Women and the Practice of Law
This week, we are highlighting Mervate Mohammad. She is one of the hardest working lawyers I know. A true fighter and great businesswoman who runs a great law firm. This is her story.
Women and the Practice of Law
When I was asked to write a blog about what it’s like being a woman in the practice of law, my first thought was – it’s not easy, it’s just not. I wasn’t sure if I should dwell into my own personal experiences of practicing law, but I thought using an example such as the very popular and iconic Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg – also known as the Notorious RBG- was more appropriate. Justice Ginsberg was accepted into law school at a time when society did not want women to be involved in the legal field and at a time when women were second class citizens. Justice Ginsberg was smart, witty, quiet and a hard worker. She was a mother and a wife while in law school and while advocating for women’s rights as a lawyer in the 1970s. One statement she made during her first oral argument to the Supreme Court really struck me, she said, “All I ask our brethren is that they take their feet off of our necks.”
That statement is so relevant today. Women in the law face many difficulties, I am not only relying on my own experience, but the experience of colleagues, and it includes being told that we are “to aggressive” or “too cute” or “too loud” when vigorously advocating for clients, or whether the stress of caring for a family in addition to caring for cases becomes overwhelming. The difficulties female attorneys face varies from those faced by our male counterparts. Female attorneys need to work harder to ensure our voice, our advocation of clients, our appearance is done precisely so not as to hurt our case and to be taken seriously by the court, clients and opposing counsel. It’s the reality, it’s a fact, and it sucks(1).
Female attorneys make up 33% of the field(2), but research has found that women begin leaving the law for a number of reasons which include: to care for their families, because of the lack of work life balance and because of the pay gap (3). The legal profession is not a friendly profession to the strong, outspoken woman who also has other responsibilities such as caring for her children. Female attorneys have made it clear that the conservative structure of big law firms and even medium law firms don’t accommodate their needs as women (4). The legal field is dominated by men, the majority of partners and owners of big law firms are men, and the field is not as accepting of change as easily compared to other professions.
It is important to recognize that ensuring women remain an active part of the legal community is vital for our society, not only to ensure that there is diversity in the legal profession but that women are able to participate in a system that directly affects their lives, whether they are attorneys or not.
Justice Ginsberg encapsulates the circumstances and character of what so many women have today; she was a mother, a wife, an independent soul who was hungry for a purpose and that purpose was to succeed and make an impact on the law and society – her impact was for women’s rights. Justice Ginsberg credits a lot of her success to the support of her loving husband. In fact, it was her husband who wanted Justice Ginsberg to be seriously considered for appointment to the Supreme Court by the Clinton administration and he worked hard to ensure that it happened.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, it’s simple, the many struggles that Justice Ginsberg faced in the 1970s are still alive today. Though this topic is a complex one, maybe too complex for a short blog, it needs to be spoken about and discussed in an open forum more often. There are many bar associations, books, public speakers and lawyers who have dedicated their time to this topic alone (5).
Women like Justice Ginsberg inspire me. I admire the female attorney who is up late working and yearning to satisfy her passion for the law, who is able to balance working and loving her family while vigorously doing her job. I admire the female attorney who is able to stand up to those attempting to demean her ability to advocate and counsel, solely because she is a woman. I admire the female attorney who is actively trying to change the conservative structure of the legal field to accommodate the burdens and responsibilities held by us, women.
Point is, women make up half of our society. It’s about time that women are clearly heard, respected and given the fair opportunity to excel in the legal profession. Society cannot bare to lose more women in the legal profession, and in fact need them to stay, and as Justice Ginsberg said, “All I ask our brethren is that they take their feet off of our necks.”
BY : MERVATE MOHAMMAD PRINCIPAL ATTORNEY AND MEDIATOR AT KISWANI LAW, P.C.
1. More examples of the same can be found in Tracy L. Wareing’s “Issues facing Women Lawyers Entering the Legal Profession”
2. See the May 8, 2018 United States Census Bureau
3. See the American Bar Association’s “Why Women Leave the Profession”
4. See the American Bar Association’s “Law firms need to make structural changes to keep women from leaving, panel says”
5. See the American Bar Association’s Women in the Profession. It is a great resource for female attorneys to connect with other women, have a platform to speak on various issues and they provide a fair number of articles that are very reliable and relatable.