Don’t Take That Seat Unless You’re Going to Use It

Recently, a female judge spoke to a group of female lawyers.  She said something radical. It hasn't been reported in the papers or on the television news. No press were in attendance that day.


The judge said if you're going to stop practicing law once you have a baby, give up that seat at law school to someone who will actually use it.

No one booed.  No one cheered.  No one applauded.

Some agreed, some didn't. All were polite and silent at that statement.

I agreed, in part.

I know, I know, we should all have choices and I'm not saying it's not a valid choice to be a highly educated woman and mother.  If a woman wants to practice law for five years and then stop to raise a family, that should be her choice.  (That should be a male lawyer's option too.)  

I want to be fair to my fellow women, really, I do.

But it is hard for me to support that choice for other reasons.

Why? Perhaps it's only my selfishness, but it's hard to see our representation in the field drop.  It's hard to see that we're not progressing.

I attended a law school where the student body was 50% women for  at least 20 years before  I graduated.  But today when I go into a courtroom packed with lawyers, I see that only 5- 10% are women. When I go to the main courtroom at one courthouse, I see 30  portraits of retired judges who have served in that county and only two are women.

I miss my sisters in law.

I know that the legal profession can be miserable and that we're highly educated, over-worked, over-stressed, and most of us are somewhat underpaid (all things considered). We're disliked by most people (until they need a lawyer) and there's rampant dissatisfaction in the profession. But what's a little bit of misery?  We still have the training to change the world.  There are so many people who need lawyers who cannot afford them, why sit at home? I know - those women are not sitting, but they're not at court with me where I'd like to see them.

I have no objection to M.B.A.'s giving up the corporate world and staying at home.  Though perhaps I should, just to be fair. . .

Does this make me a gender trader?  

I just want the bar to be a place of gender equity and if my sisters in law keep leaving, that will never happen.  The profession would be a better place if more women stayed in it.  I admit that might take a generation.  But if the current drop out rate continues, we'll continue to be discriminated against and paid less than our male counterparts. The work place will continue to be hostile to us in so many ways.

If my sisters in law keep leaving, things will never change.

So I'm sad that some women drop out of the legal profession but I'm glad for them to have that choice.

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