“When she arrived in traffic court and approached the podium, the traffic magistrate called out, ‘I’m not ready for ya. Have a seat, babe.’
“If she had a time machine, Suskauer wishes she could go back and approach the magistrate quietly to say, ‘What you said was inappropriate in front of all these people. I‘m sure you didn’t have a terrible intent, but the fact is, as someone who’s supposed to garner respect, you shouldn’t be speaking that way.’ ”
Lelia Gowland, a sought-after speaker, writer, and consultant on workplace dynamics for women, recently wrote an article in Forbes that surely resonated across the legal field. Gowland featured the journey of lawyer Michelle Suskauer that ultimately drove her to lead The Florida Bar in addressing gender inequality in law head-on.
The Florida Bar has been studying the issue for years, but it has received additional momentum when Suskauer participated in and later led a gender bias committee. The forum welcomed three of Florida’s largest law firms as well as national experts and women in law with the intention of evaluating how the Bar could boost its efforts. Twelve recommendations resulted from the committee, three of which are named in Gowland’s article:
- Provide transparency and clarity about The Florida Bar’s existing rules regarding bias and discrimination.
- Develop Blue Ribbon designations for entities that prioritize hiring, promoting and retaining female lawyers.
- Encourage more women to run for leadership positions within the Florida Bar.
All 12 recommendations are included in the “Report of The Florida Bar Special Committee on Gender Bias,” available online here.
Our good friend and Florida Bar Member Brenda Fulmer referred to Suskauer as “… incredibly tenacious. I have never seen a woman work so hard for a volunteer job, and we are all better for it.”
When strong people like Suskauer refuse to take “no” for an answer to eliminating outdated disparity, positive change is the only option. Combined with Gowland’s efforts to elevate talented and hardworking women, and we see a bright future for equality in law.
But we can’t simply stand idly by and cheer them on. Every participant in the legal field — lawyers, judges, settlement planners, administrative staff — should consider these efforts and act in support of them whenever possible. It’ll take the entire village to quash gender inequality in law, but it’s on the horizon.
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).