A cyberspace coalition of women law students known as “Ms. JD” is set to go live from New York on a Saturday night next month – and Friday, too – at the Marriott East Side.
With underwriting from Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, the online group will host a line-up of notable judges and practitioners during its April 4-5 “Leadership Summit” of women students from 50 law campuses representing 30 states, according to organizer Anna Nelson, a second-year at Yale Law School.
The idea is to create a national sorority to advance the professional prospects of women law school graduates, and to provide them with ongoing career mentoring from practitioners.
Summit speakers and panelists include Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye; Barbara Babcock, the first female professor at Stanford Law School; and Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for the online magazine Slate.
“Women have been the majority at law schools for close to a decade now, and yet women are very under-represented at the top of the legal profession,” Ms. Nelson said in an interview. “It’s not a pipeline problem. So, what is the problem?”
Answers to that question are the stuff of the Ms. JD Web site, established two years ago at www.ms-jd.org. It offers a menu of essays, reader posts and service articles under often humorous headings such as “What Women Lawyers Want Is for You to Stop Asking What We Want (and Do Your Own Laundry).”
A national sorority that joins women students and accomplished practitioners, said Ms. Nelson, could serve as a “pressure point for change” in the legal profession. Despite good intentions, she said, there exists little in the way of a “culture of sharing and support across the boundaries” of campus and practice.
“Especially at the smaller, more regional schools, where resources are limited, women have a harder time finding the support they need,” said Ms. Nelson. “Law schools, like law firms, are pretty isolationist. They’re committed to the success of their students and their lawyers, but there’s sort of a wall between the two.”
She added, “We want to start a mentoring program to get students early on, and build enough of a [practitioner] community nationally to take everything forward.”
Issues faced by women that Ms. Nelson said “might seem trivial” are addressed in Web site posts: Should I wear my hair short or long? Should I wear my wedding ring? Should I talk about my partner? Should I ask about maternity leave?
Such quotidian issues are quite real, she said, but are “never the things that a male associate has to face.”
Ms. Nelson said about 100 women have registered to attend the April 4-5 summit, which in addition to lighter moments has a serious theme at heart, given the natural and nurtured differences between the sexes.
“Women and men have to make choices about their priorities,” said Ms. Nelson. “The choice of giving and deferring to someone else is a loving and supportive choice, but it can have a high professional cost. When we have women across the country putting off careers for their children or partners, it has collective repercussions.”
She added, “We need to figure out ways around those costs. We can’t solve these things individually.”
- Thomas Adcock may be reached at email@example.com.