Women Lawyers and Diversity Front and Center

March is Women’s History Month in the US, and March 8th was International Women’s Day. We all need to be thankful, particularly during this month, for all the women who have gone before us to pave the way for the opportunities we enjoy today. Yes, there is still more work to be done, but, as they say, “We’ve come a long way, baby!”

I celebrated International Women’s Day in a really special way by presenting a webinar to a group of women law students at Durham University in the UK. It was a diverse audience, based not only on gender but also on ethnicity, and it was a real pleasure to present this “first” in my experience. Although Best Friends at the Bar has followers abroad, this was my first off-shore program. I hope that it will not be the last because I know the need is also great in other parts of the world.

Here are some of the subjects addressed in that program:

What I see as the greatest challenges for women lawyers;

How gender affected my legal career, how I handled it, and how gender bias continues to impact women lawyers;

What inspired me to become a lawyer and what I liked best about practicing law;

How women can deal effectively with implicit bias and why they must;

How the profession of law has changed for women in the US in the last 40 years and what I consider to be the most significant advances for women lawyers;

Why I founded Best Friends at the Bar and wrote my books and what I hoped to accomplish;

The importance of diversity and inclusion to the legal profession and how that is being addressed in the American Bar today; and

The use of quotas to increase diversity in organizations.

My responses would not be a surprise to you if you have been following the messages of Best Friends at the Bar. It does not matter where on the globe we live, the challenges for women, who want to be independent and have careers, are very similar. It takes determination and grit and confidence to overcome the challenges, but it is worth every bit of that effort.

However, a couple of responses are worth mentioning here. On the question about the accomplishments of women lawyers over the last 40 years since I began practicing law, I pointed to the number of women in law school today, which exceeds the number of men in almost all US law schools. I also cited the accomplishments that women have made in becoming managing partners of some of the most prestigious law firms in our country and the fact that those numbers increase every year. I also cited the significantly greater number of women in the judiciary, including in the federal courts.

However, I also pointed out that the percentage of women equity partners in law firms, currently 22%, has not changed much in the last ten years, in large part because many women leave practice early due to the impacts of work-life challenges and implicit bias.

Another response that deserves mention is my opinion on quotas for women lawyers and the fact that I do not support them. Although I am a devoted fan of women professionals, I want them to get invited to the party because of their skills and their accomplishments and because they are right for the role. I shared that I currently am on my fifth Board of Directors of organizations, and, if I thought for a moment that I was there as a token, I would resign. I want to be there because I have proven myself to be valuable to the organization.

I wish I could share a link to the Durham University Law School program, but I am not able to do that. However, I hope I have given you the flavor of it.

And, of course, it is all in my books!

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