Archive for December, 2010

December 31, 2010

Progress (sort of)

by Angela N. Johnson

The ABA’s Commission on Women in the Legal Profession frequently reassess women’s progress in the legal profession.  The 2006 report compares statistics from 1994 to 2002 and includes highlights of the Commission’s 2003 Hearings. 

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December 30, 2010

Female Judges Matter (at least in Title VII cases)

by Angela N. Johnson

Jennifer Peresie examines whether and how the presence of female judges on three-judge federal appellate panels affect collegial decision-making in a subset of gender-coded cases – those involving claimants alleging sexual harassment or sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Peresie concludes that even though plaintiffs lost in the vast majority of sexual harassment or sex discrimination cases, they were twice as likely to prevail when a female judge was on the bench.  Further, a female judge’s colleagues on the panel had a lower than usual dissent rate at just 6%.  (However, Peresie does not include an average dissent rate of non-mixed-gendered panels).  This indicates that the presence of a female judge affects the decision-making of her male colleagues.  Therefore, gender does matter when it comes to judicial decision-making (at least with gender-related cases). Just how much does being female increase the probability that a plaintiff will prevail?  In sexual harassment cases, having a female on the panel increased the likelihood it would find in favor of the plaintiff by 86% (from 22% to 41%) (Peresie 1776).  In sex discrimination cases, the likelihood increased to 65% (from 17% to 28%) (Peresie 1776).

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December 30, 2010

A Closer Look at Ruth Bader Ginsburg

by Angela N. Johnson

Photo Courtesy: Thelmagazine.com

Stephanie Francis Ward, journalist for the ABA Journal wrote the October 1, 2010 cover story, “Family Ties,” detailing both the private and public lives of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This article provides interesting insight on Ginsburg’s path to success, fight for gender equality, and how her husband, Martin, was her greatest supporter.  Ginsburg was nominated by President Bill Clinton and confirmed for the United States Supreme Court in 1993, making her the second female justice to serve on the high court.  Husband, Martin Ginsburg played an important role in Ginsburg’s success; “Their marriage – and the sharing of expectations and parenting responsibilities – impelled both Ginsburgs to achieve” (Ward).  A colleague remembers, “At one point Ginsburg [responding to calls about her son, James] said, ‘This boy has a father – call him,’ and instructed the school to alternate calls between herself and her husband” (Ward).  According to Ginsburg, “A child should have two caring parents who share the joys and often the burdens.  It really does take a man who regards his wife as his best friend, his equal, his true partner in life. . . It takes women and men who are feminists.  By feminists I mean people who think women should have equal chances to do whatever their talent permits them to do” (Ward).  At the time Ginsburg was attending law school first at Harvard, then Columbia (she transferred to be with her husband who found employment in NYC), day cares and nursery schools were rare.  The fact her husband was willing to share the child care responsibilities allowed Ginsburg to devote time to her studies. Though she says, “I attribute to my daughter the responsibility for why I was such a good law student.  I went home, played with Jane, had dinner and then I was ready to go back to the books.  It was the pause that refreshes” (Ward).  Martin Ginsburg died in the summer of 2010, “In August, Ginsburg told the Associated Press that her work helps her cope with the loss of her husband, and she has no immediate plans to retire” (Ward).

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December 29, 2010

The Original Mama Grizzly: Justice Ginsburg

by Angela N. Johnson

Admittedly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the trailblazer, the ACLU litigator, the feminist, and the Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court is both my heroine and my greatest inspiration. (I have her on daily google alert).  Her five out of six prevailing cases which she successfully argued as an attorney for the ACLU Women’s Right Project in the SCOTUS greatly impacted women’s rights.  In this ABA Columnist View, Debra Cassens Weiss regards RBG as the ultimate “Mama Grizzly” for her contributions to gender equality; without which not even Sarah Palin would be the Title IX basketball star she was.

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December 29, 2010

Women: More Judicially Ambitious than Men

by Angela N. Johnson

According to Margaret Williams, women are actually more judicially ambitious than men; yet comprise only 20% of the state-level judiciary.

