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Rejecting the traditional legal career path

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women-fbox.gifRecent reports do not offer much good news for women attorneys. They are not advancing into the leadership ranks at their law firms and, more troubling, the number of female associates is declining. But the reasons behind the trend may reflect women making choices that are different from the traditional career track.
 

proffitt-reese-melissa-mug.jpg Proffitt Reese

A 2012 survey by the National Association of Women Lawyers and the NAWL Foundation, released in October, found the percentage of female attorneys in the nation’s 200 largest firms gets smaller and smaller as the responsibility, authority and salary of the positions increase. The seventh annual “National Survey on the Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms” concluded women have not significantly progressed either economically or in reaching leadership roles during the years the survey has been conducted.

Looking back on her tenure as managing partner at Ice Miller LLP, Melissa Proffitt Reese is surprised more women have not appeared in the top management jobs. They possess a tremendous intelligence and talent, she said, but the practice of law in general has become much more challenging. Women may be stepping from the leadership pipeline, in part, because the pace of being a lawyer has been speeding up as clients demand 24/7 access and acquiring the technical expertise in a particular field requires greater amounts of time.

“I continue to think women try it for a while then they decide it’s not really the way they want to spend their career,” the Indianapolis attorney said.

Proffitt Reese’s observation is echoed by other women attorneys in Indiana. Female lawyers are capable and committed to putting in the necessary hours but they want flexibility. They want to meet the demands of their career on their own terms.

However, American Bar Association President Laurel Bellows raises concerns that women’s choices today could have a long-term impact.

“I worry about our returning to a white male profession,” she said.

‘No’ to nights and weekends
 

stephens-julie-mug Stephens

Julie Stephens, partner at Efron Efron & Yahne P.C. in Hammond, went to law school after she had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, got married and served as the director of the Sexual Assault Recovery Unit at the Porter County Prosecutor’s Office.

She had two children while a law student, and when she began interviewing for jobs, she was frank with the potential employers. When the daycare center closed each day, she intended to be there to pick up her little ones.

The first two firms were not receptive to her requirements, but the third one, her current employer, offered her a position. More then 10 years later, Stephens said she has not had to miss one track meet, cross country race or Girl Scout meeting unless she was scheduled to be in court. Without having the ability to balance her work and her family, she probably would not be a practicing attorney today.

“I don’t think so because … being a parent is as important to me as my career,” the 42-year-old said. “If I couldn’t have the flexibility I have now, I might have chosen something else.”


Laura Scott Scott

The shift in women’s attitudes toward their legal careers is generational. The trailblazing done by female attorneys in the past helped make practicing law a little more accommodating.

Attorneys – women as well as men – are wanting that work-life balance. Yet Bellows is seeing younger lawyers placing more emphasis on the life part. They tend to place greater importance on their current qualify of life and do not look ahead to consider what their quality of life will be in a decade, she said.

In addition, young female attorneys are interrupting their careers to be stay-at-home moms and are giving little thought to the importance of being economically independent, Bellows said. Contrary to their confidence that they will be able to easily resume their legal work when they want, firms may not be so willing to hire someone who has been away from the field and has little experience.

Within the legal profession, women seem more likely to consider jobs outside of practicing in a firm. Proffitt Reese noted females are interested in applying their skills in different ways such as being an in-house attorney, working for a non-profit or teaching. They want to work, they want to do their job, but they also want to have other expectations when they leave the office.

Devoting nights and weekends to profession then spending off-hours serving in community organizations is not appealing.

“From my standpoint,” Proffitt Reese said, “generally, right now, I see less women that are willing or interested in providing the full level of commitment to their careers.”

In the November “Report of a National Survey of Women’s Initiatives: The Strategy, Structure and Scope of Women’s Initiatives in Law Firms,” the NAWL Foundation wanted to highlight potential ways to bring more females into the largest law firms. The study noted even though women initiatives are a “staple of law firm culture,” there is little information about the impact of such programs.

Law offices must be diverse if they want to prosper, both Bellows and Proffitt Reese said. Attorneys have to reflect the gender and minority diversities found on juries, in business and in community organizations.

At Bamberger Foreman Oswald & Hahn LLP in Evansville, nearly a fourth of the attorneys are women, and that attracted Laura Scott to the firm as a young attorney. She did not want to be the first and only female in the ranks because she was looking for a mentor to help guide her through her career.

“I think there is a certain understanding that comes from people who’ve been in a similar situation,” Scott said. “When gender-specific issues come up, it is difficult to get advice or talk about it if someone has not been there.”

Going solo

Research recently released by the Association for Legal Career Professionals (NALP) highlights a troubling trend that indicates, in the future, fewer females could be practicing in firms, which would reduce the number of not only potential mentors but also possible leaders.

Nationwide, NALP found the number of women associates has slipped from 45.66 percent in 2009 to 45.05 percent in 2012. During that same period the percentage of women partners grew from 19.21 percent to 19.91 percent, but that uptick could be unsustainable if the pool of women associates continues to shrink.

Stephens described a trend she is seeing emerge in Northwest Indiana that illustrates, again, the story behind the statistics may be more complicated. More and more women attorneys, even those just graduating from law school, are going into solo practice.

Although she is not sure why they are choosing this path, Stephens believes it is a positive sign. These women have the confidence and ability to run their own firms and their practices are thriving.

Likewise, Proffitt Reese does not expect women, as a whole, will abandon law. Right now a comparatively small amount are managing and leading large firms, but she does not foresee the attraction to the field and availability of talent waning.

“I continue to see women entering the profession,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful profession. It is a demanding profession, but it really does provide a fair amount of flexibility to design your own schedule.”•

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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