Monday, June 29, 2009

Ms. J.D. posts Code of Ethics for Female Attorneys

Here's an interesting item from Ms J.D.:

A Code of Ethics for Female Attorneys
1. I pledge to respect the female attorneys who came before me, because their paths were steeper, rougher, and unfamiliar. I pledge to respect the female attorneys who come after me, even though their paths may be gentler, smoother, and well worn. We are all traveling down the same path.

2. I pledge to continue to make the way even smoother for future female attorneys. While women make up 51% of the United States population, we constitute 47% of law students, 32% of lawyers in the legal profession, 18% of partners in private firms and general counsel for Fortune 500 companies, and this figure has remained static since the mid-1990s. (Statistics drawn from reports published at Clearly, we still have work to do.

3. As a woman, I will not judge other female attorneys who have come before me or who will come after me for (1) getting married; (2) not getting married; (3) having children; (4) not having children; (5) or making any other major life decisions because of, or in spite of, balancing a legal career.

4. Given the choice of being a mentor or a tormentor to a younger, less experienced female attorney, I actively choose to be a mentor. When a younger, less experienced female attorney comes to me with a question or for advice, I will not revel in how much more I know than she; I will share that knowledge and experience.

5. There are no “dues” that a younger, less experienced female attorney needs to pay to me. I will not waste my time minding tollbooths when I have a ways down the path yet to go myself.

6. In the game of law, I will help younger, less experienced female attorneys as though we were playing leapfrog, not red rover.

7. I recognize that even though we may be of the same sex, I will not like every female attorney I meet. I pledge, however, not to call her a “bitch,” or any other name powerful because of its misogynist origins.

8. If my voice is louder or carries more weight, then I will speak up for my fellow female attorneys’ needs, like a flexible schedule, even if those are not my personal needs at the moment.

9. I pledge to reach out, through pro bono service, to the women in my community who need a lawyer’s help, who admire that that lawyer is another woman, and who appreciate how that woman may understand their problems and resolve them justly.

10. I pledge to be me. There is a younger female attorney out there who sees herself in me. I pledge to succeed for her.

"Equal" Begins with Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I've just finished "Equal -- Women Reshape American Law" by Fred Strebeigh. It is a terrific read about the changes in law through the Violence Against Women Act, scholarly yet full of humanity. I'll be publishing little book reports over the coming days.

The book is dedicated to all of us: "women shaping law."

Prologue: “This book, drawing on interviews with and documents from participants in those cases, tells the stories behind the cases that propelled American law toward equality. And it tells tales of resistance from on high.”

Part One: SCRUTINY (1970-1975)

1.The Story of Paula Wiesenfeld.
In 1972 Ruth Bader Ginsburg (shown here in her ACLU days) found the story of Paula and Stephen Wiesenfeld and immediately knew it offered the case she needed. “Ginsburg in the early 1970s was making the most profound attack on sexist law in the history of the American legal system.”

Paula Wiesenfeld died in childbirth and Stephen was denied the same social security benefits he would have received if he had been a widow instead of a widower. Ginsburg was an ACLU lawyer and a professor at Rutgers, where a group of women students had asked her to teach a course on women and the law.

Prior to Wiesenfeld, Ginsburg had also worked on the case of Charles Moritz, who was denied a tax deduction for household help to care for his 89-year-old mother because he was a man, and sought a role in the case of Sally Reed, who could not serve as administrator of her son's estate because she was a woman. Ginsburg suggested to her friend Mel Wulf,who was the legal director of the ACLU, that a woman co-counsel would be appropriate in Reed. Wulf agreed, perhaps because Ginsburg had supplied her brief in Moritz not only to Wulf but also to other New York lawyers. One of those lawyers, well connected to the ACLU, wrote Ginsburg that her Moritz brief was terrific, with a copy of his letter to Wulf. Wulf then invited Ginsburg to join on Reed. He had been known to say that he “plucked Ruth Bader Ginsburg from obscurity,” but also remarked, “Maybe she plucked herself from obscurity.”

