From Lawyers Who Lunch: Where did the women go?

The following post originally appeared in Lawyers Who Lunch, a new blog about work-life balance from the Texas Young Lawyers Association. Find more posts at lawyerswholunchblog.com

By Laura Docker 

When I was a young girl, it never occurred that I shouldn’t want to be a lawyer. Being a girl didn’t make me feel any less able or likely to be successful in a career as a lawyer. While men still dominated the profession, growing up in the 1980s there were enough pop culture references to women lawyers to make it seem like a reasonable aspiration. Thank you Claire Huxtable and Christine from Night Court! In college I excelled and never considered that my gender might play a role in my success. I was a student, defined more by my affinity toward language (and procrastination), than my ability (or inability) to apply eyeliner on the shuttle bus from my dorm to class. In law school, the girls I went to school with were excelling, and were clearly represented among the top ranks of our class, whether by their grades, leadership on law review, or advocacy competitions. 

I clerked with a class of students that included more women than men, and was hired into a class of three women and one male attorney. Fast forward to seven years later, I became a shareholder in my firm and suddenly I looked around and found myself one of only five females among the 20-plus shareholders at my firm. As a civil litigator, I began to notice the dominance of men in my profession — at bar events, CLEs, and even in the courthouse. Suddenly, I’m one of only a few women at the party. When did that happen?

While I’m prone to overdramatizing, in this instance the numbers back me up. A recent survey conducted by the American Bar Association noted that women make up only 17 percent of equity partners in law firms. When you start to focus on real leadership positions, the numbers look even worse. Only 4 percent of managing partners among the 200 largest law firms are held by women. But the problem is not just in law firms; fewer than 20 percent of general counsel positions among Fortune 500 companies are held by women, and women comprise only one-third of the judiciary.

So the question remains, why don’t the numbers add up? Law schools are graduating more female than male attorneys, and have been for years. Women are nearly equally represented in their associate years, but somewhere along the way the women start disappearing (not altogether, but you know what I mean). The easy answer is work-life balance, right? Women get married, have babies, and reprioritize. I’m sure there are some who think us girls simply can’t hack the hours or the stress or the pressure of law practice and retreat to the sanctity of our families. I can’t say I haven’t considered it. I’ve got a husband and two kids who love me no matter how many hours I bill. Not all walk away from work altogether — there is also attrition to nonlegal careers, some naturally stemming from an area of legal expertise — but others are departures from the practice of law altogether.

While these are examples of where these ladies may be ending up, they do not provide a real explanation for what is happening and why. After all, my male attorney friends are getting married and starting families. They get frustrated by the pressures of the practice just as much as my girlfriends and I do. But they don’t make the decision to press on or change course knowing that their peers are twice as likely to make the choice to do something else (or nothing) with their law degree.

This is such a complicated issue, and one I have spent many hours discussing with girlfriends over lunch or a glass of wine. Is it just the physical pressures of motherhood? The societal expectations of women? The structural obstacles of firm or corporate life that uniquely disfavor women? Is it the remnants of the good-old-boys network that still prevents access? Or is it simply a matter of time? I know a lot of young women who I count among the brightest and hardest working attorneys I have met. Perhaps, it is just a matter of letting this generation rise up in mass numbers through the glass barriers those gals who came before us took such efforts to break down.

These are tough and complicated questions without easy answers. But I think it’s important that we are talking about them. What are your thoughts? Join the conversation by posting your comments here

Laura Docker is a shareholder at Brackett & Ellis, P.C., where she maintains a busy litigation docket of medical malpractice defense, personal injury defense, employment law, and school law cases. She lives in Fort Worth with her husband and two wild sons, Jack and Bo. 

TYLA human trafficking project wins Telly award

A Texas Young Lawyers Association film project highlighting the problem of human trafficking has been named a Silver winner, the highest honor, in the 35th Annual Telly Awards.

