Online Extra: Judicial Roundtable 2014

December 17, 2014

This is a longer version of the roundtable discussion held in December with Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush, Chief Judge Robyn Moberly of the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik of the Indiana Court of Appeals and Indiana Tax Judge Martha Wentworth. Questions and answers have been edited.

IL STAFF:  As I mentioned when I invited you all  to be a part of this round table, the legal community’s kind of experienced a unique moment in 2014 with women stepping into top leadership posts, or already in top leadership posts, in both our state and federal courts,  so we know that clearly glass ceilings have been broken. And we’re wondering, though, do you feel like young  women in the legal practice are still encountering  prejudices or discrimination of any kind or is that part of history, and if they are experiencing that, what are they?

CHIEF JUDGE NANCY VAIDIK:  Clearly, in the law firm, big law firm field, they are still. I think the National Association of Women Lawyers just did a survey earlier this year and only 17 percent of equity partners in law firms are females and so there is really still a glass ceiling when it comes to firms, big law firms.

JUDGE MARTHA WENTWORTH:  It’s better. When I started practicing in 1990 you could count on one hand the number of partners in law firms that were women and the same in accounting firms. It has taken more than a decade to improve that number, but it has improved.  I think the same is true in corporate America, and since that was my clientele when I was a practitioner, it was difficult.  I think the difficulty is also getting clients when the clients are older white men and you might be a young black woman, there’s a gap there. So I think there is still a glass ceiling because you tend to want to be with people who are like you, and unless we get a lot of women up in the upper echelons of business and law and all of the other people that use law firms, we’re going to have, still, a struggle But we’re not alone. Anyone different will have a struggle.   

CHIEF JUDGE ROBYN MOBERLY:  Maybe I’m overly optimistic about attitudes.  My sense is that men have adopted some of the family roles that used to strictly fall with the women. But, nonetheless, I think there’s just some realities that when you’re at child-bearing age that’s also the time in your career where you otherwise would be stepping on the gas and I don’t know how you address that. There are responsibilities that women have that men don’t have in their lives right now, as I said.  I think that’s slowly moving, but there’s just some realities that make it difficult to build and to network and to attract clients.  It’s hard if you’ve got two little babies at home to be out digging up clients.

CHIEFJUDGE MOBERLY:  Golfing, and, yes, and going to those events.
JUDGE WENTWORTH:  It’s not golf so much anymore.  
CHIEFJUDGE MOBERLY:  But we’re meeting each other in yoga, right?  

CHIEF JUSTICE LORETTA RUSH:  I have a little bit more positive spin.  I started practicing in the early ‘80s, I was an associate, then a partner while I had kids and I was elected on the trial court bench.  When I look around now I think it’s improved by leaps and bounds. You know, we all teach or go and present at law schools, we see 40, 50 percent of the students are (women). When I see litigants come and argue in my court, a lot are women, so I think we’ve made great inroads. I think (being) talented, hard working, whether you’re a man or a woman, is going to pay off.  So with us in the positions we are now, and we’re all parents, so many young women just sort of flock to us and say “How did you do it?”  Well, it’s tough, you know, that balance –
JUDGE WENTWORTH:  It’s tough.  
JUSTICE RUSH:  -- doesn’t end. It doesn’t end when your last one graduates from high school, which I don’t have that happen yet, but hopefully, hopefully in six years I will. But we’ve come a long way.  We’ve come a long way, and I think more diversity within the profession, more diversity on the bench is important. It’s important that our judges look like our population.  If we’re going to have trust in a judiciary, we need to look like the litigants that come before us.  So I’m optimistic, I’m very optimistic with the inroads, and when I look at who’s making partner and the gains from 30 years ago, it was rough. I mean 31, 32 years ago trying a jury case, even going to a small county sometimes and showing up ready to go or having your client meet you for the first time and seeing that you’re a 25-year-old female. So I’m very optimistic and I think just the four of us sitting around here today and when I look out on the landscape, I think there are major changes ahead.

JUDGE WENTWORTH:  And let me just circle back. Why is it called a glass ceiling?  Well, because you can see through it and it used to be when we looked through it, it was all men. It’s not anymore.  We are case in point and in other places there are more women that you can see, and the ceiling part indicates a barrier.  I think that what we need to do is just stop thinking of gender as a barrier and I think young people today are doing that.

IL STAFF:  That sort of leads into the next question that I have for anyone who would like to address it and that is what is your advice to young lawyers that are just entering the profession, whether they’re men or women?  You know, it’s kind of a difficult time in the legal profession right now and they’re looking at fairly significant challenges, economic and otherwise.    

CHIEF JUDGE MOBERLY:  I meet frequently with young lawyers starting out and one of my kids is still a young lawyer. I’d say and there are two pieces of advice I usually impart to them.  One is careers are rarely linear. They are usually sort of a zigzag and it’s unpredictable when opportunities will come, so keep an open mind and always prepare yourself for the opportunity that might present itself to you and be open to doing something a little bit different than what you had thought you were going to do.  And the other thing in terms of young folks who are hanging out a shingle is to be involved in things that you otherwise like to do.  If you don’t like to golf, there’s no point in taking up golf to meet people, but if you love swimming, you love sailing, there are clubs for everything and if you really enjoy it anyway you won’t be wasting your time. You’ll meet people and just meeting people and exposing yourself to new people is where business comes from. A lot of times it comes from opportunities or situations that you weren’t planning to meet a client.    
CHIEF JUDGE VAIDIK:  I’d say the same thing, be open and flexible.  The young lawyer might not get the job, their dream job the first time around and it might not be a job that they even think that they might have liked originally, but be open and flexible. Then once you then get into that job, Robyn’s absolutely right, you never realize where you’re going to end up. None of us here at this table realized that we would end up in the positions that we we’re in.
ILSTAFF:  One thing leads to another.
CHIEF JUDGE VAIDIK:  Yes.  And the other thing is I think there’s this thought now among young lawyers: It’s in vogue to have this work/life balance and that’s really important. But on the other hand, when you start out, you have to have facetime, you have to put the work in. So I would say to young lawyers it’s nice to be talking about the work/life balance but at the beginning of your career you just have to put the facetime in.

IBJ STAFF:  So sort of be realistic about the career that you’re taking on and entering in?    

 IL STAFF:  Good point.
JUDGE WENTWORTH:  There’s a saying that says the harder I work, the luckier I am and I think that’s just another way of saying what you said. And also advice I always give is get involved in the bar association so that you have colleagues. They will serve you the rest of your career, even if you don’t do the same type of law. It’s great to have people that can support you and be mentors to you.


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