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Victoria Pynchon

As the co-founder of She Negotiates Consulting and Training, I offer my services as a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant....

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She Negotiates

She Negotiates

The 33 cent wage and income gap is unacceptable and unnecessary. So is the cliché glass ceiling. Bottom line, our...

Are We Our Sisters' Keepers? Why are Women Lawyers Not Speaking Up?

Last week at ForbesWoman -- full post here. Excerpt below.

[Last week] I learned that Women Lawyers, Law Students Aren’t Speaking Up in several places including The Lawyerist in its post Women Lawyers: Silence Isn’t Always Golden by Staci Zaretsky.


The most competitive and ambitious women in the land are stifling themselves?

Looks like it.

  • women law students are less likely than their male classmates to participate in classroom discussions
  • women law students are less likely to seek advice from their professors
  • women law students are more likely to be motivated by fear (that’s ok, of course, so long as you do what the river guides tell you to do – paddle through your fear!)

Still, we graduate from law school and often do so with high honors or we wouldn’t represent such a large proportion of the new associate ranks in the best firms in the land. All first year associates are frightened. They don’t know a thing, really. Certainly not how to practice law.

It Takes Courage!

It’s a very adult task to speak up for a major American corporation likeFord Motor Company (NYSE:F) in court; to make an objection to the question asked by the deep-voiced man of advanced years sitting across the conference table from you harassing your client in a deposition. It takes courage to tell a jury of twelve strangers that your client was innocent even though five by-standers identified him as the guy who robbed the Circle K (CLKSF:OTCUS).

So we “woman up” when we get that first job and speak up, right?

According to a recent study, apparently not.

We argue only 15% of all cases heard by the Supreme Court. One of those 15% tells Stephanie Rabiner that “women don’t like verbal jousting” and are “horrified” by the controversy it might cause to take a case to the highest court in the land.

Really? Really??

There’s Work to Be Done

O.K. You don’t care that much about money. And you’d really rather have a balanced lifestyle, which you’re hoping will allow you to just go to work, put in your hours, come home and tend to the children who, you hope, you’ll be able to comfortably accommodate into your work-life. You ski. You travel to exotic places. You want to buy a home – an acquisition thatChris Buckley says gives you the right to use the Yuppie Nuremberg Defense - I have a mortgage to pay.

That life you’re imagining rests on the shoulders of the women who broke this path for you. But that’s ok. We didn’t want to create a generation of women who were grateful. We wanted to create a generation of women who would stick up for themselves and for their sisters.

As Gloria Steinem once said, “it’s ok if young women don’t remember whoI am. It’s only important that they remember who they are.”

But listen up ladies, women, sisters, fellow barristers and advocates. There’s work to be done in the world. You have  the education and the training necessary to make a difference at the highest levels of power. And if you choose not to use that power  . . . well . . . at least have the decency to feel just a little bit guilty about it.

Here’s What You Have the Power to Change according to Nicholas Kristof’s Half the Sky.

  • more than 107 million women are missing from the globe today
  • more girls have been killed in the last fifty years because of their gender than men were killed in all the wars of the 20th century
  • more girls are killed in this routine gendercide in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century
  • every year another 2 million girls worldwide disappear because of gender discrimination
  • of the 600,000 to 800,000 people who are trafficked across international borders every year, 80% are women and girls, who are imprisoned , beaten and raped many times every day of the week to serve the world’s sex trade
  • the global sex trade is larger in absolute terms than the entire Atlantic slave trade was in the 18th and 19th centuries

Feel like speaking up in class yet?

How about that bill pending in an American state legislature that wouldmake the murder of a physician providing abortion services to your sisters, your daughters and your mothers justifiable homocide?

You’re a lawyer. Doesn’t that seem wrong to you?

No well-behaved woman ever made history. Nor did she end the international slave trade in little girls.

Ready to misbehave yet?

Comments (3)

Read through and enter the discussion by using the form at the end
Marcy Jones - February 27, 2011 5:50 AM

Very powerful points made in this article, and very upsetting statistics about women in law school. Another important skill set for women lawyers (and all lawyers) to help them bring excellence to the table is effective negotiating skills, including learning to be a collaborative lawyer. In collaborative law, the client stills has his or her advocate and advisor, but the solutions reached are based on the needs of the clients. Of course, this may not be the answer in the horrendous cases you describe above from Half the Sky, but for lawyers who practice day to day in their community, there are other ways for women to speak up which may be more comfortable for them and more effective. Women's natural intuition, compassion and empathetic natures can help clients reach peaceful, creative, and satisfying solutions as well.

shg - February 28, 2011 9:00 AM

What a fascinating juxtaposition to Vicky's post, about women lacking the courage to stand up for themselves, and Marcy Jone's attempt to hijack the discussion to validate her "collaborative" model employing women's "natural intuition, compassion and empathetic natures."

Yup, sure seems like to explain a lot.

Vickie - March 2, 2011 7:30 AM

Thanks to both Marcy and Scott for dropping by to comment. I must admit that before Scott left his comment, I was feeling uncomfortable and twitchy about Marcy's. I don't care what Marcy's "real intent" is, i.e., "hijacking the discussion." But I believe she's raised an extremely important point. We work in the adversarial system. First and foremost, that is about power. To my mind, it's best in family law matters (an area in which I have no experience other than the personal) to secure the cooperation of the parties to work together and solve their mutual problem.

Women LAWYERS MUST BE ABLE AND CAPABLE OF MOVING OUT OF THEIR "COMFORT ZONE" AND INTO AN ADVERSARIAL STANCE WHEN NECESSARY. THE SAME IS TRUE FOR MEN. Not many people, male or female, are comfortable with conflict. That's why lawyers and mediators and, yes, collaborative lawyers, exist.

If you cannot use a stick, carrying it will not avail you. And if you are not capable of exercising power in response to a non-cooperative player, you will enter into a cycle of victimization along with your client. The most effective dispute resolution strategy is "tit for tat." Open with cooperation, retaliate proportionally when met with opposition, return quickly to cooperation if your bargaining partner shows a willingness to cooperate.

We women MAY BE acculturated to develop our "natural intuition, compassion and empathetic natures," but only therapists and social workers should privilege them over the ability to wield genuine power in the face of threat.

May I also say, that when women publicly suggest that we are more effective as facilitators and empaths than we are as warriors, they undermine the work women have been doing for more than 100 years to convince men that they can not only "stand the heat in the kitchen" but fight the flames as boldly as their male colleagues. I am empathic when the situation calls for empathy. When the situation calls for strength, get out of my way because I will not be f***ed with and you shall not f*** with my client! (and now Scott will chastise me for not just saying fuck).

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