The project, Slavery Out of the Shadows: Spotlight on Human Trafficking, seeks to raise awareness of human trafficking at home and abroad through a combination of expert analysis and inspiring personal tales of human trafficking survivors. The project includes educational pamphlets designed to help the general public, lawyers, and medical professionals identify and appropriately respond to human trafficking cases.

“In creating this project, TYLA’s mission is to shed light on this horrific crime so that we, as a society, can take action to eradicate it,” said C.E. Rhodes, immediate past president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association. “Receiving such a prestigious honor and award helps further our mission. TYLA thanks the [Silver Telly] Council for recognizing our work and sharing our vision for a slavery-free world. ”

The Telly, founded in 1979, is considered the premier award honoring outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs, the finest video and film productions, and online commercials, video, and films. Winners represent the best work of the most respected advertising agencies, production companies, television stations, cable operators, and corporate video departments in the world.

A panel of more than 500 industry professionals, each a past winner of a Silver Telly and a member of the Silver Telly Council, judged the competition, which included nearly 12,000 entries from all 50 states and five continents. Less than 10 percent of entries are chosen as winners of the Silver Telly.

Texas Forum to look at past, future of legal profession

Attorneys and paralegals from across the state will meet in Dallas on Feb. 28 to discuss the past and future of the legal profession at the 32nd Annual Texas Forum.

The forum—an annual conclave of attorneys, educators, administrators, paralegals, and other professionals—will take place from 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Cityplace Conference Center, 2711 N. Haskell. The keynote presentation, “The Past and Future of the Legal Profession,” will feature a panel of professionals from the State Bar of Texas, the Texas Young Lawyers Association, the National Association of Legal Assistants, and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.

 

Other highlights include:

  • Rowlett lawyer Chad Baruch will discuss one of the basic components of the legal field: research and writing in the digital age.
  • The attorney-paralegal team of Philip Vickers and Julie Sherman of Cantey Hanger in Fort Worth will discuss best practices and tips for e-filing.
  • Texas A&M University School of Law professor Neil Sobol will discuss best practices for effective electronic research.
  • Barbara Kirby, director of paralegal studies at Texas Wesleyan University, will discuss how the ethical relationship between the attorney and paralegal team has evolved over time, and the continuing pressure for paralegals to perform more substantive tasks with less supervision.
  • Lydia McBrayer, certified paralegal with Chappell & Alsup, PC, in Midland, will survey electronic technology in the modern legal office.
  • Jan McDaniel, certified paralegal with Chappell & Alsup, PC, in Midland, will provide a review of electronic timekeeping software, guidance on using electronic timekeeping, and tips on how to capture more billable minutes.

The forum will feature two tracks: an advanced track for attorneys/paralegals and an intermediate track for students and practicing paralegals. Registration ends Feb. 21 or once capacity is reached.

Registration ($30 for attorneys, $25 for paralegals, $20 for students) includes lunch. Attendees will earn five hours of continuing legal education credit, including one hour of ethics.

Download the registration form.

Dallas civil rights activist to speak at TYLA Diversity Dinner

The Rev. Peter Johnson, a prominent Dallas civil rights activist, will offer insights from his lifelong work of promoting non-violence and civil rights at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16 at the Texas Young Lawyers Association Diversity Dinner in Fort Worth.

Johnson, the founder and CEO of the Peter Johnson Institute of Non-Violence, will speak at the Fort Worth Club, 306 W. Seventh St., as part of the free TYLA event. A 6 p.m. reception will precede the dinner.

Participating attorneys will receive 1.5 hours of CLE ethics credit. RSVP by email to mpalacios@texasbar.com by Monday, Jan. 13.

Free parking will be available in the Fort Worth Club garage.

New SBOT, TYLA leaders take office

 

The State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting saw a changing of the guard in the leadership of the State Bar and Texas Young Lawyers Association.

