I’m just back from the ninth Women En Mass conference in Aspen. Each year, WEM brings together the best and brightest female mass tort attorneys to discuss issues that affect women “from the boardroom to the courtroom.” My company, Milestone, is a longtime supporter of WEM and its mission to elevate women attorneys. I always come home from WEM energized and excited to have learned about the latest in the mass tort arena and my friends’ and colleagues’ progress.
WEM is also a reminder of the importance for those of us in the civil justice community – not just female trial lawyers – to echo the need for equality in leadership, employment opportunities, promotions, and pay in law.
Although women are incrementally achieving better representation in leadership and at U.S. law firms in general, there is still work to be done. A recent report noted that the percentage of associates grew from 46.8% in 2019 to 47.5% in 2020. Women are still disproportionately represented in partnership, reaching just over 25% in 2020.
In the mass tort legal arena, the push for diversity is gaining momentum. In the Elmiron MDL, 15 women of varying ethnic backgrounds were chosen to plaintiffs’ leadership. In the Zantac litigation, Judge Robin L. Rosenberg appointed 26 attorneys to leadership positions, nearly half of whom are women. She drew from smaller and newer firms when making her appointments and sought to appoint “a diverse leadership team that is representative of the inevitable diversity of the Plaintiffs in this case, and … a team that would collectively bring to bear both wisdom and judgment, and also new approaches and ideas.”
It’s what we should expect across the board – in job opportunities for those who have just passed the bar, to promotions to higher tier firm positions, to MDL leadership, judge roles, and so on.
But the pandemic hasn’t help matters. The American Bar Association (ABA) pointed outissues women lawyers have increasingly faced in the past year and a half: stress, income loss, more caregiving responsibilities, and isolation. And across all industries, 865,000 women – four times the number of men – dropped out of the workforce last September after schools didn’t reopen fully.
As these challenges are still very much present, is there anything that can help keep women practicing law? Eight current and former women ABA presidents recently warned legal employers that they risk losing more talented female lawyers if they do not better support them and recognize their added responsibilities posed by the pandemic. Judy Perry Martinez, the ABA’s immediate past president, put it this way: “It’s right now and right here that we have to take the action necessary in order to make sure that these valued individuals within our profession know that we are listening to them and what they need to be at their best.”
As everyone is still figuring it all out, it remains to be seen what that support will (and should) look like in law. For now, no matter the industry you’re in, I encourage you to support your local minority trial lawyer groups and/or national groups like Women En Mass and the American Association for Justice’s Women Trial Lawyers Caucus and Minority Caucus, which act as a platform for underrepresented attorneys to help one another rise and thrive in law.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).