Women Take The Lead, And A Legal Education Can Help

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - 16:47

Give thanks to the women in Congress for breaking the recent impasse that resulted in a costly and unnecessary shutdown that further weakened an already struggling economy. It was a great example of the power of women to bring sanity into a broken political process. It is likely that some of the women involved are lawyers – but service in Congress in itself can provide a great legal education.

Very few women graduated from law school 50 years ago. The result was that there were not many women in any of the larger law firms and few, if any, female partners. But change was already beginning to happen. Women perceived that there was an opportunity in the law and entered law school. While many law firms tended to move more slowly – perhaps because they feared an adverse client reaction – in-house legal departments in a growth mode began hiring more women. The result was that more women saw an opportunity and entered law school. Today, women represent a majority of the students in many law schools.

In the early days, diversity was only rarely considered important. However, a voice emerged crying in a virtual wilderness – that of Tom Sager, then assistant general counsel at DuPont and now general counsel. Tom was not to be deterred. He was, and is, the spirit behind the DuPont Legal Model, which emphasizes the importance of diversity not only with respect to race, but also gender. The DuPont Legal Model created, among others, a women’s network that brought together the women in the DuPont network of firms. Tom did not stop there. Using the DuPont Model as an example, he became an evangelist for diversity, including gender diversity, giving freely of his time to convince the leaders of other legal departments to follow in DuPont’s footsteps.

There is still much to be done to harness the full potential of female power in the legal profession. There are still too few women serving as leaders in some law firms. More joined corporate legal departments and in many cases rose to become general counsel. Others became distinguished judges. Hon. Judith Kaye and Hon. Elizabeth Stong are shining examples – and there are thousands of others throughout the country. 

Technology now opens the door for many more women to become lawyers. Physical attendance at a law school should not be a requirement. It is now feasible for women at home with young children to get a comparable legal education courtesy of the Internet and forward-looking law schools. And, on completing that education and passing the bar exam, they will, while still housebound, be able to do the wide range of legal work that can be done on the Internet. It is incumbent for the profession to recognize this reality and adjust the requirements for entering the profession to what is fast becoming the new normal – and fully unleash the power of women. Just consider the good things that will happen when this is done!

We desperately need the kind of women like those who led the way toward ending the fiscal crisis to guide us through the next installment, women like those who cut the Gordian knot of the recent fiscal crisis, women like Chancellor Angela Merkel, who guided Germany to prosperity; Christine Lagarde, who heads the International Monetary Fund; and Janet Yellen, recently appointed to head the Federal Reserve. Not all of them are lawyers. However, in the U.S., a legal education can be a significant stepping stone to greatness.