? After all, that's how it has always been done--just with a different set of qualifications. So, let's recognize and celebrate these values in our justices, and insist that the women who have them be vetted first.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Censure recommended in Louisiana for gender insensitivity

From the ABA's Web site:

Another Charge of Insensitivity for Judge Sanctioned for Wearing Blackface

By Debra Cassens Weis

A Louisiana judge sanctioned for wearing blackface at a Halloween party could face discipline in another case, this time over comments he made to a woman seeking a restraining order against her husband.

Five years ago, Judge Timothy Ellender of Houma was suspended for six months and ordered to take a sociology course because he dressed as an inmate for Halloween while wearing an Afro-type wig and black makeup, the Associated Press reports.

In the latest incident, recorded on audiotape, Ellender refused a restraining order sought by Eula Smith Warren, calling her petition “crap,” theThe New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. In the March 2007 hearing, Ellender said Warren’s husband had not abused her or his children. "Heat, big smoke, but no fire,” Ellender said. “Dismissed. You want a divorce, get a divorce. You're not getting a TRO. See y'all later."

He also congratulated Warren’s husband, Charles Warren, for threatening to make his 2-year-old daughter's "booty bleed" if she didn't behave herself at a Subway restaurant. “Can't you find a better place to eat than that?" Ellender asked.

The state Judicial Commission has recommended a public censure for the remarks.

Ellender’s son, Timothy Ellender Jr., represented his father at a hearing last week before the Louisiana Supreme Court. He said his father had a bad day and was not wearing his hearing aids. "He was rude, hurried, nothing to be proud of. But he was not out of control," Ellender Jr. said.
Ellender Jr. contended his father’s remarks were different from the blackface incident, which was about “racial insensitivity.”
Justice Greg Guidry said he disagreed. “And this is insensitivity to women,” he said.

Supreme Court Pick Round-Up

Speculation about who President Obama will suggest as the next Supreme Court Justice continues to ramp up (of course). Here are a few articles and some questions to ponder as we get nearer to the news:

Changing the Whole System
Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin recently wrote an editorial piece about how Supreme Court justices have it too good. Balkin praises Justice Souter not only for his work on the Court, but also for his voluntary retirement at the age of 69. Balkin contends that increasing life expectancy and the increasing prestige of the job has changed the institution so that most justices now serve as long as they possibly can. Balkin argues that more regular rotation would better reflect viewpoints of a changing world; he then describes how we could implement such a rotation system.

A question I had after reading it was this: for people looking for greater diversity on the Court, gender or otherwise, should efforts be focused on changing the whole system? Instead of focusing on how to get a specific spot filled, should people be looking for more regular rotation so that more opportunities exist for greater diversity?

Secret Lives
Several people have clued me into an article from Slate titled "An Unnatural Woman: The secret life of a Supreme Court short-lister." As pointed out in an earlier post, several of Obama's rumored picks are single women. A few openly gay, and a few not. The article questions several consequences of these facts, including the speculation surrounding these women, whether it does matter, and whether it should matter.

One perceptive observation comes at the end of the article--it speculates that often for women to achieve great success in the legal world, they have to make more personal sacrifices. Being on the short-list was probably achieved at a cost, but one that might not pay off. "And so the list is a Catch-22: The choices a woman may make to achieve stunning legal success are the same ones that may also someday preclude her from a Supreme Court confirmation."

Who's in the Running?
Yesterday the media was abuzz with the fact that some source revealed that President Obama has narrowed down the potential nominees to about half a dozen, and a decision could be out by the end of the month.

The list includes: federal appeals court judges Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Wood, and Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Further Reflections on "Sisterhood"

In response to the article "The End of Sisterhood," featured in last Wednesday's and yesterday's posts, Kelly Francis thoughtfully explores other sources of pressure and solutions connected to women working together.

While I definitely agree that there is still some acrimony among female professionals, and additionally agree with the article's suggestions as to why this continues to happen, (i.e. expectations that women will be more empathetic, generational differences and basic competition) I think the analysis comes close, but stops short of stating the overarching source of the problem.

