REMARKS TO GAWL GEORGIA ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN LAWYERS, JUDICIAL LUNCHEON-OCTOBER 17, 2012-
ROBIN FRAZER CLARK, PRESIDENT, STATE BAR OF GEORGIA
Thank you, Susan, for that kind introduction and the very nice invitation of the GAWL to be with you here today. I see some dear friends in the audience today, and it’s always nice to have smiling faces in the audience.
It’s wonderful to be with so many judges here today. You are true public servants and on behalf of the State Bar of GA we greatly appreciate your service to the State of Georgia, to the citizens of GA and to our profession. You should know that our judges take a much reduced pay to serve the State of GA compared to what they would make if they were practicing law in the private sector and we all owe them a debt of gratitude for their public service.
The women in leadership here today need to thank all those women who blazed the trail for us so that we can practice law or serve on the Bench with Freedom and enjoy the independence of being a professional and the sheer joy of being a woman. Our Trailblazers cleared the path for us to allow us to have it all, to experience equality in the profession and not to have to apologize for being ourselves, for wanting to have a career and also having a family.
Let me share with you some amazing trailblazer stories.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg-1st in her class at Columbia Law School in 1959 but, breaking with custom, Justice Felix Frankfurter refused to hire her as a clerk b/c she was a woman. She was a pioneer for gender equality at a time when most people had never even heard of that term. Ginsburg recalls, “My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent.” So she started working for the ACLU, the only place where she could get a job in the early 60’s practicing law and started taking cases in which she could advocate for gender equality. Justice Ginsburg’s daughter, Jane Ginsburg, who is now an intellectual property professor at Columbia Law School, said her mother was one of the few mothers back then who worked. Jane recalled: “I remember a friend of mine telling me that her mother said she ‘had to be nice to Jane because Jane’s mommy worked.’ Like I had leprosy or something.” In 1972 Justice Ginsburg founded and became the Director of the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU and all of her cases involved gender discrimination. Between 1973 and 1979, while running the Women’s Rights Project, teaching law school at Columbia Law School and raising two children, Justice Ginsburg argued six cases before the United States Supreme Court. During this time, at the urging of her secretary, Justice Ginsburg stopped using the words “sex discrimation” in her briefs and oral arguments, in favor of gender discrimination. Her secretary pointed out to her: “Don’t you know that to the audience you are addressing, mostly me of a certain age, the first association with the word sex is not what you’re talking about?”
Sandra Day O’Connor-O’Connor only took two years, instead of the customary three, to complete law school. Along the way, she served on the Stanford Law Review and received membership in the Order of the Coif, a legal honor society. O’Connor graduated third out of a class of 102.
O’Connor faced a difficult job market after leaving Stanford. No law firm in California wanted to hire her and only one offered her a job: as a legal secretary. Justice O’Connor was nominated in 1981 by President Reagan to become the first woman on the United States Supreme Court. Ironically, a senior partner of that firm, William French Smith, helped O’Connor’s nomination to the Supreme Court years later as the Attorney General. When Justice O’Connor could not find employment in the private sector as a lawyer, she turned to public service and accepted a job as the deputy county attorney for San Mateo, California. In his book “The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court”, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin contends that O’Connor has ¬become the most important woman in American history.
And we have our own trailblazers to thank right here in the GA Legal Community.
Judge Adelle Grubbs-Cobb County Superior Court-When she was still a practicing attorney, on Wednesday before Thanksgiving many years ago, she was arguing a divorce case before a male Cobb Superior Court Judge. It got to be fairly late, near 6:00 p.m. and Judge Grubbs asked that Court adjourn for the day. The Judge wasn’t going for it, until Judge Grubbs said: “Your Honor, you get to go home and relax and wake up tomorrow and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow that your wife has prepared all day today with your family. I get to go home tonight and clean house and polish silverware and get up early tomorrow and cook a turkey and an entire Thanksgiving Dinner after having been in Court all day today.” The Judge after that simply quit holding court on the day before a Holiday to be respectful to women lawyers.