We return to Wiesenfeld in Chapter 4.

The Supreme Court and Sotomayor Roundup

The U.S. Supreme Court released it's decision today in Ricci v. DeStefano, the case brought by white firefighters in New Haven who claimed they were wrongfully denied promotions after a promotion examination found no firefighters of color were eligible for advancement. Although controversial in its own right, the case is also garnering a lot of media attention because the Court ruled in favor of the firefighters--overturning an unpublished decision by a 2nd circuit panel that included Sotomayor.

We may have to wait for a few days for a truly indepth, comprehensive look as what this means in terms of how this will impact Sotomayor's confirmation hearings. Right now, the "talking heads" seem to be doing most of the talking.

The Atlantic: Examples of Sotomayor's critics seizing the day

New York Times: Not unexpectedly, Senatorial reaction to the decision is divided by party line

Slate has an interesting article, however, that shines a little perspective, and mystery, on the situation. The article doesn't dwell on the decision that was made, but how the 2nd circuit sort of "punted" the issue, which is part of the reason the issue was taken up before the Supreme Court. We'll see if the 2nd Circuit's decision has a resounding effect on more than just the employment laws of the country.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

MWL Event Reminder

Tomorrow is the last chance to sign up for MWL's FREE event on "Job Hunting Stratgies for a Lousy Economy."

The Details:
  • Monday, June 29, 2000
  • 12:00 noon to 1:30 p.m.
  • MWL Offices (600 Nicollet Mall, Suite 390B in Minneapolis; 3rd floor ofCity Center, inside the HCBA office area)
  • FREE; feel free to bring your own lunch.
  • 1.5 Professional Development CLE credits will be applied for.
  • RSVP by tomorrow, June 26th, 2009 here

Roy S. Ginsburg, a local attorney coach, will be giving tips and stratgies on job searches. This seminar sounds helpful for both women looking for jobs and women unhappy with the jobs they have. Don't let a down economy keep you at a standstill if you want another career direction.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Group Status Update: MSBA Women in the Legal Profession

The MSBA Women in the Legal Profession, although probably taking a short hiatus from meeting for the next month because of the craziness of summer, has already begun planning for next fall.

The committee is currently developing a CLE on Negotiating Skills for Women Attorneys.
Here is what has been established so far:

When: Thursday, September 17, 2009
Time: Noon to 1:30 p.m.
Where: Century Room, Faegre & Benson LLP
90 S Seventh St #2200, Downtown Mpls.
Moderator: Debra Page, Partner, Lindquist & Vennum PLLP

  • Michelle Jester, Partner, Messerli & Kramer PA
  • Edward Laine, Partner, Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly LLP
  • Hon. Roberta Levy, Senior Judge, Hennepin County District Court
  • Priscilla McNulty, Senior Counsel, Capella University

Save the date for now, and look for more information toward the end of summer!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Group Status Update Continued: MWL

As we continue our trek through the lastest going-ons of the local women lawyer groups, we return to our exploration of the Strategic Plan and Goals of MWL that was approved last month.

Today....Strategic Goal D.

STRATEGIC GOAL D: Build the diversity of MWL membership.

  1. Ensure MWL at all levels reflects the diversity of women in the profession.
  2. Increase MWL’s membership among women lawyers in underdeveloped membership areas, including the corporate setting, public attorneys, academia, and those in non-traditional legal careers.
  3. Increase MWL’s membership among women of color.
  4. Evaluate MWL’s member services to ensure that we provide offerings that are of value and interest to the diversity of women in the profession (women of color, practice areas, practice types, etc).
Ensuring that proper diversity exists is an important goal for every group, as it allows different experiences and viewpoints to inform the membership, leadership, and actions of the group. MWL's goals rightly account for the many different forms of diversity that exist among women professionals: diversity in careers, diversity in ethnicity, diversity in locations, diversity in family situations. It appears this goal could be particularly furthered by women in these diverse groups letting MWL know what offerins would be of value and interest to them.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Female Polititions: Breaks in the News

If you heard about Hillary Clinton breaking her elbow on the Today show this morning, you might be amused by the developing specultion. According to the Chicago Tribune's newspaper blog, quite a few conspiracy theorists look at this as more than a simple fall...

