My Most Recent Column in the ABA Journal

As usual, there is something for the women lawyers here:

Happy reading!

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Thought For The Week: Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. Robert Louis Stevenson

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Women, Power and Disrupting the Status Quo

I encourage all of you who are registered for the January 27 to 29 ABA World Forum for Women in the Law titled “Women, Power and Disrupting the Status Quo” to be sure this program is on your calendar. Although the event is now closed for registration, those of you who are not able to attend will hear more about it in my future blogs, my ABA Journal monthly columns, and the Best Friends at the Bar social media and press releases.

This is the first world forum for women lawyers presented by the ABA, and it is an important and impressive program. The speakers are noteworthy and include: Christina Blacklaws, Immediate Past President of Law Society of England and Wales; Vivia Chen, award-winning columnist for the Careerist and the American Lawyer; Jo Ann Epps, Executive Vice President and Provost, Temple University; Stasia Kelly, Executive Director of Client Relations, DLA Piper; and Hon. Margaret McKeown, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, to name just a few.

The program will open with an interview of Valerie Jarrett, former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama and current Distinguished Senior Fellow, The University of Chicago Law School. This interview will be conducted by Patricia Gillette, one of the country’s leading experts on gender diversity and equality in the workplace.  Pat and I have worked together in the field of advocacy for women lawyers for more than a decade, and I have learned a lot from her over the years. I am looking very forward to learning more from Pat and Ms. Jarrett in this interview.

This is one of those BE THERE world events for women lawyers. It is my pleasure to be asked to report it for the ABA, and I hope you all will join me there on Wednesday, January 27, at 11 AM and for the following two days, beginning at 10:30 AM on Thursday, January 28, and 10:00 AM on Friday, January 29th. All times are in Central Time.

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Women Lawyers Unite!

I hope that all women lawyers will put their political differences aside today and revel in the significance of one of them being sworn in as the first female Vice President of the United States of America. It is history in the making, and we all should give it the respect it deserves.

There is so much that is important about the inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris. It is not only seeing this significant glass ceiling shattered. It is not only anticipating the respect this woman will be given as an equal partner in the White House based upon her experiences as an equal running mate. And it is not only that she is being recognized as bringing multiple areas of expertise to her office at a time when race relations, rule of law, the justice system, to name just a few, are more important than ever.

It is more than that. It is the image of a competent woman who believed in herself from her very beginnings — in large part because she was raised by a confident woman who imbued confidence in her daughters. And those daughters went on to break barriers and distinguish themselves at multiple levels of government and society. They identified with success and not failure at an early age, and they wear it well.

But I am not naive. I understand that some of you will criticize her ambition. I will not be one of you. I will not fall into that male-contrived trap. I will remember that there is a difference between ambition and ruthless behavior, and I will encourage all of you to be ambitious to make the most of your opportunities.

Some of you will criticize her style — her simple working pant suits devoid of flare. Others of you will not be comfortable with her choice of Chuck Taylors. But I will remember that it is “harder in heels” and applaud her choice of footwear and remember how much easier it is to do important work in comfortable clothing. I will not overlook the effect that her pearls have on her simplicity, and I will recall the image of our newly-inaugurated vice president in the perfect dress and matching coat chosen for this most important of events. She is, indeed, versatile! And I also will remember that discrediting a woman for her appearance is part of the destructive envy of women and the weaponry used by men to attack women and negatively affect their success and upward mobility.

Some of you even will question her identification with black America and split hairs over Caribbean roots and lighter skin. I will not join you, and I will pity you. I will hope that you understand that your reaction says more about you than it says about her.

The inauguration of Kamala Harris as Vice President of the United States of America is so much more than it may first appear to be. Appreciate it for all that it is and enjoy it.

See it as a part of who you are and what you have achieved. Women lawyers all deserve this moment.

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Thought For The Week: Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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All Perks Are Not Equal

What job perks are the most important to you? Which ones would keep you at a job you were thinking about leaving? Does gender factor into the equation?

These are interesting questions, and they have been addressed recently in a survey. Although the survey was not particular to lawyers, the results are consistent with what you might expect to hear from those in the law profession.

According to the survey, flexibility is the most important job perk for women with children. It includes flexible hours, remote working, and commuter benefits, and everyone seems to want it. Especially women but also single employees. 

I certainly understand why women with childcare and family responsibilities are so interested in flexibility, but I must admit that I am not quite so sure why flexibility appeals so much to single employees. However, I expect that it is a reflection of other responsibilities in their lives and the need to balance those responsibilities and interests with time on the job. 