Chief Justice Carol Hunstein-1st woman Chief Justice of the GA. Supreme Court. Born into humble circumstances, Carol contracted polio when she was two, survived her first bout of bone cancer at age four, and lost her mother at age 11. Her adolescent years were marked by frequent hospitalizations for cancer. Carol’s father discouraged his six children from pursuing an education beyond high school. She married at 17, became a mother at 19, and was abandoned by her husband by age 22. That same year, Carol lost a leg to cancer and was told by doctors she had only a year to live.
Struggling to find work to support herself and her son, Carol soon realized the value of an education. She went to college on a state vocational rehabilitation scholarship and to law school on the Social Security benefits she received after her former husband died. There were times when Carol could not afford to eat. Remarrying before graduating from law school, Carol soon had two daughters.
She opened a private law practice in Decatur in 1977 and spurred on by a county judge who repeatedly called her “little lady” in open court, Carol decided to run for the bench. She defeated four men and in 1984 became the first woman elected to the DeKalb County Superior Court. She has served on the Georgia Supreme Court since 1992.
Judge Anne Barnes-1st woman to win statewide judicial in a contested election without having first been appointed to the bench.
Judge Yvette Miller-1st African American woman to serve as on the GA Court of Appeals and first African American woman to serve as Chief Judge on the GA Court of Appeals.
These women cleared the path for us, branch by branch, briar by briar, until your way in your Profession became a smooth, flat clear path for you.
There is no question things are different now for women than what they were for Justice O’Connor, or Chief Justice Hunstein or even for me for that matter, not only in the legal profession but in all professions and corporate America. Given that this year we mark the 40th Anniversary of Title IX I think there is no doubt that Title IX has played a role in the advancement of women in sports but also in the workplace. This year, for the first time ever, the U.S. Olympic Team consisted of more women than men. It is no wonder then, that 80% of women executives in companies with 100 employees or more played team sports. They say participation in team sports gave them the discipline, the poise and the confidence to succeed in the business world. It bears noting that Title IX doesn’t even mention sports.
Title IX states:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Some have noted the true significance those 37 words has been the accompanying increase in opportunities for women off the field — a level of female empowerment so strong that Bernice “Bunny” Sandler, who helped draft the legislation and now works as a senior scholar for the Women’s Research and Education Institute in Washington, D.C. calls the law “the most important step for gender equality since the 19th Amendment gave [women] the right to vote.”
Economists have long observed that participation in sports at a young age correlates to higher wages, greater educational attainment and overall professional success in adult life.
I was elated to see that this year for the first time in the club’s history, Augusta National Golf Club added two women as members. I was just bummed it wasn’t me. I think Chairman Payne must have lost my telephone number. And speaking of golf, I had the pleasure of playing golf Friday at the Grove Park Inn Golf Club in Asheville, N.C., on a rather difficult Donald Ross-designed course. Two of men in my foursome were the President of the Maryland State Bar and the Executive Director of the Maryland State Bar. After I shot a 42 on the front nine, these two very nice men began to complain (or whine, really) that I was being given an unfair advantage over them because several of the ladies tees were placed several yards ahead of theirs. One declared that the placement of the red tees was “Title VII run amok” and when the red tees were on the same tee box as the men’s tees, both men loudly proclaimed “Justice!”
It is true that when I was sworn in as the 50th President of the State Bar of Georgia last weekend, I became only the second woman ever to do so. I am proud to embark on the trail blazed by Linda Klein some 15 years ago. Linda continues to be an inspiration in Bar leadership, now at the national level as we have witnesses her ascension up the ABA ladder, presently serving as Chair of the ABA House of Delegates. A few years ago, I was also only the second woman ever elected as President of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association. That year gave me invaluable leadership experience, leading an association that is heavily male dominated. I am a sole practitioner doing plaintiff’s personal injury work. In the profession of law it is estimated that Nationwide less than 10% of trial lawyers are women, and in GA that % is even smaller. I am my own boss, which I think is just about the best way to practice law. Some of the best advice my father ever gave me was to be independent. He didn’t care what field I went in, or what I studied in college, I just had to be independent. Of course, my dad’s parting advice when I would be heading back to Vanderbilt or Emory Law School after a visit home was always a somber “Trust no man.”
