The Cheat Sheet for women lawyers

The New York City Bar Women Lawyers Committee has put together a “Cheat Sheet”for women lawyers (or law students) interviewing legal employers or seeking to evaluate a current employer’s commitment to women.

Geared toward gender issues, obviously, the Cheat Sheet is largely applicable for evaluating any diversity issue.  It’s an interesting document, not least because of its comprehensiveness.  The 9-page document includes questions on the “six key indicia of an employer’s commitment to women’s retention and advancement,” including “(a) statistical and background information, (b) partnership and advancement, (c) leadership and accountability, (d) business development and networking, (e) workplace flexibility (including time management and work/life balance), and (f) mentoring,” and also includes recommendations for law firms and law schools.

In addition to the Cheat Sheet, the Committee’s website includes an interesting video documentary entitled Changing Lives: Pioneering New York Women Attorneys and a report on the Best Practices for the Hiring, Training, Retention and Advancement of Women Attorneys.

It’s been about a year now since the New York Times published its article “Why Do So Few Women Reach the Top of Big Law Firms,” citing a NALP study showing that only 17% of big law partners were women in 2005, a small gain from 1995, when 13% of partners were women.  (For a somewhat depressing follow-up, visit this page, which offers subscriber-only links to articles that address mandatory retirement for older lawyers, ask why African-American lawyers are less successful at major firms than their white counterparts, and tout a client-initiated diversity push.  The abstracts give the flavor.)

I appreciate the Cheat Sheet because it provides questions that any lawyers/law student can ask, perhaps at carefully-selected times, or to which they may determine answers through observation.  Although having the questions doesn’t by any means guarantee a smooth path for women or any other group (middle-aged or younger white men included), it does level the playing field by granting some information about the likely expectations and biases of the employer as exhibited through current behavior.  And, really, I’m not sure it’s possible to ask for much more than that under current circumstances.  Perhaps the knowledge gained will assist individuals in creating change in law firm partnership ranks.

5 replies
  1. Mister Thorne
    Mister Thorne says:

    Why refer to female lawyers as women lawyers? What’s the rationale behind that? We don’t refer to male lawyers as men lawyers, now do we?

    Why would a whole group of female lawyers, people very familiar with the distinction between nouns and adjectives, call themselves women lawyers?

    Curious to know. Thanks.

  2. Julie Fleming Brown
    Julie Fleming Brown says:

    Mister Thorne,

    Good question. Pure guess on my part, but I suspect it’s spread from associations like the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL). I’d also suspect that it has something to do with the fact that women don’t mind being called women, but would perhaps object to being called females, and using the two nouns in conjunction emphasizes each rather than permitting one to modify the other.

    Of course, some dictionaries include the word woman as an adjective (see, e.g. Merriam Webster, which I checked out of curiosity), and it’s properly used as an adjective in phrases like woman suffrage. If so, then it’s simply the use of a less-commonly recognized adjective.

    Far more than you were hoping for in response, I’d imagine! But I love words, so I couldn’t resist speculating. Do you have theories? Bring ’em on.

  3. Mister Thorne
    Mister Thorne says:

    I’ve got not so much as a theory, but a hypothesis, and it goes like this: the origin of the use of ‘woman’ as an adjective is that stereotypical creature known as Joe Sixpack.

    Now . . . one day, Joe (who was never any good at math or English) is driving along, and not paying close attention to where he’s going. (One idea is that he’s adjusting his car’s radio so he can catch the score of a ball game.) All of a sudden, Joe looks up and sees a car in his way. He swerves. Then, he realizes a woman is driving that car in his way. So, he yells out his window: “Woman Driver!” Other drivers hear it, and it starts taking on life.

    A few weeks ago, the buzz was Nancy Pelosi — the first Woman Speaker of the House. Was Dennis Hastert the last Man Speaker of the House? Of course not! Nobody uses ‘man’ or ‘men’ as an adjective. Why treat ‘woman’ or ‘women’ differently? Strikes me as sexist.

    There are women drivers and good drivers and race car drivers and reckless drivers, but there are no man drivers, nor should there be. Likewise, there should be no women drivers or women attorneys.

    To treat ‘woman’ differently than ‘man’ when there is no good reason for doing so . . . it strikes me as a might sexist.

    I think it’s possible that Joe Sixpack started the whole thing.

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