Even professional, well accomplished women, are likely to suffer from bouts of low self-esteem and harbor sexist notions against other women. We all live in the same culture. We are assaulted by the same images and stereotypes. We internalize them the same as everyone else and I don't believe we will ever be able to de-program ourselves completely. We sometimes devalue ourselves and we sometimes devalue other women in order to lift ourselves up in our own eyes.

This post actually calls to mind a quote from Letty Cottin Pogrebin, editor of Ms. magazine back in 1972, in her article "Competing with Women."

"Our competitiveness is not a dirty act of treachery but a survival tactic of a second class human being. Lacking confidence, bereft of self-esteem we play the only game in town that seems to offer a payoff."

And though these lines are over 30 years old, and perhaps more intense than called for in reference to today's legal professionals, they maintain a certain relevance. As women who have accomplished a great deal, and still fear being perceived as anything less than confident and self-assured, admitting to occasional battles with self-doubt and self-criticism is far from easy. Perhaps one way that women can offer support to one another is in opening up a dialogue about our own susceptibility to social devaluation, rather than trying to brush off the slights as if they don't affect us and attempting to face these pressures alone.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More Backlash?

The American Lawyer isn’t the only publication to observe “the end of sisterhood.” (See Laura’s post of May 6.) The New York Times today ran Backlash: Women Bullying Women at Work, which discusses just that and posits that some women may feel the need to be super-aggressive to get ahead, and not be able to turn that off; or, alternatively, that they fear other women’s success will sabotage their own careers. That’s particularly true where women don’t see themselves as part of a group but only as individuals, which could be a typical workplace—say, a law firm—scenario. Of course, men bully each other at work as well. But women are typically starting from behind and don’t need any more obstacles, as the article points out.

E-mail, Emotion, and the Exclamation Mark

As electronic communication becomes more and more central to our work (and personal) lives, some have noticed a beginning revival of an ending....a sentence's ending.

The Guardian recently featured a story on The Joy of Exclamation Marks. In the article, Stuart Jeffries comments on how the exclamation point's use has changed in the electronic era. Once seen as shouting, "laughing at your own jokes," or even a "sign of a diseased mind," the punctuation is making a comeback as our communication by written message has exponentially increased.

But the exclamation point may not just be making a comeback--it might even be staging a hostile take over. The article reports that current business etiquette and dynamics may make the exclamation point required.

Because it is harder to convey emotions in an email, the exclamation point allows more emotion to show. Most of us probably agree: "I'm looking forward to your speech!" shows much more enthusiasm than "I'm looking forward to your speech."

Most interestingly, one of the theories behind increased usage is attributed to women's style of communication. Jeffries examines Carol Waseleski's paper, Gender and the Use of Exclamation Points in Computer-Mediated Communication, which found that women used more exclamation marks than men.

Jeffries posits on a couple of theories from Waseleski's paper: women might use exclamation points to convey the strength of their convictions, or perhaps to make up for a lack of stature and insecurity about expressing one's thoughts.

Or maybe exclamation marks are just a sign of friendliness, and "women use them more than men because they [are], as a gender, less likely to be socially inept, funless egotists." His words, not mine.

Friday, May 8, 2009

David Brooks: The Age of Obama

New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks spoke Tuesday at Orchestra Hall as the distinguished speaker for the St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Brooks spoke to a packed house on "The Age of Obama."

Brooks, well known for his writing on politics and modern American culture from a more conservative perspective, capitalized on humor, "insider"-type information, and sheer intellectual willpower to give a captivating talk. Although almost every paragraph of his speech could provide fodder for discussion, limits are necessary...for this one post, anyway.

One fascinating topic was Brooks thoughts on Obama's self-confidence. Brooks called that trait the "dominant theme" of Obama's campaign and presidency. Brooks talked about remarks where Obama conveys that he really believes he is the best person at all aspects of leading the country at this time, and feels totally confident. A sign of this is how Obama surrounds himself with the greatest intellectual brainpower he can find, but still feels he can control the conversation, and the result.

Another trait that Brooks discussed was Obama's "incredible niceness." At this great "traffic jam of brains" that Obama has created, Brooks said that Obama does not tolerate unkindness, and exudes humanity.

