We are in an age where women can (finally) have it all – but should we want it?
This question, while perhaps unpopular, occurred to me after I was first asked to contribute to this issue. In debating topics, I was torn between addressing the highs and lows of what it means to be a female lawyer today. Should I highlight the contributions of recent generations of women lawyers who enabled opportunities for which new generations’ gratitude can never fully be expressed? Or discuss the frequency with which women find themselves the only representative of our gender in court with five other attorneys despite the growing enrollment of female law students? How many words should be allotted to the unique challenges of moms in the law, many of whom are truly working two full-time jobs? And how could I forget to acknowledge men in our field, who are not to be villainized in the style of too many misguided interpretations of feminism, but instead celebrated for their support? After all, I am surrounded daily by lawyers at work and home who deserve such recognition, both male and female.
Then I thought of women I’ve met as an alumnus of and director of Phoenix Ladder Down and realized these individual topics couldn’t comprehensively address the roles of female lawyers today – as this issue’s theme lists in part, “Mom. Lawyer. Leader.” But remembering these women did help identify my goals for this article: (1) open even one reader’s eyes to the challenges women lawyers still face despite a surge toward statistical equality; (2) reassure even one female lawyer her challenges are legitimate and worthy of acknowledgment, and (3) provoke thoughtful discussion in even one firm or household about how to address this.
How many words should be allotted to the unique challenges of moms in the law, many of whom are truly working two full-time jobs? And how could I forget to acknowledge men in our field, who are not to be villainized in the style of too many misguided interpretations of feminism, but instead celebrated for their support?
I often look at the women lawyers I’ve met in and out of Ladder Down and ask, “How does she [the trial attorney with two children under 10] do it?” “How does she [the shareholder who advanced rapidly in her firm while supporting a spouse and amidst two pregnancies”] do it? “How does she [the law firm owner who simultaneously finds time to create a nationwide program helping female attorneys achieve professional equality] do it?” I know female attorneys who run their practices while undergoing painful and emotionally draining fertility treatments, or finding time to give selflessly to fostering children or fundraising because they care about the cause, not the networking. I know female attorneys who are the primary caregivers and primary breadwinners, simultaneously. I know female attorneys who are rarely among others of their gender in the courtroom, but turn this imbalance into an asset, not a hurdle. And I want the rest of the legal community to know them this way, too.
I also want this community to see the invisible contributions women lawyers make, a concept a friend informed me recently has been identified as “emotional labor.” Outside the office, this could include tasks like coordinating babysitters, remembering the grocery list, or timely sending holiday cards. Women make these same contributions at their firms, silently anticipating and supporting the emotional and professional needs of those around them by remembering birthdays, checking in on new employees, and smiling even when they’ve been up all night because their child doesn’t understand the expiration of parental leave – all while billing as many hours as the men in their offices. (Are you agape, stuttering, “Women are practicing law, raising families, attending to external commitments and doing all this, too?” Maybe you should be.)
At the start, I acknowledged this article’s thesis might be unpopular. And if you’re still reading, you may be offended, strongly disagree, or have written this off as a feminist rant. (Although I imagine if it’s the latter, you’ve certainly stopped reading.) Male readers may be protesting they face the same challenges, and let me be clear: I don’t doubt men are capable of and may, in fact, be doing the same juggling act I’ve described women performing herein. But being able to have it all in what is still (let’s be honest, this issue wouldn’t exist otherwise) a largely male-dominated field begs the question: Has the pressure to be the best partner both at a law firm and at home, to take care of both the household and the employees, and to lead the community while holding the hands of their children become the way modern women lawyers are oppressed? Jessica Kokal