Photo Courtesy: Fotosearch

Margaret S. Williams’ Ambition, Gender, and the Judiciary examines and compares women’s ambitions to run for political office versus ambitions to run for judicial office. Her examination is conducted by surveying attorneys in the state of Texas and specifically, individual-level characteristics that affect ambition.  To do this, she was supplied two random samples of attorneys (one male, one female) from a list provided by the State Bar of Texas. Interestingly, both groups were equally as ambitious to complete the survey; the response rate of both groups was 36% (Williams 70).  Texas was chosen because “there are more than 500 judgeships on state district and appellate courts in the state.  As past studies suggest, the more opportunities there are for people to hold a position, the more they express ambition.  As the number of seats increase, the prestige of the court decreases, also making it easier for women to attain seats on the judiciary” (Williams 71).  Additionally, the fact that Texas elects its judges in the same manner it elects its legislature provides ease in comparison.  Williams measured ambition as anyone responding to the survey who indicated that “she or he considered running for judge, or actually ran for judge but did not win, was coded as having ambition for the judiciary” (no judges were included in the survey) (Williams 71).  Williams’ comparison to other political offices are derived from studies conducted by other political scientists on women’s ambition to run for political office (non judicial), most commonly from Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox’s 2005 article, “It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office.”  Williams explains that the position of judge is unique in that standard prerequisites are common knowledge (juris doctorate degree, bar admission, years experience working as a trial attorney). Running for political office, on the other hand, comes with vague qualifications which can leave women wondering whether they are qualified and whether they will succeed.  Additionally, women seeking political office often look for open seat elections or other rare opportunities to run. Williams additionally argues that women are less encouraged and familiar with the inner workings of political office than are lawyers about what a judge does. For lawyers, and trial lawyers especially, dealing with judges is automatic – that exposure can encourage women lawyers to seek a judgeship. In other words “women may feel more qualified to serve on the judiciary than they do to serve in other offices” (Williams 68).  Moreover, a judgeship can be seen as a positive alternative to other prestigious law jobs like high profile firm work, in which women are plagued by billable hours and limited advancement in the legal profession; not to mention, the glass ceiling, competition, and the likelihood of family plans thwarting partnership track success.  Judgeships on the other hand offer competitive salaries with consistent work hours and greater flexibility.  Additionally, there appears to be “greater advancement [in judgeships] than women find in the legal profession.  Women are 22 percent of state judges but 11 percent of partners in prestigious law firms” (Williams 68).

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December 29, 2010

Women Lawyers Discuss Their Role in 1987

by Angela N. Johnson

ABA Journal May 1987

I enjoyed this 1987 edition of the ABA Journal which included articles on “senior lawyers shaking their heads about those young lawyers” and “how computers made us better lawyers – what the new technology can do for you.”  Most useful was the article, “Superwoman is Alive and Well” in which Yates and Benson Goldberg interview five women who discuss the joys and jolts of practicing law.  This article is useful despite being rather dated because it is written at a turning point in the legal profession when women are becoming widely accepted but harassment, discrimination, and inequality are still commonly feared.

Diane Geraghty, an associate professor of law at Loyola University feels fortunate to have graduated law school in the ‘70’s.  Geraghty states, “If you talk to people who graduated 10 years before we did, they knew what real discrimination was” (Yates and Goldberg 18).  She thanks the civil rights movement and a critical mass of women who pushed to open up the profession to include women.  Miriam Miquelon a business litigator, “It’s changed, but in the beginning you had to make sure you didn’t come off as a hysterical female and that you could be as businesslike as everyone else.  And once you were recognized as competent, the client could get past the sexuality issue, and accept you as his counsel” (Yates and Goldberg 18).  For Patricia Bobb, a graduate of Notre Dame Law School and a former Cook County prosecuting attorney, she decided “Early on that I would develop a tough exterior and a good sense of humor” (Yates and Goldberg 18).  She recalls working with “probably the most macho group of men in the world – not just the state’s attorneys but the cops” and how her humor fit nicely with her personality in such a way she never had problems with harassment.  However, Candace Fabri, who worked for the U.S. Attorney’s office, found greater resistance.  “For my first month on the job, there was a parade of agents from my office to my supervisor’s office: ‘Can’t we have a man prosecutor?’ . . . Over the years I got a lot of satisfaction out of seeing the agents come to prefer women prosecutors.  They would come to me when I was a supervisor and say ‘We find that the women take these cases so much more seriously.  They’re willing to work much harder and longer and they don’t pooh-pooh a case as not being significant’” (Yates and Goldberg 18).

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December 28, 2010

ABA Podcast: Fixing the Leaky Pipeline

by Angela N. Johnson

The ABA Commission on Women in the Legal Profession was created in 1987 and has become the national voice for women lawyers.  Current Chair, Roberta Liebenberg addresses troubling statistics and future plans to increase women lawyers’ participation and retention in law firms in a short 9 minute podcast available here.