I just recently saw a new survey from the National Law Journal about women partners in large law firms. It’s not that encouraging. It showed that today about 18.8 % of all partners, equity and non-equity, are women. That is up only 2.8% over the last 10 years. If we just look at women equity partners, that number has been fixed at 15% for the last 20 years. This National Law Journal survey also proved that if a law firm has two tiers of partnership, an equity tier and a non-equity tier, women are more likely to be placed on the non-equity tier than men. The survey showed that women make up 17.6% of equity partners with only the one-tier track but throw in a non-equity tier and the women who are equity partners in firms with both tiers comprise only 14.7% of equity partners. It is clear that the non-equity law firm model has become simply a convenient place to store would-be female partners.
Some say acceptance of women as equals in the legal profession is a matter of culture. That may be…but I feel like it has to be more intentional than that. I believe that women must still make every effort to support and include other women because most men will simply not naturally do it.
It is clear that even in the year 2012, not everyone is on the same page. A few weeks ago when I was speaking at a local bar association in South Georgia, when I was introduced, the young lawyer who introduced me said “I hope in this day and age we don’t have to point out that Robin is a woman.” I wish that were true…but I’m not so sure. I think we have to continue to promote diversity within the State Bar, in your workplaces and in the judiciary actively. We shouldn’t proclaim victory over inequality just yet.
Just two weeks ago a professional organization of which I am a member held a seminar out of state. 3 days of lecture and not a single presenter was a woman. When I made note of this to several of my women friends in this organization, many of them thought I was getting my knickers in a twist (as they say in London), i.e., that surely it was just an unintentional slight not to get upset about. I don’t think so. This happened because no one called folks who chaired that seminar out on it.
My point is unless someone calls this behavior out and simply doesn’t stand idly by, it will never be different. As I told one woman attorney, I am raising the issue now because in 20 years, when my daughter asks me why didn’t I do anything about this back in 2012 when I had the chance and the platform, I don’t want to have to answer her “I don’t know why I didn’t do anything.” That is not an acceptable response. Women need to support other women. I am reminded of what a male friend of mine said who was running a political campaign for a woman who was running for statewide office in Georgia: “There must be a special place in hell for women who don’t support women.”
It would be nice if we didn’t have to make an effort at intentional inclusion anymore, but we are kidding ourselves if we think we’re there now. In her recent article in MORE magazine entitled “Why Testosterone is the New Estrogen,” Hanna Rosin notes that researchers often attribute the lack of sisterly solidarity to women’s sense that they are still underdogs, who have to fight for the few spots reserved for them at the top. There is no question that the American idea of who makes a good leader is evolving. In a recent study by Pew Research Center entitled “Men or Women: Who’s the Better Leader?” it was determined that most people felt the qualities inherent in a leader, honesty, intelligence, decisiveness, ambition, compassion and creativity were more found in women than in men, yet a majority of respondents (men and women both) said they thought America simply wasn’t psychologically ready to elect a woman to higher political office, e.g., Vice-President or President of the United States. Julie Gerberding, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls this style of leadership found in women “horizontal leadership” and defines it as the “ability to negotiate, collaborate and walk in someone else’s shoes with emotional empathy.” Important traits in any endeavor.
In my opinion, diversity of leadership – with proportional representation reflecting the makeup of any organization – is a key to that organization’s ongoing health and strength.
While our State Bar is comprised of 34 percent women, I am only the second woman President in its history, and I am the only President also to be a mother. But help is on the way. We are fortunate to have another woman now as an officer, our new Treasurer, Patrise Perkins-Hooker, who served the past year as Secretary. The Young Lawyers Division has done an exemplary job of promoting diversity and inclusion in its leadership. I congratulate Stephanie Kirijan on her efforts in that regard this past year.
When the leadership of an organization is truly representative of the membership, the members more readily support the organization and are much more committed to it. I believe diversity in and of itself is a positive desired thing because it allows all points of view to be heard and considered. It makes one stop and reconsider the framework through which you view all issues and makes you actually take a minute and put yourself in someone else’s shoes before reaching any decision.
Diversity builds strength and stamina, which is a Darwinian concept but has proven true throughout all of nature. I guess this is the one time I can say that Bachelor of Science in Biology from Vanderbilt has paid off. Nature favors diversity.
Therefore, at every opportunity I have promoted diversity and inclusion as President of the State Bar.