On the other side of the aisle, a blog that accumulates and analyzes polling and political data has articulated a hypothesis called The Palin Paradox. The paradox is that women are more likely to get elected in male-dominated districts. Although women are just 17 percent of the members of U.S. Congress, women are more likely to be serving than men in the male-dominated districts.

Although the blog offers A LOT of numbers and statistics, the writer clearly admits to being clueless why such an effect is happening. But his numbers confirm that there isn't another possible variable, and emphasize that it isn't just chance.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It's Not the Rate of Education...

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education released statistics that showed that women lead men at every level of higher education in the number of degrees received. Here's a quick look at the numbers for 2009 (a speculative graph can be found here):

Bachelor's Degrees: 142 for women for every 100 for men.
Master's Degrees: 159 for women for every 100 for men.

"First-Professional" Degrees: 104 for women for every 100 for men.
Doctoral Degrees: 107 for women for every 100 for men.

Law degrees are lumped with M.D. and D.D.S. in the first-professional degrees.

The news is good in many lights. It shows the access to education is there, and that access is being utilized. But, one can't help but feel like these statistics cannot be too heavily relied upon as signs of changing cultures or professions. For one thing, female law students have been close to or over half of law students for quite a few years, but the profession is still slow to see change. We also can't ignore the many reports of the Iranian elections that are accompanied by the fact that although women make us 65% of univeristy students in that country, many women in that country are fighting hard for much more basic changes and opportunities.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Infinity Project and MWL statement on Sotomayor

The Infinity Project and Minnesota Women Lawyers have released a joint statement on the confirmation process of Judge Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court:

Minnesota Women Lawyers and The Infinity Project commend President Barack Obama for the nomination of a woman, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision whether Judge Sotomayor should be confirmed should be based on a measured and civil confirmation process that fosters a thoughtful debate about Judge Sotomayor's credentials, not her gender or national origin. We believe the depth and quality of any nominee's legal experience is the proper subject of evaluation. In state elections, MWL asks voters to consider such qualities as legal education, experience, reputation for excellence and fairness and temperament. We urge the United States Senate to consider the same relevant factors in the conduct of Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation process.

It is also our hope and expectation that President Obama will continue to appoint women to the United States District Courts and Courts of Appeals, where women are currently underrepresented. While women make up 48 percent of law school graduates and over 30 percent of the legal profession overall, they are only 24 percent of federal district court judges, 25 percent of circuit court judges, and 11 percent of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. Not only do we believe that the judiciary should more fairly reflect the composition of the profession, but we strive for a fair reflection of the public that our judiciary serves.

Contact Woman, Esq. at for further contact and reference information.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Martha Minow will head Harvard Law School

Harvard Law School professor Martha Minow has been named the new dean of the school, replacing Elena Kagan who was tapped to be President Barack Obama’s solicitor general.

In addition to many articles in legal and other journals, Minow’s publications include the books “Partners, Not Rivals: Privatization and the Public Good” (2002), “Breaking the Cycles of Hatred: Memory, Law, and Repair” (2002), “Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History After Genocide and Mass Violence” (1998), “Not Only for Myself: Identity, Politics, and the Law” (1997), and “Making All the Difference: Inclusion, Exclusion, and American Law” (1990). She is co-editor of casebooks on civil procedure, women and the law, and family law, as well as volumes including "Goverment by Contract: Outsourcing and American Democracy (2009, with Jody Freeman), “Just Schools: Pursuing Equality in Societies of Difference” (2008, with Richard Shweder and Hazel Rose Markus), “Engaging Cultural Differences: The Multicultural Challenge in Liberal Democracies” (2002, with Shweder and Markus), and “Law Stories: Law, Meaning, and Violence” (1996, with Gary Bellow).

After completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan, Minow received a master’s degree in education from Harvard and her law degree from Yale. She clerked for Judge David Bazelon of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the Supreme Court of the United States. She joined the Harvard Law faculty as an assistant professor in 1981, was promoted to professor in 1986, was named the William Henry Bloomberg Professor of Law in 2003, and became the Jeremiah Smith Jr., Professor of Law in 2005. She is also a lecturer in the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Looking for change during the recession... pun intended.

Speculation over the economy's impact on the future of the legal profession ramped up in Minnesota this week with news of Dorsey & Whitney joining a growing number of national firms who are instituting a salary decrease for associate attorneys. One Minnesota Lawyer article cited an observation that "the economic times require that [firms] be forward looking in terms of the changing demand for legal services and law firm management structures."

Talks of structural changes usually invoke some examination of the model where high salaries are accompanied by high billable hour requirements. A blog post on Law21, a blawg dedicated to information on changes in the profession, sums up some of the most compelling talking points in the debate over the legacy of work-life balance. The post hypothesizes that "work-life balance" is a personal choice and responsibility, that legal institutions won't unilaterally change their business models to give lawyers better work-life balance unless lawyers demand it.

How this connects to Minnesota's latest speculations is the post's observations that the time for change is right now--mostly because change is being forced upon the legal industry. The post also notes that right now, ironically, is when people are the most nervous about change and what that might mean to their own job, and so are not focused on reexamining their work-life balance issues, but working hard to ensure their job.

While this isn't exactly a message of hope for the future ("now's the time for change as people avoid change at all costs"), it could serve as some fodder for thought and reflection on keeping an open mind to the entire picture, change and all.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Group Status Update Continued: MWL

The endeavor to update everyone about the current status and priorities of women lawyer groups in Minnesota continues. Thus, we continue with our exploration of the recently implemented MWL strategic goals.

STRATEGIC GOAL C: Increase member access to MWL.

  1. Research, develop and implement ways to leverage technology to effectively communicate with and serve MWL members.
  2. Strengthen MWL’s presence throughout the state by supporting current chapters and working with members to create new chapters.
  3. Hold MWL events and programs in a variety of geographic locations.

Individual group members may not have as active a role in furthering this goal, but hopefully will benefit from such prioritizing by MWL. It is a good reminder to everyone--including Women, Esq.--that work is being done by and on behalf of women in the profession all over the state, and we can look to support, and for support, from groups and individuals outside the Twin Cities. As technology makes our state, country, and world smaller and smaller, we can use that technology to make our groups and members, no matter in what location, more connected.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Temperment Question

An associated press article from over the weekend takes "the measure of Sotomayor's courtroom manner." The article talks about the rumored "temperament problem" of Sotomayor--reportedly, complaints listed by anonymous lawyers in the Almanac of Federal Judiciary.

But the article identifies the main problem as intense and vigorous questioning of the lawyers before her. And such talk always begs the questions of whether temperment should affect the consideration, and whether temperment would enter the debate over a male justice.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

More on whether women and men judges decide differently

Here's another New York Times story, this time on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's now famous remark, " “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” Readers, is that a fair statement or not?

What to wear?

Reader Karen Cole sent Woman, Esq. this New York Times article about a discussion in the Seventh Circuit about women's dress in court. It refers to the Web site Corporette, which is sort of fun.

'Equal: Women Reshape American Law' called mangificant achievement by one woman who did it

Here's a cross-posting from

Being a month behind on my magazines at all times, I’ve just become aware of a new book, “Equal: Women Reshape American Law,” by Fred Streibeigh, now getting rave reviews. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who of course figured prominently in the reshaping of American law, calls the book a “magnificent achievement” and the most accurate account of her work in the 1970s to date.”

Interestingly, it is written by a (male) Yale University professor of writing, not a lawyer, and it looks very readable. Here are the opening sentences, courtesy of “For a woman who wanted to become an American lawyer, the time before 1968 was a time of inequality. If you entered Harvard Law School before 1950, for example, you were male. Although some American law schools had admitted a trickle of women for decades, prior to 1950 Harvard practiced perfect discrimination: No woman need apply.

