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April 01, 2007

Ms. JD - Legally Female And Proud Of It!

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I just returned from the Ms. JD - Legally Female Conference and I thought the concept and most of its execution was pretty impressive.  Ms. JD is modeled after the same principles as Ms. Magazine created by Gloria Steinem; using the best medium of the day to create a forum to effectuate change in a given arena, what it means to be a female in today's legal environment and harnessing the power of the internet to create a powerful social network to explore ideas, discuss relevant issues and unify an ever-growing segment of the legal community to put forth change.  Their goal: Changing the Face of the Legal Profession. Their goal is to have chapters of Ms. JD in every law school within the country.  The website forum is designed for all to contribute as writers and commenters.

While many people worked tirelessly to make this conference a success I enjoyed my discussion with Anna Lorien Nelson, a Yale Law Student, who is also the Vice President and sits on the Board of Directors of Ms. JD, who gave an inspired opening speech explaining Ms. JD's mission.  Her attitude was not one of the preacher thumping at the revival meeting but one of common sense and compassion.  She notes correctly (and statistics sadly bear this out) that if Justice is always portrayed as a female, why are females disproportionately under represented in the decision-making positions within the judicial system?

The keynote speaker, United States District Judge, District of Connecticut, Hon. Janet Bond Arterton, told her story of growing up in the 50's, developing her sense of social activism during the 60's and 70's within the politically heated climate of Vietnam, Kent State, the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, graduating from Yale Law School and consciously choosing a 5 person law firm to start her legal career rather than Big Law (saying it was one of the wisest choices she ever made!) and why she threw her hat into the ring in the early 90's to become a U.S. District Judge.  If you were a student sitting in the audience looking for inspiration, you would have found it.  I particularly related to her story of being in 8th grade and running for student council vice president and winning.  She later learned the boy who won the presidency would not be returning in the fall and she spent the summer prepared to take over the presidency when she returned to school.  On the first day, she presented herself to her teacher saying, "I'm ready to be president."  Her teacher replied, "Oh, that's not possible.  It simply wouldn't do for a girl to be President."  And the boy who took the presidency was the runner up for President.  She said she wasn't upset about not being President.  She was upset that neither the teacher, the principal or even her own parents questioned her being denied the presidency strictly based upon her being a girl.  (Sounds a little like the story I told regarding the Monarch of the Sea!)

Distinguished speakers flew in from all over the country to talk on topics such as: Women in the Broader Legal Landscape:  The Promise and Challenge of Global Engagement; "Queen Bee" and "Mommy Wars": Women Working Together; The Realities of Legal Jobs (I will discuss more in a future post because it was very interesting including numerous myths but check out Project for Attorney Retention):  Technology as a Tool: Changing What It Means To Be A Woman In Law.

A lot of accomplished female lawyers, JD's turned business people helping other lawyers, and those students who aspire to be like them comprised the audience and it is fair to say Ms. JD was successfully launched.  I'm sure there will be growing pains but imagine Ms. JD as a stunningly intelligent pretty little thirteen year old girl still in braces with an awkward hairstyle and gangly legs whose role model is Gloria Steinem.  You can envision her at 20, 30 and 40 as she blossoms and matures into her full potential as a powerful player in this world...if encouraged and supported by her peers.

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Some of the wonderful people I met: (from left to right) Lisa Solomon (we've actually met before) of Legal Research and Writing Pro, Carolyn Elefant of My Shingle (it was great to finally meet Carolyn face-to-face), me (the tall one in the back) and Brandy Karl.  We represented the solo contingent in a BigLaw dominated conference and did not go unnoticed!

Another amazing woman (for so many reasons) is Catherine Kirkman, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati in Palo Alto, California. Her practice focuses on intellectual property, licensing and commercial transactions.  She publishes the Silicon Valley Media Law Blog and for many years she published one of the first listservs on the interactive media industry, the "Interactive Media Weekly Recap,"  has taught at Stanford Law School and is one of the hosts of This Week in Law, a podcast where a panel of hosts discuss breaking issues in technology law including patents, copyrights and more.  But what most impressed me about Cathy is her very early recognition of the power of the internet for business promotion. She began blogging in its earliest incarnation back in 1994! 

And to all the other ladies of inspiration I met, it was an absolute pleasure.

In a future post, look for some interesting myths busted by a few little 'in the know' birdies about why law schools are not necessarily interested in promoting solo practice.

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