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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. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) End of Year Report 2014. (page 13) Under the current system many local registering agencies are challenged just keeping up with registration paperwork. It takes an hour or more to process each registrant, the majority of whom are low risk offenders. As a result law enforcement cannot monitor higher risk offenders more intensively in the community due to the sheer numbers on the registry. Some of the consequences of lengthy and unnecessary registration requirements actually destabilize the life’s of registrants and those -such as families- whose lives are often substantially impacted. Such consequences are thought to raise levels of known risk factors while providing no discernible benefit in terms of community safety. The full report is available online at. http://www.casomb.org/index.cfm?pid=231 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs United States of America. The overall conclusion is that Megan’s law has had no demonstrated effect on sexual offenses in New Jersey, calling into question the justification for start-up and operational costs. Megan’s Law has had no effect on time to first rearrest for known sex offenders and has not reduced sexual reoffending. Neither has it had an impact on the type of sexual reoffense or first-time sexual offense. The study also found that the law had not reduced the number of victims of sexual offenses. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/publications/abstract.aspx? ID=247350 The University of Chicago Press for The Booth School of Business of the University of Chicago and The University of Chicago Law School Article DOI: 10.1086/658483 Conclusion. The data in these three data sets do not strongly support the effectiveness of sex offender registries. The national panel data do not show a significant decrease in the rate of rape or the arrest rate for sexual abuse after implementation of a registry via the Internet. The BJS data that tracked individual sex offenders after their release in 1994 did not show that registration had a significantly negative effect on recidivism. And the D.C. crime data do not show that knowing the location of sex offenders by census block can help protect the locations of sexual abuse. This pattern of noneffectiveness across the data sets does not support the conclusion that sex offender registries are successful in meeting their objectives of increasing public safety and lowering recidivism rates. The full report is available online at. http://www.jstor.org/stable/full/10.1086/658483 These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of conclusions and reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. People, including the media and other organizations should not rely on and reiterate the statements and opinions of the legislators or other people as to the need for these laws because of the high recidivism rates and the high risk offenders pose to the public which simply is not true and is pure hyperbole and fiction. They should rely on facts and data collected and submitted in reports from the leading authorities and credible experts in the fields such as the following. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 0.8% (page 30) The full report is available online at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Adult_Research_Branch/Research_Documents/2014_Outcome_Evaluation_Report_7-6-2015.pdf California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) (page 38) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 1.8% The full report is available online at. http://www.google.com/url?sa= t&source=web&cd=1&ved= 0CCEQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F% 2Fwww.cdcr.ca.gov%2FAdult_ Research_Branch%2FResearch_ documents%2FOutcome_ evaluation_Report_2013.pdf&ei= C9dSVePNF8HfoATX-IBo&usg=AFQjCNE9I6ueHz-o2mZUnuxLPTyiRdjDsQ Bureau of Justice Statistics 5 PERCENT OF SEX OFFENDERS REARRESTED FOR ANOTHER SEX CRIME WITHIN 3 YEARS OF PRISON RELEASE WASHINGTON, D.C. Within 3 years following their 1994 state prison release, 5.3 percent of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The full report is available online at. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/rsorp94pr.cfm Document title; A Model of Static and Dynamic Sex Offender Risk Assessment Author: Robert J. McGrath, Michael P. Lasher, Georgia F. Cumming Document No.: 236217 Date Received: October 2011 Award Number: 2008-DD-BX-0013 Findings: Study of 759 adult male offenders under community supervision Re-arrest rate: 4.6% after 3-year follow-up The sexual re-offense rates for the 746 released in 2005 are much lower than what many in the public have been led to expect or believe. These low re-offense rates appear to contradict a conventional wisdom that sex offenders have very high sexual re-offense rates. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/236217.pdf Document Title: SEX OFFENDER SENTENCING IN WASHINGTON STATE: RECIDIVISM RATES BY: Washington State Institute For Public Policy. A study of 4,091 sex offenders either released from prison or community supervision form 1994 to 1998 and examined for 5 years Findings: Sex Crime Recidivism Rate: 2.7% Link to Report: http://www.oncefallen.com/files/Washington_SO_Recid_2005.pdf Document Title: Indiana’s Recidivism Rates Decline for Third Consecutive Year BY: Indiana Department of Correction 2009. The recidivism rate for sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05%, one of the lowest in the nation. In a time when sex offenders continue to face additional post-release requirements that often result in their return to prison for violating technical rules such as registration and residency restrictions, the instances of sex offenders returning to prison due to the commitment of a new sex crime is extremely low. Findings: sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05% Link to Report: http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/RecidivismRelease.pdf Once again, These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. No one can doubt that child sexual abuse is traumatic and devastating. The question is not whether the state has an interest in preventing such harm, but whether current laws are effective in doing so. Megan’s law is a failure and is destroying families and their children’s lives and is costing tax payers millions upon millions of dollars. The following is just one example of the estimated cost just to implement SORNA which many states refused to do. From Justice Policy Institute. Estimated cost to implement SORNA Here are some of the estimates made in 2009 expressed in 2014 current dollars: California, $66M; Florida, $34M; Illinois, $24M; New York, $35M; Pennsylvania, $22M; Texas, $44M. In 2014 dollars, Virginia’s estimate for implementation was $14M, and the annual operating cost after that would be $10M. For the US, the total is $547M. That’s over half a billion dollars – every year – for something that doesn’t work. http://www.justicepolicy.org/images/upload/08-08_FAC_SORNACosts_JJ.pdf. Attempting to use under-reporting to justify the existence of the registry is another myth, or a lie. This is another form of misinformation perpetrated by those who either have a fiduciary interest in continuing the unconstitutional treatment of a disfavored group or are seeking to justify their need for punishment for people who have already paid for their crime by loss of their freedom through incarceration and are now attempting to reenter society as honest citizens. When this information is placed into the public’s attention by naive media then you have to wonder if the media also falls into one of these two groups that are not truly interested in reporting the truth. Both of these groups of people that have that type of mentality can be classified as vigilantes, bullies, or sociopaths, and are responsible for the destruction of our constitutional values and the erosion of personal freedoms in this country. I think the media or other organizations need to do a in depth investigation into the false assumptions and false data that has been used to further these laws and to research all the collateral damages being caused by these laws and the unconstitutional injustices that are occurring across the country. They should include these injustices in their report so the public can be better informed on what is truly happening in this country on this subject. Thank you for your time.

  2. Freedom as granted in the Constitution cannot be summarily disallowed without Due Process. Unable to to to the gym, church, bowling alley? What is this 1984 level nonsense? Congrats to Brian for having the courage to say that this was enough! and Congrats to the ACLU on the win!

  3. America's hyper-phobia about convicted sex offenders must end! Politicians must stop pandering to knee-jerk public hysteria. And the public needs to learn the facts. Research by the California Sex Offender Management Board as shown a recidivism rate for convicted sex offenders of less than 1%. Less than 1%! Furthermore, research shows that by year 17 after their conviction, a convicted sex offender is no more likely to commit a new sex offense than any other member of the public. Put away your torches and pitchforks. Get the facts. Stop hysteria.

  4. He was convicted 23 years ago. How old was he then? He probably was a juvenile. People do stupid things, especially before their brain is fully developed. Why are we continuing to punish him in 2016? If he hasn't re-offended by now, it's very, very unlikely he ever will. He paid for his mistake sufficiently. Let him live his life in peace.

  5. This year, Notre Dame actually enrolled an equal amount of male and female students.

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