San Antonio attorney Lisa M. Tatum took the oath as State Bar president, replacing 2012-2013 President Buck Files of Tyler. Galveston County personal injury lawyer Trey Apffel, who won a runoff election in May, succeeded Tatum as president-elect. Also, Granbury attorney Cindy V. Tisdale replaced Frank E. Stevenson II of Dallas as chair of the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors.

During the meeting, Tatum previewed her initiatives for the year, including the Care Campaign for low-income Texans, which is designed to connect lawyers and clients, increase pro bono efforts, and encourage service providers and programs to coordinate to meet needs. The program will include a Care Kit, providing materials for attorney groups to hold legal services clinics, she said.

Tatum, the first African American lawyer to serve as State Bar president, also is spearheading the web-based civics project Vote for Me, I was the First!, which highlights important “firsts” in U.S. and Texas history included in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills social studies standards for elementary school students. The project will feature 22 animated historic figures explaining their accomplishments in 30-second vignettes.

Plano family law attorney Kristy Blanchard took office as president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, replacing 2012-2013 President C.E. Rhodes of Houston. Flower Mound attorney Cameron J. Cox replaced Alyssa J. Long of San Antonio as TYLA chair.

The meeting took place June 20-21 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas.

Above: Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, left, swears in Lisa M. Tatum of San Antonio as the 2013-2014 State Bar president. Below, at top: Texas Supreme Court Justice Phil Johnson, left, swears in Trey Apffel of League City as the 2013-2014 State Bar president-elect. At bottom: Cindy V. Tisdale, a Granbury attorney, speaks after being sworn in as the 2013-2014 chair of the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors. 

 

 

Panel highlights problem of human trafficking

The audience at the Texas Young Lawyers Association’s “Slavery Out of the Shadows” event applauds as panelists are introduced. Pictured on the front row, from left, are panelists David Boatright of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Dr. Lawrence Feldman of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, anti-human-trafficking attorney Beth Klein, Texas Assistant Attorney General Geoff Barr, and Terry Lord of WebSafety Inc.

Human trafficking is a major problem in Texas and throughout the United States, and fighting it requires people working together to identify victims and get them the help they need, panelists said Friday during an event at the Texas Supreme Court.

The recent case in Cleveland where three women were rescued after years of captivity is a dramatic reminder of the problem—and an example of how people can help, said Beth Klein, a Colorado-based, anti-human-trafficking attorney who appeared on the panel. An Ohio man helped save the women by breaking down a door to the house where they had been held.

“Because he took an action that was a little uncomfortable, we have three women (rescued) now who hadn’t seen the light of day in 10 years,” Klein said. “And that’s what I’m talking about. Every one of you has the opportunity to be a real hero.”

About 800,000 children go missing every year in the United States, including between 46,000 and 47,000 Texas children, said David Boatright, the executive director of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s Texas regional office. Of those Texas children, 80 percent are at risk of becoming a child sex-trafficking victim, he said. 

“The numbers are astounding, and the risk is very, very high,” Boatright said.

The event, sponsored by the Texas Young Lawyers Association, included a showing of "Slavery Out of the Shadows,” a 30-minute film featuring stories of human-trafficking victims and the lawyers who prosecute the cases.

The audience included many people who helped create or appeared in the film, which is a public service project of the TLYA.

TYLA President C.E. Rhodes served as moderator of the panel, which also included Texas Assistant Attorney General Geoff Barr, who prosecutes human-trafficking cases; Dr. Lawrence Feldman, the vice chair of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which has started a human-trafficking awareness campaign; and Terry Lord, a retired U.S. Justice Department official who now works as senior vice president of WebSafety Inc.

For more information about human trafficking, or to watch the film, visit tyla.org

Texas lawyers commemorate Veterans Day

Above, leaders of the Texas Young Lawyers Association prepare for a Veterans Day parade in Dallas on Nov. 11, 2010, as part of the Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans project. Click here for a list of free legal clinics around the state this weekend in conjunction with Veterans Day.