One of my mother’s friends, Margie Pitts Hames, argued in the Supreme Court in 1971, in Doe v. Bolton, the companion case to Roe v. Wade. She told me that when she went to the clerk’s office before arguing, she was told to put on her hat — because court reporters at that time were required to wear hats in court, and no one expected a woman to be anything other than a court reporter. Dorothy Toth Beasley argued for the other side, later became Judge Beasley of the Georgia Court of Appeals, and literally left her mark on the court by having “and women” chiseled into the court’s credo “Upon the integrity, wisdom and independence of the judiciary depend the sacred rights of free men” in 1992.
Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then. And yet….
It’s pretty common to see news items about women leaving the legal profession and the small percentage of women who make partner in large law firms. A story I read recently in the Washington Post highlighted a website that includes forums on which female (and other groups) law students are sexually objectified and even threatened with physical violence. I’ve posted about the challenges facing female litigators and about a woman who’s suing her firm for sex discrimination because (among other allegations) she claims she was told she was spending too much time at the office and too little with her family.
Although I seek to serve both men and women who practice law, it does seem to me that women at times face unique challenges that seem to persist for reasons both known and unknown.
I recently ran across Ms. JD, “an online community that provides a forum for dialogue and networking among women lawyers and aspiring lawyers.” Ms. JD was created by a group of female law students from Boalt Hall (UC Berkeley), Cornell, Georgetown, Harvard, NYU, Stanford, UCLA, UT Austin, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, and Yale who are “concerned by the rates at which women opt out of the legal profession, the lack of representation of women in the highest courts and echelons of the legal community, and the role of gender in the progression of many women’s legal careers.”
Ms. JD will launch at a national conference co-hosted by Yale Law Women at Yale Law Schoolon March 31, 2007. The goals of the conference are “(1) to foster professionally transformative alliances through new communications technologies, and (2) to share tools and strategies to enhance the experiences of women in law.” I can’t attend the conference, but I would love to know what happens there. I invite anyone who attends to contact me (see last paragraph of this post) with a report and comments that I will share here with or without attribution, as you prefer.
(A personal aside to the story about Margie Hames: I wish I could link to an online resource about Mrs. Hames. She was a remarkable woman: smart, fierce, kind, funny, reverent, irreverent, and opinionated. She died in 1993 at a much-too-young 60. However, because everything of substance that I’ve found about her on the web takes either a pro- or anti-abortion stance, I’m not linking. If you’re curious, Google. But, please, don’t believe everything you read.)