Can women in the law have it all? I chuckle when I read this headline.
I chuckle at such a broad, open-ended question that is personal in a unique way to each reader. I am happy that the topic is at the forefront of conversations because it evokes emotion, raises awareness which leads to acceptance. Awareness and acceptance lead to ACTION.
First, a little about my background in candid form and how I identify with the community. I am a female, Amerasian, 35-year-old divorcing mother, solo practitioner of 6 years, professional model and distance runner. My areas of practice which I commonly refer to as money, dirt and debt were all chosen specifically based upon my life experiences.
Money, or rather banking law, was chosen because I am fascinated by currency – the lack there of or the lavishness of multiple zeros. I am a child of the government welfare system that experienced poverty and homelessness at a young age with my family. Dirt, or real estate law, stems from my desire to have a home with a concrete foundation having lived in a camper and single-wide trailer as a child. Debt, or bankruptcy law, stems from a combination of the latter two, and allows me to help those similarly situated through knowledge and experience. I have also had the unfortunate experience of watching and surviving my family be torn apart by mental illness and addiction … twice. And my client base continues to reflect my experiences. My practice areas allow synchronicity to connect the bridge to my own personal experiences. My experiences strengthen my learned book knowledge.
Back to the conversation of can women have it all? My answer is yes.
I often say, I have what I need, not necessarily what I want. And the most important needs that I have are love, happiness, compassion, open mindedness and willingness. These needs shape my perspective and define who I am. They give me purpose. And because my needs are met, I do in fact have it all. It is my humble opinion, that everyone, man or woman, can have it all too. I am not special, but I do have gifts and talents that make me unique. And I have tools that allow me to share my gifts and talents, purposefully. I have let go of my desire for perfection, my biggest Achilles heel, and have ultimately chosen to live a life of contentment and peace. I am not certain whether everyone wants the same of what I have, but my guess is that many do.
I work nationally and locally on women in the law issues. I have chaired the Women and the Law Division for IndyBar, I sit on the Women in Law Committee for the ISBA, I serve on the Board for Women Rainmakers of the ABA LPM, and I am on the editorial board for Perspectives, the magazine for women lawyers published by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. My involvement does not make me an expert on this topic. From all of my experience, however, I have identified two forefront challenges that women lawyers face and there stems the question of can women have it all. The first challenge is how a woman lawyer views herself. The second challenge (which I call the true “war on women”) are women lawyers who recognize themselves in the profession simply as lawyers, and not women.
In my perspective, it is not a disadvantage to be a woman in the profession so long as I know who I am. It is when I forget who I am, or try to be somebody that I am not, that I lose sight of my goals. If I try to accustom or assimilate to any so-called “norm” or “standard,” or strictly follow the direction or advice that my intuition speaks against, I am not me and, therefore, not as effective in anything I do, including practicing law.
In regards to the second challenge that I identify above, I understand both sides of the coin. But one side of the coin is more fearful than the other. I have observed and overheard many women who believe women should assimilate to the customs of the profession to “blend.”
Some women desire to be only recognized for their professional accomplishments, identifying as an attorney rather than as a woman first. They may not recognize the reward in sharing what they have learned in their own experience. Who created the customs of our profession anyway? And who is to judge what is right or wrong for an individual? Neither of those questions can be answered by black letter or case law.
As I often quote: A woman that seeks to be equal with men lacks ambition – Marilyn Monroe. I can disagree with you, but still love and respect you the same. Each person is uniquely tailored by their experience, but history has shown that our similarities bond us together stronger than our differences. I am a woman that practices law. I will share more similarities in my perspective and experience with another woman than I will with a man. I understand what it is like to be a woman, not a man. And if my experience can help another, I have a human duty to help. I help myself feel useful, serve my purpose, grow, and help my profession and community by helping another. It just so happens that I may be more helpful to more women than men in certain areas simply because I am a woman. What a gift! And I recognize the dozens of MEN and women that have helped me to come to this place where I have it all.
Your editorial and this conversation have once again reinvigorated me. I have thought for years to assist in founding the Indiana Women’s Bar Association and have excused myself from service to focus on other matters. It now seems timely to assist the movement forward of helping other women have it all too. Time to assemble! Thanks for once again opening the door!
L. Leona Frank, Attorney at Law