For example, until just this April, the ICLE did not have any policy to include diversity on faculty panels of seminars. When I saw the statistics that out of the sixteen hundred or so speakers at ICLE seminars in 2011, only 28 percent were women speakers and only 8 percent were minority speakers, I felt we could and should do better at inclusion in these seminars.
At my request, the ICLE Board in April approved and adopted a Policy on Faculty Diversity, which states in part: “Diversity and Inclusion in the faculty pool on substantive legal issues will enhance the mission of ICLE” and that “Program chairs shall make every effort to implement this policy….”
“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities”
― Stephen R. Covey
Good advice for us to keep in mind.
2nd Women President/GTLA
ATL Bar Litigation Section
State Bar BOG
Ran for Secretary against incumbent
2nd woman President/State Bar of GA
The Importance of mentors-mine have all been men. There weren’t many women trial lawyers around 25 years ago to mentor me when I started practicing law. Men have no idea what it is like to try a case while pregnant and having to use the bathroom every 30 minutes without being able to take a break. Or having to pump your breasts in the Fulton County Courthouse bathroom while waiting on a jury because you are still breastfeeding your child. But they were all progressive men and my champions. Justice Ginsburg in a 2010 ABA Journal article defined such progressive men as “people who think women should have equal chances to do whatever their talent permits them to do.” My mentors realized the need to include women in our endeavors to strengthen our profession. Your mentors can be women. Or you can be a mentor to another woman. It is extremely important to have mentors to show you the way, cheer for you on the sidelines, gut it out with you in the tough times, support you, encourage you and give you a hand up.
People often ask me how do I do it? How do I maintain my trial practice as a sole practitioner while being President of the State Bar of Georgia, serving as the 2nd Vice President of the Lawyers Club of Atlanta and raising two children? I typically respond that women are the natural Multitaskers, capable of keeping numerous balls up in the air at once. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, just backwards and in high heels! The truth is I have an incredible partner, my husband (he likes to refer to himself these days as “The First Dude”) Bill Clark, who is without question one of the most progressive men I have ever known. Bill has never felt threatened by my success, but has been my biggest fan. Justice Ginsburg felt the same way about her husband, Martin, who always supported her career. Justice Ginsburg said in that 2010 ABA article: “That’s my dream for the world. That a child should have two caring parents who share the joys and often the burdens. It really does take a man who regards his wife as his best friend, his equal, his true partner in life.”
Which raises the issue recently debated in the media of whether women can have it all? To which I enthusiastically say “hell yes.” You’ll recall the article by Anne-Marie Slaughter in the July/August issue of Atlantic Magazine entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” sparked enormous discussion in the social media. Some agreed with Ms. Slaughter; others thought she had single-handedly set back women’s progress by 100 years. Interestingly, as a result of that article and it’s furor, Ms. Slaughter has secured a deal to have Random House publish a book written by her that expands on the subject, due out in 2014. So maybe Ms. Slaughter will be able to “have it all” after all! I’d certainly like to hear Justice Ginsburg’s or Judge Grubbs thoughts on it. Then Marissa Mayer, the 37 year old CEO of Yahoo, announced she was pregnant and you would have thought it had been announced that the Earth no longer revolved around the sun. It is interesting to note that Ms. Mayer became only the 20th current female CEO of a Fortune 500 company…that’s only 4 percent of Fortune 500 chiefs. But is there any doubt she will have the resources at her disposal to help her raise her child while fulfilling the duties as CEO of Yahoo? Is having it all merely a matter of money?? Anne Marie Slaughter said this about Ms. Mayer: “She’s superhuman, rich and in charge. She isn’t really a realistic role model for hundreds of thousands of women who are trying to figure out how you make it to the top and have a family at the same time.”
So who is right? I believe we have many, many realistic role models in this very room for our younger women who are now trying to make their paths. I began my own law firm while pregnant with my second child and walked out of a very comfortable, reputable law firm without a single client to my name. I did it because I believed in myself and my abilities. I had always been told by my parents I could do anything. My path has been to get involved in my profession at every level and at every opportunity, and it has worked for me. I recommend it to you as one potential path to success, both in your profession and your personal life.
