According to the American Bar Association’s 2017 Women in the Law report, less than one percent separates the number of female law students from the number of men seeking a JD. At that pace, parity between the sexes on the legal front will likely soon be achieved – at least in terms of diploma distribution.
How it plays out overall in the profession is something to watch.
Right now, women nationally account for 36 percent of the attorney population. And, today, men are twice as likely to be law school deans, more than three times likely to serve as general counsel to a large company, and they just flat out earn more.
And while definite progress has been made, it has sometimes come at a snail’s pace. After all, it’s been 148 years since the first woman was admitted to the bar in the U.S. In Missouri, it’s been 147 years since its first female attorney was licensed. And it surely took a large measure of ego strength for that woman, Lemma Barkaloo, to attend Washington University’s law school after she was refused admittance at another. She became, in 1870, a full-fledged attorney in a profession not just dominated by men but that was men. Undaunted, apparently, she went on to become the first woman to try a case in an American Court.
So let’s keep our focus on the Show Me State for a minute.
Maybe Barkaloo’s legacy created a stronger foundation for women attorneys. Of our four law schools, Nancy Staudt is the dean at Washington University, the University of Missouri-Columbia will soon bring on board its first female dean, Lyrissa Barnett Lidsky; and UMKC Law School Dean Ellen Suni recently retired from the post.
It’s fitting too that among the many incredible achievements of our Woman of the Year, Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge helped lead the state’s efforts for equality in the profession. Breckenridge, along with fellow top court Judge Laura Denvir Stith, established the Joint Commission on Gender and Justice, a forerunner that became the Missouri Joint Commission on Women in the Profession in 2013. The goal of the commission, through the Supreme Court and Missouri Bar, is to combat barriers and biases that prevent equal participation in the profession.
(It is important to note that three of seven Supreme Court judges are women, the executive director of The Missouri Bar is a woman and the president of the bar is a woman … I’m just saying …)
One might convincingly argue, maybe even Lemma Barkaloo, that 147 years is a bit of a long wait to establish parity milestones.
But, in some ways, the time it takes to get where you’re going isn’t as important as continuing the journey of progress.
The attorneys we honor this year in our Women’s Justice Awards are remarkable in many ways, regardless of the chromosomes they have. But given the backdrop of the trail blazed by Lemma and so many others before, they have each climbed a mountain. Or two.
In its 19th year, this recognition program looks to honor those who have moved the needle in the Missouri legal community.
Women who hold positions of strength, who lead firms boldly, who wear their battle scars proudly, who serve the underprivileged, who aspire to a new future, who support the legal profession, or who teach the next generation of lawyers.
And we found them.
Our panel of distinguished members of the 2017 selection committee reviewed scores of nominations that included women from every spectrum of the profession and throughout the state.
They judged these nominations based on the core principles of leadership, professionalism, accomplishment and passion for making a difference.
It is my honor, my privilege, to present these women to you today with this special Missouri Lawyers Weekly publication.
We appreciate their contributions and we marvel at their success.
It has come, after all, with a level of gender disparity that makes each of their roads a little more difficult than their male counterparts.
On behalf of Missouri Lawyers Weekly, I proudly salute these remarkable women.
Publisher, Missouri Lawyers Media