The survey results indicate that the major must-have perks are flexible hours (40.2%), paid insurance premiums (33.6%) and paid family leave (29.2%). Other important perks include the ability to regularly work remotely, discounts, and reimbursement for gym memberships. 

Check out the article and figure out where you stand on these issues. Knowing your priorities will help you to become an effective self advocate and find a satisfactory and satisfying balance between personal and professional responsibilities. 

Good luck!

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Thought For The Week

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. Mahatma Gandhi

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Why Titles Can Be Important for Women Professionals

The New Year is here.  We are hoping for improvements to our society in 2021 and beyond to include herd immunity to COVID-19, a recovered economy and an upward surge of decency and respect for those on the other side of the many debates raging throughout our country today.  One such debate from the closing days of 2020 got my attention. 

Who is allowed to use the moniker “doctor” was raised as an issue recently.  MDs are those we most often refer to as doctors, and the American Medical Association (AMA) has made sure we don’t get confused about that.  Having an MD behind a name traditionally has met with respect and deference.  For centuries, the AMA has limited the number of MDs in America, and it has worked out pretty well for them.

Not everyone who is a “doctor” is a medical type, however, and not everyone accepts the right of others to call themselves “doctor.”

However, lawyers, with their Juris Doctorate degrees, seem to have escaped criticism.  Juris Doctorate appears on all of our law school diplomas, which has been accepted as license to assume the moniker “doctor” without further explanation or additional proof of gravitas.  And we do just that.  We just shorten it to JD, spread it around liberally, and it passes without objection. 

But there are others, who have earned doctorate degrees among us, and their right to use the label “doctor” has come under attack.  For example, PhDs are doctors, Doctors of Philosophy. Somehow the letters got reversed, and instead of DPHs, they are PhDs.  It is easier to say and sounds a lot better.  The years of post graduate studies for doctorate degrees are similar to those of lawyers, and, in my experience, PhDs referring to themselves as “doctors” has never seemed to be an issue worth talking about.  There appeared to be room under the big doctor tent for all of us.

However, an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal recently, attacking President-Elect Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, who holds a doctorate in Education (an EdH), for using the title “doctor,” has made it an issue. That complaint piece, calling into question the future First Lady’s right to refer to herself as “doctor,” has spurred a debate that is unfortunate and belies the facts.  For an effective take down of this column, see the LA Times article laying out the facts about the the WSJ writer and the negative responses his column has elicited.

Ironically, as it turn out, “doctor” historically has meant “teacher,” which is very appropriate for an EdH in Education like Dr. Jill Biden, if that is what she desires.  And apparently she does desire it because her response to the attack makes it very clear that she takes pride in the level of her education and the work that she does on behalf of others similarly seeking higher education. 

Dr. Jill Biden’s pride in her accomplishments and dedication to her work were on display during the Obama administration when she was so devoted to her role as educator that she continued to teach during the eight years that her husband was vice president.  She taught at the Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) located outside of Washington, DC, and while she was there she was referred to only as “Dr. Jill.”  It seems that it was less important to her to be recognized as the Second Lady of the nation than it was to be recognized for her own education and her role in the educations of others.

It has been reported that, at one time during those years at NVCC, a student saw a picture of Dr. Jill with First Lady Michelle Obama and asked Dr. Jill whether she knew Mrs. Obama.  Dr. Jill’s response was not reported, however, and I think that is because it did not matter to her.  What mattered, I think, was that the student felt comfortable enough with Dr. Jill to approach her and ask the question.

All of this matters a lot to someone like me, who has devoted decades to advancing women in their chosen fields, particularly the law.  And it occurs to me that the salient question is this:  If it had been a male Ph.D referring to himself as “doctor” would anyone have cared enough to pen a snarky opinion piece and would an editorial staff of a major newspaper have published it?  I think not.

Rather, it appears that this is just a thinly veiled way for a man to discredit the accomplishments of a woman.   It is just another way for a man to keep a woman from rising to a level that makes him uncomfortable because he thinks that kind of recognition should be reserved for the powerful and privileged males in our society.  It is just another way for a man to make sure as few women as possible break through glass ceilings.

A moment like this may not present itself in quite the same way again.  We are not likely to see, at least for some time into the future, a woman, who values her accomplishments and work as an educator so much that she refuses to stop calling herself “doctor” for the privilege of calling herself “First Lady.” 

And why is that?  I expect that it has something to do with the fact that Jill Biden’s accomplishments and receipt of a doctorate degree are hers.  Her accomplishments.  Not someone else’s.  Not something she inherited from others or that was conferred on her through marriage.  Hers and hers alone.

Hear, hear.


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