The other traits Brooks elaborated on were Obama's tremendous perceptiveness, his incredible knowledge and intellect, and his tremendous self-control. The fact that Brooks finds these to be the traits of a remarkable leader is also encouragement to women--none of these traits are qualities that women are generally disassociated with as leaders. It is encouraging that the notion of who is a strong leader is no longer tied to forcefulness, but instead to confidence and perceptiveness.

Lastly, I should note Brooks tie to Minnesota women: his wife of 25 years is from Minnesota. I should also note his coping strategy when dealing with Minnesota women: "capitulation."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"Sister" rivalry?

As spotted by Above the Law, the May issue of American Lawyer contains an article titled "The End of Sisterhood." The article surmises that beneath women lawyers' supposed unity in fighting for gender equality and helping each other succeed, there is a tension and acrimony that actually makes other women the "worst tormentors" in the workplace.

Citing statistics from studies showing women prefer male bosses, the article suggests several reasons why female supervisors are getting bad evaluations from their women subordinates. First, expectations: women expect other women to be more empathetic, and when women supervisors are tough, there is a sense of betrayal. Second, generational differences: women from generations that went through enormous personal struggle to achieve their status may feel like the next generation should also pay their dues. Third, basic competition: women who have found a unique niche in the workplace don't want others infringing on their territory.

These are not new notions, and it seems simplistic to say that competition between women is a sign that we don't support other women doing well in the workplace.

But the article does highlight one important point: women need help in depersonalizing conflict. Women have been found to internalize criticism more than men, and perhaps the article correctly notes that criticism from other women is taken even harder now that there is more purposeful effort to make sure women in the workplace connect. Maybe another part of the problem is lack of empathy from women subordinates--even women in leadership positions are constantly learning and navigating new situations in their jobs.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Will "outing" be a Supreme Court confirmation strategy?

A posting on both Feminist Law Professors and Gender & Sexuality Law blogs by Professor Katherine Franke reminisces how, when unmarried David Souter was nominated to the Supreme Court, at least one of the so-called progressive organizations opposing his nomination considered outing him, although of course no one knew if he was gay. Franke warns some more of that could be coming our way. Two of the women being touted , Elena Kagan and Janet Napolitano, are unmarried (gasp! remember Janet Reno, compelled, in her mind at least, to disclose her attraction to men?) and Kathleen Sullivan is an out lesbian, reports Franke. “You can be sure that the Republican members of Congress and the advocacy groups lining up to oppose any Obama appointee are strategizing how to raise the 'gay' issue with Kagen, Napolitano and Sullivan (the conservative blogosphere is already well down that road). 2009 isn’t 1990 - and the mere suggestion of homosexuality doesn’t have the same unseemly undermining effect that it did back then. But it ain’t nothing - like not paying your taxes seems to be now. (Remember Zoe Baird?),” writes Franke. If this happens, let’s not keep silent about it.

Update: Michele Norris adds to her "legacy"

Michele Norris, host of NPR's All Things Considered, was named last week as the Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists.

Norris was the keynote speaker at MWL's Winter Celebration in February. Both her speech to us and her reporting on the 2008 presidential race reflect a unique thoughtfulness about our current times. Norris uses that presidential election to reevaluate how people frame their experiences, and how that framing impacts both the future generations and our own memories.

"How much do we share with people to encourage them to go forward without weighing them down?" she asked in February. "How honest are we when we live history?"

Norris encouraged everyone to reflect on how much change people can have just by telling their stories. Interestingly, she drew attention to how much impact people have by purposefully keeping stories hidden.

Norris gave several examples of how stories of racial barriers that had been buried for decades have been flooding out of friends, family, and her since President Obama's election. "I think sometimes we believe that if we're honest with what we faced, people would leave."

These questions also extend to gender barriers--how are we shaping our legacy by how we frame stories of the past and present, and how much do we keep hidden? One thing can be said, though--Norris is truly shaping an important legacy through her excellence in revealing stories.

Monday, May 4, 2009

"What's the problem?"

In telling a first-year male law student about the launch of Woman, Esq., "surprise" was the least of my emotions when he asked why a blog was needed. "Is there really a problem?"