“By 1967, the percentage of women in the nation’s law schools had reached only about 5%. 1968 changed American law. The United States government announced plans to take away men’s draft exemptions for attending law school. "

I’ll be diving into this as soon as I can get my hands on it, and I’ll keep you posted

Obama strives for new beginnings and equal rights

President Obama spoke at Cairo University today on his vision for a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims." The full text of his speech is available, and most commentators have been speculating on how Muslim countries will respond to his message. Reader's of Woman, Esq. may be especially interested in his remarks on women's rights:

The sixth issue -- the sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

I know, and you can tell from this audience, that there is a healthy debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal. But I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality.

And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well- educated are far more likely to be prosperous.Now let me be clear, issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we've seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead.Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life and in countries around the world. I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons.

Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity, men and women, to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal. And I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice.

That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim- majority country to support expanded literacy for girls and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Judging a Justice by Her (Book's) Cover

New York Times writer Mary Jo Murphy explored the early overlaps of the former, current, and potential women Supreme Court Justices in her piece titled Nancy Drew and the Secret of the 3 Black Robes.

Noting that "in citing early literary influences, Justices O’Connor and Ginsburg and Judge Sotomayor named only Nancy [Drew]," Murphy explores exactly why Nancy Drew might have drawn the attention of such women.

Murphy quotes one Nancy Drew scholar's speculation:

“Nancy was courageous and independent but she never used that independence in an overtly rebellious way. Instead, she used her freedom to have adventures, but they were always in the name of doing good and serving justice, so in that sense she remained a ‘nice’ girl.”

It's a fun game of literary analysis to play, but perhaps the more important message is about normalcy and relatedness. When asked about early influences, these women cite to adventures that many, if not most, women enjoyed as children. The road to a brilliant career does not necessarily require reading Aristotle in grade school--it requires experiencing the world in an open and honest way, with maybe just a slight aptitude for solving life's great mysteries. Or, in Nancy Drew's case, the small ones.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Group Status Update Continued: MWL

And the strategic goals up: proactively working to increase women's leadership opportunities in the profession.

STRATEGIC GOAL B: Increase the success and leadership of women in the law.

  1. Position MWL as the best source for women lawyers at all career stages and in all types of careers, as it relates to their advancement in the profession.
  2. Provide opportunities for effective networking to help women lawyers grow their professional connections.
  3. Expand and enhance MWL’s mentoring programs.
  4. Continue to develop seminars that advance the abilities of women lawyers (e.g. marketing, leadership, self-promotion, etc.) and offer CLE credit when appropriate.
  5. Develop and implement strategies for women lawyers to secure positions on nonprofit and for profit boards of directors.

This goal brings back memories of earlier posts last month where Woman, Esq. discussed women as leaders in the workplace, and how the concept of "sisterhood" might not be as prevelant as people think. This goal serves as a great reminder not just to think about developing new relationships through these women lawyer groups, but also to enhance the relationships already formed. Many lawyers hate the term "networking," but people do it everyday by simply maintaining and nurturing professional and personal relationships. The next step is to take those relationships and work together to give women the opportunities to get the leadership positions in which they are interested.

Monday, June 1, 2009

David Brooks on Sotomayor

David Brooks, Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times (generally a more conservative thinker), gives some of articulate thoughts on Sotomayor, and the U.S. Supreme Court in general in his piece titled "The Empathy Issue."

The crucial question in evaluating a potential Supreme Court justice, therefore, is not whether she relies on empathy or emotion, but how she does so. First, can she process multiple streams of emotion? Reason is weak and emotions are strong, but emotions can be balanced off each other. Sonia Sotomayor will be a good justice if she can empathize with the many types of people and actions involved in a case, but a bad justice if she can only empathize with one type, one ethnic group or one social class.

And a little more food for thought: Another piece of early speculation has focused on how often Sotomayor has been reversed by the Supreme Court. Several news organizations have noted that her reversal record is no worse than the justice she is set to replace, or other justices currently on the court.