There is good news for women in academia. The National Law Journal reported in its May 26, 2011 edition that women account for about 40% of the deans named to law schools in the recent months. According to Ann Bartow, a professor at Pace Law School and an administrator of the Feminist Law Professors blog, some law schools in the 1990’s had no women on their faculties at all. So, twenty years later, we have come a long way, baby!
The importance of this development is in the message that it sends not only at law schools but in the legal community at large. It is clear from these numbers that women have as much a place in the legal world as men and that they finally are being recognized for their proper roles in teaching and influencing both women and men, alike, to be good lawyers. Women on the faculties of law schools should increase the sensitivity to women’s practice issues at those institutions, and we can hope that will carry over to an increase in women’s programs and issues forums. But, “hope” is the operative word, and here is why.
Women have not always proven to be supportive of women. One of my favorite quotes is from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who said, “There is a place reserved in Hell for women who do not help other women.” Obviously, Secretary Albright must have observed some of the same things that I have over the years. Women too often get caught up in jealousy and envy to do the right thing in supporting their sisters, and the field of law is no exception. It was obvious when I started practicing law more than thirty years ago, and it was experienced by so many of us who came into the profession in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The women, who had “made” it according to the men’s rules and were senior and in positions to help the young women lawyers, did not. Their attitude was that they had suffered, and we all should suffer in the same way. It was a sad reality, but we thought it would go away as women advanced in the profession and achieved a common voice. But, it did not—-at least not at the pace that it should have. Unfortunately, I still see it, and I include Secretary Albright’s quote in every speech that I give at law schools and law organizations to try to shed some light on what is still an unfortunate reality. We can only hope that the situation will improve and that women will understand that we will not get to the top unless it is on each other’s shoulders.
So, good for the new women law deans. Good for the female faculty at law schools across the country. Good for the young women who remind them every day how important their positive influence can be and what a wonderful opportunity they have to be mentors and supporters of young women law students and lawyers.
Luckily, I also have some good memories along these lines. One of my favorite professors at Georgetown Law during the 70’s was a woman. Wendy Williams not only encouraged women and taught an important course on sex discrimination but she let me teach her class one night. I had chosen a paper topic that she did not agree with at all, but she understood the power of the controversy, and she gave me a great opportunity to lead the debate. I have never forgotten that, and I am happy to say that I saw her recently and experienced her sincere interest and supporting nature again firsthand. It is fortunate for all of us that she is still teaching and writing and having a positive influence on young women law students and lawyers.