This question can be excused in part by the fact that women are now close to 50 percent of law school classes--someone still in school might not see much disparity. But it is a reminder that not everyone knows there's a problem, and even those who suspect a problem might not know the details.

For this post, let's start with law firms (but recognize that problems are not limited to them). In November 2008, the National Association of Women Lawyers released its 2008 Survey of Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms. This annual report is based on statistics gathered from a survey of the nation's 200 largest law firms (as compiled in American Lawyer and reported in May and June 2007).

Highlights (and lowlights...) of the report include:
  • Women start out in equal numbers to men when first entering law firms.
  • Women constitute appproximately 45% of the mid-level associates and 44% of the 7th-year associates.
  • The percentage of women shrinks at higher positions in the firm:
    34% of-counsel
    27% non-equity partners
    16% equity partners
  • Women of color are being hired at the associate level in numbers roughly proportionate to the number graduating from law school (11%).
  • The percentage of women of color as law firm partners, equity (1.4%) or non-equity (3%), is very small.

The report also examines the difference in percentage of women partners in one-, two-, and mixed-tier law firms, the effects of lateral movement, and the women's initiative programs that firms have instituted.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Equal Pay Day

A national holiday just passed that flew far under the radar. Tuesday, April 28--last Tuesday--was Equal Pay Day for 2009. An easy holiday, because if anyone is wondering what to get you, you can just tell them, "Money."

Unfortunately, though, the answer isn't really that simple.

Equal Pay Day was started in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) as a public awareness event to draw attention to the gap between men's and women's wages. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, the ratio of women’s to men’s median weekly earnings for full-time workers was 79.9 in 2008, the third consecutive decline since the historical high of 81.0 in 2005.

It appears that each year the NCPE holds a press conference with various legislators and group leaders. The group asks for two things to commemorate the day: for local groups to get the message out, and for everyone to wear red. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that Minnesota did much with the holiday this year.

It's too bad we missed it, as there was something to celebrate this year. The first bill President Obama signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which states that the 180-day statute of limitations for pay discrimination resets with each new discriminatory paycheck. The legislation addresses the procedural bar the Supreme Court found to a pay discrimination claim in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company (a case touched on at the Infinity Project launch by keynote speaker Sherrilyn Ifills ).

Although the Act is an obvious and positive step toward pay equity, it also reminds us of the many factors that contribute to the existing disparity. The battle only continues, and so next year, let's wear red.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Let's not take a woman appointment to the Supreme Court for granted.

My first reaction early in the morning hearing that Justice David Souter is going to retire was, Oh no! Then I remembered who the president is and I relaxed a little. It’s gratifying to see that Above the Law, SCOTUS blog and others are saying it is something like a virtual certainty that the president will appoint a woman. Obviously that would be preferable to me. But we shouldn’t take that for granted and should be prepared to lobby, if necessary.

According to the Washington Post, most often mentioned as possibilities are two appeals judges, Sonia Sotomayor of New York (the Second Circuit) and Diane P. Wood of Chicago (the Seventh Circuit), along with Obama's new solicitor general, Elena Kagan (former dean of Harvard Law School and the first woman SG). Vice President Joe Biden has been charged with drawing up a list of possible nominees, according to the source close to the court.

Souter said he will retire at the end of the court's term in June. When a successor is chosen, will Minnesota have two senators to vote on this important appointment?

Transcripts of Souter's letter and other communications are available at the SCOTUS blog.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Lawyers feeling "womanesque"...

Welcome to "Woman, Esq."--a new blog being launched to connect and promote Minnesota's many groups and individuals working to create opportunities and equality for women lawyers.

The number of people working in Minnesota on this issue shows the gender gap problem in our profession has not yet been solved. It also shows this is an issue this legal community prioritizes and has committed to deeply, with ideas and conversations happening all over the state.

It is at the intersection of these realizations where "Woman, Esq." begins. A recent story about the need for more female voices in the legal blogsphere prompted the blog idea, and a vision for the blog became clear as each participating group attempts to garner more public attention, conversation, and interaction with their missions.

Although each group may have a specific target, there is clearly a common goal: achieve equality for women lawyers in the profession. "Woman, Esq." seeks to promote and to connect to each group in order to serve that main purpose for which we all strive.