I encourage you to get involved in professional associations or other volunteer work outside your job. Involvement in GAWL is a wonderful choice. You never know who you might influence. Following an address this summer I gave to the State Court Judges in Athens, a young woman at Athens UGA who had simply been helping me with my audio/visual equipment said she had been thinking about attending law school but wasn’t quite sure about it, but now that she heard my speech she had made up her mind and was definitely going to law school. As a mother of an 18 year old son and a 15 year old daughter, I am extremely cognizant of the example I set for them professionally and personally. My daughter, Alex, wrote on Facebook that she thought her mom was an incredible role model. That was better than any victory I could ever achieve in court.
Why is it a good idea to get involved in your profession?
#1 reason-to enrich your life.
No question your life will be better if you really get involved in your world outside of your job and in your professional associations. Throw your energy into something unselfishly that has no logical relation to your practice. Roll up your sleeves and jump in.
I have made friendships with many incredible people whose paths I might never have crossed but for working in the Bar. My life is the richer for it. These people have set an incredible example of service and selflessness for me and I am a better person just for having spent time with them.
Getting involved in the bar and as a mentor makes you more well-rounded and have a balanced life, and that is a desirable thing. The lawyer who is one-dimensional and does nothing other than sleep at night and practice law all day for 12 hours or more a day is a miserable person. There is no balance to her life and trust me, no one wants to be around that woman. They are no fun and simply not pleasant. Ten years from now they’ll regret it.
#2-it enhances your professional life.
These days it is highly unlikely you will stay in the same firm or company your entire career. That is rare today. The person you meet at the next professional meeting may be your partner a year from now. Or may be the person who refers the next big case or client to you. Or the person you work alongside in a committee and become close friends with in 10 ten years is on the bench, or State Bar President. My 3rd year law school mock trial partner is now a judge on the Court of Appeals bench. President Bartlett: “Decisions are made by those who show up.” If you want to have an influence on where the profession of law in Georgia is headed, show up.
#3-It gives you a greater purpose than just yourself.
A person should not only be about making money. It’s too shallow. It’s not satisfactory enough. If all we do is work, we become a boring one-dimensional person. Throw yourself into volunteer work for whatever is your passion. Find your passion. It will be your path to giving back. Luke 12:48 says: Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities! (The Message). Or from the King James Version: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”
We have a moral duty to help one another. Amy W. Schulman, executive vice-president and general counsel of Pfizer and president and general manager of Pfizer Nutrition, who this summer was awarded the Margaret Brent Women of Achievement Award from the ABA, said she was honored to be granted the award and remarked on the shift in how gender issues are discussed. Instead of addressing the essential problems that create inequity, she observed, women are being characterized as “wanting it all” or demanding more than they need.
“It’s not that we want too much or blindly think we’re entitled to it all, but as long as that is the lens through which we allow the conversation to be conducted … that will be the vehicle for which we will be divided and conquered,” Schulman said.
Which brings me to my closing thought…and it is often my closing thought in every speech I give…and that is “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.” This is literally written on the wall of my office. I believe it and it is that philosophy of mutual good and shared connections that has directed my entire career and my work on behalf of the Georgia State Bar. We are all in this together, women even more so, and we must mentor other women and encourage other women and cheer each other on. By doing this for others, we will lift up ourselves unknowingly in the process. The more you help someone else the more you help yourself. The less you think of yourself the smaller your problems become. If you are one of the women who has benefited by someone pulling you through that door of success, it is now your turn to reach back your hand and help a sister through that door. Have we made strides in the last 20 years? Yes, without question. Are we at a point where we can simply declare that our work is done? Undoubtedly, no. We still have work to do. So let’s get to work.
When I was sworn in as President, I had my bible turned to Hebrews 10:22 and I think that passage is appropriate to share with you now: “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out…spurring each other on.”
Let’s spur each other on toward our goal…our Profession is depending on us and our children are depending on us. We are a nation of trailblazers, explorers and dreamers. We can have it all in a country that guarantees you the Freedom to try. We can have it all with a profession that gives you the Freedom to write your own story on a clean slate.
Thank you again for your support and good will. I will never ever take it for granted. I hope you will remember in the coming year that the State Bar of GA stands as a beacon to promote the cause of justice, to respect the rule of law and to protect the rights of all citizens of the State of GA.
God Bless you, God Bless the Great State of Georgia.
Robin Frazer Clark