Two recent events, both sponsored by Thomson Reuters’ Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL) initiative, brought together professionals in the legal industry, including a panel of judges, to discuss vital issues that impact women’s advancement in the legal profession.
At Chicago’s famed Girl & The Goat restaurant, TWLL’s held its final roundtable dinner of 2018 on November 28. These roundtable dinners, held in different cities around the country each year, are meant to bring together professionals in the legal industry to discuss women’s advancement in the law.
The group, welcomed by Thomson Reuters’ hosts Blake Johnson, Shawn Burke and Gretchen Carlson, explored some of the key barriers in women’s advancement, some of which, the group perceived to be a lack of organized, motivated support. Several of the participants noted the very clear difference between being a mentor versus being a sponsor. Other attendees noted that there were clear divisions given a variety of generational viewpoints. From this perspective one noted that it was generally viewed that older men tended to be better sponsors than middle-aged men.
Group members also noted that it was important for other women to be part of the process, and that it’s crucial for established women to show their younger colleagues that there is a place for them at the table along a path already forged by other women before them.
Participants also spoke to the fact that women who possess similar traits as successful men often get mislabeled as pushy and aggressive — evident, participants noted, through the media’s portrayal of Hillary Clinton and how the media focused on the impression she leaves instead of her ability to serve as U.S. President.
Towards the close of the evening, participants began to focus on solutions, noting the need to establish more mentoring programs, even of so-called “Personal Board of Directors”. They also discussed the importance of focusing on the return on investment in diversity and inclusion, pointing out that doing so increased an organization’s ability to innovate and serve customers who are specifically looking to employ diverse teams.
View from the Bench
In the second event, a luncheon hosted by TWLL and held in Orlando on December 5, a panel of judges discussed gender equality in the law, offering women and men from law firms and corporate legal departments to attend and discuss these challenges faced by women in the law and the judiciary.
While women and men are graduating from law school at an equal rate, only one-third of active judges across the country are women. Locally, in Orange County, Fla., women and men are equally represented on the bench at the Circuit Court level, the judges noted. However, once you move up and look at the Appellate Court level, women are vastly underrepresented on the bench.
Attendees also learned about the career paths the judges took. Three of the judges moved from private practice to the bench, while one came from a corporate legal department. The judges also shared their experiences with the appointment process and campaigning for re-election.
When asked what advice the judges could give women who want to consider a career on the bench, the judges commented that women should get involved in their community and network inside and outside the legal community. To better prepare for the various rotations, the women were encouraged to provide pro bono representation in order to achieve a diverse legal background.
The panel of judges were hopeful that women and men will be equally represented on the bench, as a generational shift of newer attorneys is changing the face of the judiciary. They shared their hope that one day, gender will no longer be an issue.
Thomson Reuters’ Dawn Zapata, Kathleen O’Malley and Ranae Simonson contributed to this report.