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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Female Lawyers at Risk During Recession?

This is a real blog piece, and definitely too long. It has no direction, no purpose, just some passing remarks on my past and the present.

I remember the very first class I took at the Hofstra University School of Law was a Contracts course given by Associate Dean Judith Younger, a brilliant lecturer and scholarly professor. That's her picture, now teaching at the University of Minnesota Law School.

In 1972, women's legal rights were first being pioneered and Dean Younger was publishing treatises on the inequities and disparities of property rights for females. Hofstra University paved ground even back then, when its new Dean, Monroe Freedman, insured that 40% of the entering class was females. But women had a hard road to toe making it in the male bastion that was the legal profession.

I thought of that when I read the article on the Glass Hammer site today; on how women are likely to become the first cuts of the ensuing legal recession. My first reaction is that would be stupid. It makes sense logically, but not practically. Most of the established white collar law firms, they suggest, are entrenched white men finding room as they see fit for women. True, there are very few powerful female firms out there, especially here in the South. But with so many more women in the workplace, running businesses, and serving in managerial capacities, wouldn't you want more women in your firm to provide legal services to them?

The article also suggests that since the legal practice areas most affected by layoffs are in male dominated fields like finance, real estate, and corporate law, males will bear the brunt of the layoffs. But why is any field of law a male bastion? I can tell you there are plenty of female prosecutors you do not want to go up against, starting right here in Broward County. Given what we have seen about the way men ran our financial institutions, maybe we need a few more women in charge. I know mom never went to play poker one night a week as Dad did.

The article suggests another reason women are at risk is because the stats suggest more women work part time and part timers are the first on the cutting block. Well, I would rather have a good part timer then someone who is ineffective full time, and I don't care what the gender. A second reason for cutting women first is that since their advances are recent, they are more likely to be lower on the partnership totem pole. Well, why not get rid of the old wood first when rebuilding the boat?

There is one other reason I would think twice before getting rid of female lawyers first. I think it is sexist on my part. But I am a guy, and I fear women lawyers more. You seem to work harder. I think guys are lazier and too comfortable. Maybe women are stronger because you were overcoming adversities while men were overcoming apathy.

I am left wondering how naive I am about this entire issue. I know there was a time when women had a hard time making it in the professional world. But so many are now in office as jurists, serving as state attorneys, filling Congressional positions, and rising to be the Chief Justices of our courts, or law school deans, how is this an issue anymore?

Secretary of State. Speaker of the House. Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court. One time Attorney General of the United States. University Presidents. Congress. Generals in the Armed Forces. Aren't we over it? Is there still a glass ceiling or are we perpetuating an illusory and artificial one that no longer exists? Have we torn the walls down? Or have I just missed the boat working for 30 years not in the corporate world but a two person office? I just have one question, are we there yet?

There is a saying by Lao-Tsu that "A government can be compared to our lungs. Our lungs are best when we don't realize they are helping us breathe. It is when we are constantly aware of our lungs that we know they have come down with an illness."

What Lao-Tsu is saying to me is that there will come a time when women and minorities are around us and about us and we think of them indifferently as peers and partners and participants in the promise of our lives. I don't care who is gay, who is black or who is a woman. I care about those who are righteous, who are decent, and who are honorable. Those are the people I want to work with, live with, and associate with.

That is probably why I remember Dean Younger today, for her humor, her teaching, her thoughtfulness. Oh, yeah, she was a woman, too, and I doubt if any guy has ever taken a job away from her.

- Norm Kent

See the piece at the Glass Hammer by Anna Collins

and the previous blog, Black Thursday:

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