A little more than 60 years ago, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor graduated from Stanford Law School at the top of her class,1 and Judge Betty Binns Fletcher graduated from the University of Washington School of Law at the top of her class.2 Despite their stellar academic performance, neither of them could find work as a lawyer because of their gender.
Women just were not part of the legal landscape. Justice O'Connor and Judge Fletcher nonetheless persevered in their respective legal careers while raising their children (Justice O'Connor had two boys; Judge Fletcher had two boys and two girls). In 1979, Judge Fletcher was appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and in 1981 Justice O'Connor was the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.3
Justice O'Connor and Judge Fletcher, and other women lawyers and mother lawyers like them, have brought the idea that one can be a woman, a mother and a lawyer from laughable to everyday reality. While there is much left to be done to reach the type of equality that many of us crave and dream about, issues facing women lawyers and mother lawyers, and diversity in general, are now common topics of discussion in many law firms, businesses, courts, government entities and practice groups.
One does not have to look far anymore to find substantive and meaningful dialogue about bringing women lawyers into parity with their male counterparts in terms of pay, advancement and recognition of their work in the legal profession. But even though ideas for the advancement and promotion of women lawyers are on the table, at the end of the day many of us can't help but feel marginalized and trapped in our own circumstances, with the impending thought that perhaps the big policy questions just don't apply to our own little piece of the legal world.
There does not always seem to be an option in our immediate job or life situation to do anything about national issues facing women lawyers and mother lawyers. In fact, it often feels like there does not seem to be any room to do anything other than survive day to day.
For me, this was especially noticeable after the birth of my first child, when I suddenly realized that the traditional notions of law firm practice had a different agenda for my life than my daughter did. I often hear the sentiment and have felt it myself: Really, what can I do? What am I even able to do?
While the big answer to these small questions may be beyond the confines of this short article, the small answer to these big questions has a very manageable and practical first step. Get connected. Plug in. Link up. Lean in. However you want to say it and on whatever level you can do it.
As mother lawyers (and women lawyers, but being a mother lawyer is my particular vantage point for this article), many of us cannot achieve professional connections through traditional networking routes that work for our male counterparts and worked for our predecessors. More and more, we have to find our own way to network, to reenergize, to progress in our careers. We have to be creative and think outside the box.
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