Millions of people across the country will soon better understand the struggles that women lawyers face every day to succeed in the legal profession.
Starting in July, more than 260 public television stations across the country will begin showing the documentary “Balancing the Scales,” a film by Georgia lawyer and filmmaker Sharon Rowen. American Public Media is distributing the film to affiliates in all the major markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami and Atlanta. Stations are allowed to play the show any time over the next two years.
The movie delves into how discrimination against women lawyers has changed over the years, why female lawyers currently are leaving the legal profession en masse, and which cultural biases about work and childcare are still impacting women lawyers.
The hourlong film features U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred, former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, many other top lawyers and judges, as well as young associates and even law students.
For 20 years, Rowen, who directed, produced and narrated the film, has been interviewing female legal pioneers for the documentary. It was a major victory to get distribution nationwide.
“It was completely driven from the ground up, and I just started getting calls from everywhere in the country, and one person led to another,” said Rowen, a trial lawyer at Rowen & Klonoski in Atlanta. “It’s been a grass roots kind of thing and nobody has been more surprised than me.”
The leaders of law firms across the country know they have a problem with attrition of female attorneys, but they don’t know how to solve it, Rowen said. Women make up more than 47 percent of law school graduates, according to data from the American Bar Association, but they account for just 18 percent of equity partners in private practice.
Law firms bring in speakers and consultants but have never had a visual representation of the problem—until they saw Rowen’s film.
“This is like the only thing out there where they get a firsthand experience from all these women speaking honestly about what their problems are,” she said. “It kind of lets the men in on the problem.”
She said she hopes that winning such a large public television audience will enable her to make a statement about a wider societal problem. Discrimination against women applies to woman in every profession and field, she said.
“Women are going to feel some common bond with it,” Rowen said. “The idea women lawyers have the same problems as everyone else in terms of gender equality is enlightening to people.”