PBCBA BAR BULLETINS 0817 PB Bar Bully Sept PRINT - Page 5

Diversity Corner “Are You The Court Reporter?” Gender Bias in the Practice of Law by Denise Mutamba How many times have you been asked, “Are you the court reporter?,” “Are you the paralegal?,” or “Where is your attorney?” If you are a woman who practices law, these questions are not uncommon. As an attorney who has been practicing for almost three years, I often wonder if my gender, age, appearance, race, or all of the above prompt such questions. I discovered, that these questions are frequently asked of women who practice law, regardless of age, number of years in practice, or race. With the appointment of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman on the Supreme Court over three decades ago, one might assume that the treatment of women who practice law would continue to improve at a steadier rate. Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that the treatment of women who practice law has not improved as quickly as many believe. Although male and female law students graduate from law school at an almost equal rate, statistics show that more males become leaders in law firms, academia, and the judiciary thereafter. According to a 2015 National Association of Women Lawyers (“NAWL”) study, only six percent of managing partners at the largest 200 American law firms are women, less than sixteen percent of firm equity partners are women, and approximately twenty percent of law school deans are women. According to Joan Williams, Distinguished Professor of Law at U C Hastings College of Law and Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings College of Law this gap could be the result of stereotypes about women’s work styles, character traits, and job competencies. In 2015, the Florida Bar’s Young Lawyers Division surveyed over 3,000 women attorneys practicing in Florida. Roughly seventy-six percent of the respondents had been practicing for five years or less and almost one-quarter of respondents had minor children. Alarmingly, forty-three percent of respondents had experienced gender bias in the workplace. Moreover, the survey showed that several respondents reported overt gender bias, explaining that they had been commonly referred to as an assistant, court reporter, or the paralegal of their male counter-part or supervisor. These respondents commented that these labels were placed upon them during client meetings, interactions with opposing counsel, and even in court. One respondent explained a situation where a client refused to allow her into the conference room during a meeting because she was a lady. Another respondent, who had minor children, was told by her supervisor that “she felt her child was more important than her job.” Other respondents reported subtle gender bias. Specifically, one respondent reported that “[a]fter making partner, I learned that male attorneys were paid more out of law school than female attorneys with the same qualifications.” Another respondent explained that male associates, who were junior to her, were sent to trial, but she was not even allowed to attend hearings. In addition, this respondent reported that she began September 2017 attending hearings and gained more complex experience once she started working for female partners. With the above perspectives on the issue of gender bias in the legal workplace, we must address how we can take action to resolve the issue. Past American Bar Association President, Laurel G. Bellows, believes that women should evaluate the substance and complexity of their assignments and if they are unsatisfied with their work assignments, they should seek out a sponsor, not a mentor. A sponsor is someone who will not only advise and guide a young lawyer, but will speak favorably about the lawyer when they are not present. Finally, a sponsor will actively promote the lawyer’s career development. Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer also had a few ideas. Judge Feuer believes we must first root out the problem by realizing as humans we all have implicit biases. We should take pause in how we interact with others who have preconceived opinions and stereotypes about women and women who practice law. For example, Judge Schosberg Feuer suggests that when a woman lawyer is asked, “Are you the court reporter?” the lawyer could respond gently and directly, “No, I’m the attorney on this case. What made you think I was the court reporter?” Judge Schosberg Feuer believes that maybe by appropriately challenging those who ask these questions. We will change the mind frame of others causing the inquirer to self-assess their implicit gender biases and think differently in the future. Lastly, we must modify the perception of the legal profession by changing what is seen in the public eye. We must increase the number of women and diverse lawyers in the public eye. This starts with women who practice law taking leadership positions, seeking out sponsors, exemplifying quality and professionalism in our work, and in changing the mindse t of others who may perpetuate gender bias in the legal workplace. Furthermore, we must all encourage firms and agencies to hire, retain, and promote women attorneys. Denise Mutamba is a Staff Attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Inc., where she fights against housing discrimination. She also represents the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit on the Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors. MEMBERSHIP LOGIN ISSUES? If you have a new email address, please do not attempt to login via the website; contact Kathy Clark at [email protected] Page 5