According to Liebenberg, women lawyers made great strides but much work remains to be done. Women have been graduating law schools at approximately the same rate as men for the last two decades but women comprise only 16% of law firm equity partners; 14% of governing committees of law firms and just 6% of firms have women managing partners. 1/2 of all law firms have no women among their top rainmakers.

Liebenberg believes firm leadership must send a strong message that all actors (male and female) must be involved in securing equal opportunities and retention of female lawyers. Even clients can play a vital role in ensuring their female advocate is receiving the credit she earns for the work performed. 

Additionally, mentoring plays a vital role in career development – especially for young women lawyers. More seasoned female lawyers should reach out to young women lawyers to pass-on learned insights on office politics, work/life balance, etc. The commission is implementing a mentorship program by reaching out to 2L law students through an application process being handled by Ms. JD. The winning 2L’s will be known as Ms. JD fellows. Those fellows will be matched up with a committed female lawyer to serve as a mentor throughout their law school careers and beginning professional endeavors.  For more information about the Ms. JD fellowship, click here.

December 17, 2010

Myra Bradwell v. Illinois (1873)

by Angela N. Johnson

It would be a grave injustice to research women in the legal profession without also researching the struggle of women to enter the profession in the first place.  That search begins with Myra Bradwell.  Ms. Bradwell successfully passed the Illinois bar examination, was the publisher of a leading legal newspaper, wife of a prominent Cook County judge, yet was denied a license to practice law.

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December 17, 2010

Gender Distortion on TV Reality Court Shows

by Angela N. Johnson

Photo courtesy of debbie-debbiedoos.blogspot.com

Taunya Lovell Banks’ essay, “Here Comes the Judge! Gender Distortion on TV Reality Court Shows” looks at the gender and racial composition and demeanor of television reality judges.  Giving notice to the apparent discrepancy between the high number of female judges on reality court TV shows and the real reality that women “currently comprise 18.67% of federal judges and twenty percent of state judges; the percentage of black judges, female and male, is around six to eight percent (8.6% federal, 5.9% state)” (Banks 38).  The concern of over-representing women and minorities on television can lead to a false sense of need for diversity on the bench since viewers are more likely to assume that the gender and racial makeup of the television bench mirrors real-life.  Banks believes that societal perceptions about the legitimacy of law and legal institutions, as well as women’s role in the legal profession can be shaped by what the public is viewing on TV, namely, reality court TV shows. In Banks’ essay she quotes Georgia State Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears: “Even if most television viewers know better, the least educated viewers are more likely to rely disproportionately on television as their primary source of information about the legal system, and these viewers constitute a substantial portion of the daytime viewing audience” (Banks 42). 

It is apparent that because the litigants in the televised “reality” people’s-court style proceedings are in fact real parties to a real case, further convince the viewer that reality courtroom dramas, as they are portrayed, is similar to that of every day, real life, judiciary proceedings. This is concerning because it is not every day, real life, judiciary proceedings which influence the production of the show.  Rather, it is television ratings which “strongly influence show format and judicial behavior of television judges” (Banks 49).  Ratings, according to Banks, is what drives the female judge television personality to adopt an aggressive persona who commonly screams at litigants.  Male judges, on the other hand, resort to sarcasm. Banks describes “therapeutic justice,” an often entertaining element to courtroom reality dramas in which the judge hopes to teach life lessons beyond the judgment rendered.

Source Citation: Banks, Taunya Lovell.  “Here Comes the Judge! Gender Distortion on TV Reality Court Shows.”  The University of Baltimore Law Forum.  39 U. Balt. L.F. 38 (2009): 37-56.

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December 17, 2010

Appropriate Attire for the Female Lawyer

by Angela N. Johnson

An essay written by Maureen A. Howard, entitled “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: One Size Does Not Fit All When it Comes to courtroom Attire for Women” examines appropriate courtroom attire for female lawyers and the potential impact on the legal profession.  Howard argues “Physical appearance is a serious concern for trial lawyers trying to maximize juror receptivity to their advocacy” and for women, appearance is very complicated thanks to unjustified expectations, stereotyping, etc.  Discusses the unfair behavior of Judge Jeanette Burrage (demanding female lawyers wear skirt suits).  Which, by the way, reminds me of an episode of The Good Wife in which Alicia Florick is asked by a male judge, “What is that you are wearing?” (referring to Alicia’s pantsuit).

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