New Survey Reveals Female Lawyers In Florida Face Bias

By Elaine Silvestrini

Tampa Tribune, Fla.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr)  A recent survey of young female lawyers by the Florida Bar determined gender bias remains pervasive in the state's legal system. One female lawyer from Tampa says her firm is trying to fight gender bias through a women's networking group that is focused on encouraging women in leadership. Rachel Feinman says, "When women build each other up, it makes us all stronger as attorneys," 

Tampa Tribune, Fla.

One female lawyer reported that a colleague was told by a supervisor she was acting as if her child was more important than her job.

Another said work colleagues assumed she had no private life because she wasn't married and didn't have children.

And still others said they learned that male attorneys were paid more than women with the same qualifications.

They and many others responded to a recent survey of young female lawyers by the Young Lawyers Division of the Florida Bar, which determined gender bias remains pervasive in the state's legal system.

In fact, the survey found 43 percent of respondents saying they'd experienced gender bias in their career and 42 percent said they had difficulties maintaining a balance between work and their private lives.

Florida Bar President Ray Abadin says these findings are shocking and unacceptable.

"I thought we had made much more progress on gender issues," Abadin said. "Those are things that were happening when I was a young lawyer 30 years ago and were unacceptable then."

It also comes at a time when women are growing as a percentage of attorneys in the state. Women make up 37 percent of the total Florida Bar membership, but 48 percent of the Young Lawyers Division, which includes all lawyers under age 36.

William Schifino, who is president-elect of the state Bar, said he, too, is disappointed by the results of the survey. "I had hoped that the needle had been moved more than it had been," he said. The Bar, he said, has been addressing diversity for years. The Bar's diversity committee is its most popular, to the point where they had to cap the number of lawyers who could join at 100, he said.

"These issues aren't unique to our profession. These are societal issues. We've been leaders in addressing these issues," Schifino said. "We need to continue to be vigilant and get the word out that the conduct is unacceptable not just in our profession, but in society as a whole."

Coincidentally, the American Bar Association reported last week that female lawyers earn 77 percent of what male lawyers make.

The Florida Bar random survey of more than 400 young female lawyers found 21 percent felt they were not paid the same as male counterparts.

More than 25 percent of respondents to the survey said they resigned from a position because of a lack of advancement opportunities, a lack of work-life balance and/or insensitivity from supervisors, and 42 percent said they had trouble balancing work and personal life responsibilities.

Tampa lawyer Rachel Feinman said she was glad to see such a survey was conducted, and surprised more women didn't express having difficulties balancing work and personal life demands.

When the survey was released, she said, her friends who are female attorneys were all talking about it and sharing it on social media.

Feinman said she's been practicing law for 10 years, and when she first started out, sometimes people would assume she was a paralegal rather than an attorney, and she was given menial tasks not given to male counterparts.

She said she always includes the word "esquire" or "attorney" with her signatures, something she says male counterparts may not find necessary to avoid confusion.

Still, Feinman says her law firm, Hill Ward Henderson, is very supportive. She was made partner when out on maternity leave after giving birth to her second child. "That spoke significantly about the firm and the fact that they understood my place and role in the firm," she said.

Still, work/life balance can pose challenges. She once had to leave a client lunch when her nanny had been locked out of the house by her 2-year-old.

"It is a daily struggle," she said. "From getting the calls from the school that one of your children is sick and trying to figure out who is going to pick up the child when you've got a conference call at 3 or a text from your child care provider that your kids don't have milk. It's a constant balancing act to make it all work and you need multiple players in the game if you will."

"There's times where life just clearly wins out over work," she said. "When you have kids, I think that happens more frequently."

Feinman said her law firm supports diversity, including a women's networking group that is focused on encouraging women to bolster each other professionally. "When women build each other up, it makes us all stronger as attorneys," she said. This is important in recruiting new talent, she said, and also a priority to many clients.

Feinman said she's a corporate lawyer, which she described as an area of law dominated by men.

"I've found on a number of occasions, being a woman actually works to my advantage," she said. She said that translates into her having "skills that actually help and has made me successful ... level of organization, communications skills, that kind of stuff."

Another Tampa lawyer, Lauren Raines, had a similar outlook. She said she's been fortunate because she hasn't experienced some of the gender biases she's seen and heard about from other legal colleagues.

Raines is also a mother of two young children, and after she gave birth to her second child, her firm, Quarles & Brady, provided a flexible work schedule to enable her to strike the right balance.

She said the firm views this arrangement as an investment in the future of its employees. "That speaks for Quarles & Brady," she said. "And I don't think that's the norm. ... Other women, and I've talked to them in the community, aren't having these same opportunities."

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