Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Lawyers and the Leaders

Yesterday I met with yet another group of lawyers, this one was Flex-Time Lawyers, LLC., they meet in New York and in Philadelphia, and the group's the brainchild of Debbie Epstein Henry (check out the Flex Time Lawyers, LLC website and tell your lawyer friends about it, it's full of resources). As one woman in the group describes her, Debbie is a radical feminist in a corporate logo. The women in the room, and it was all women, and the room was a conference room at Blank, Rome, a top Philadelphia firm. It was all glamorous enough to make we wish I had been a lawyer so I could hang out in beautiful offices. But as my neighbor Kevin, a maritime attorney, suggested later that afternoon, I might feel differently after spending 7 hours straight in the conference room, nice view and all, or after the fifth night running that I stumble home at nine at night. Anyway, in that room, with our nicely catered lunch, the women lawyers talked ruefully about the still prevailing notion, that good lawyers work all the time, and good mommies stay home. (Debbie had told me that just under 4 percent of attorneys nationwide work part time, so indeed, there hasn't been much wiggle room there.) In their different ways, the women attorneys in the room are trying options that resist that, some work part time, some work as inhouse counsel to corporations, some have their own small partnerships, and some are sticking it out at the big firms, for many reasons: the status and prestige, the salaries, and because they just don't want to be pushed out.

No one knows what to do with women lawyers. They're the symbol of feminism's success, aren't they, the ones who made it into the newly opened law schools, who trailblazed their ways into the old boy firms. And although leadership comes from all over, and there are many ways for us to be leaders--many more than we usually realize, I think--our women lawyers are in the pipeline to become our future politicians, and our future judges. These are among the women who will raise money for political candidates, and who will have access to capital, and who will know their way around city government and local powerbrokers, since that's part of what the large law firms do. Our women lawyers have both been icons, and anti-icons. People attack them for their work-family troubles. After all, from many a perspective, it's hard to feel too sorry for a woman who can work, earn a very good salary, and afford a nanny at home. At the same time, as I write in the book, the mommy wars are filled with class envy, and this gets in the way of seeing how our work/family issues are all connected.

I was really struck yesterday by the particular meaning of what these women face. One woman, who had recently written a book about women lawyers, called Woman-at-Law, said that one of the reigning issues among women attorneys is whether they can really wear pants. I believe that this an issue. But can we believe it, damn, it's 2005, and women in the professions are still forced to wonder wonder about the relation of skirts and success. On the happier side, another woman in the room had just earned parntership, and on a part time track (and she was wearing pants, too!). And insightfully, when talking about the mommy wars, one woman said that she thought that currently, and in a workplace setting, that the real on the ground mommy wars were between women working part time and those working full time.

1 comment:

Genevieve said...

Government lawyers (in many government workplaces, though not all) have an easier time balancing work and family. The jobs are set up without the need for billable hours and face time, so a much more normal schedule is possible. The pay is considerably less, as is the prestige, but many things about the jobs are preferable.