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Last year, when a Philadelphia area newspaper used the references “missy” and “girl politician” to describe congressional candidate Melissa Hart, several women submitted letters to the editor, expressing their displeasure. If the publication wasn’t taking a woman candidate seriously, let alone one serving her third term in the state Senate, how were the voters of the region to react? these women asked. Their message was clear: The newspaper offended not only Hart but other women, too. The letter writers, members of the Women’s Bar Association, thought it was their duty to point that out. “Discrimination still exists, but it’s in a more subtle form than it used to be,” said Shelly Pagac, the association’s new co-president. “The majority of law school students are female, and, when they graduate, some women feel discrimination is no longer an issue. Once they are out of school a few years, they realize it can happen. There are still obstacles to being a woman attorney.” Some recently disclosed numbers support that statement. The Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Commission on the Women in the Profession has issued a “report card,” which appears to say that the number of women in firm management and high-level jobs in Pennsylvania is not commensurate with the number of women graduating from law school. Pagac said the discrimination and the obstacles for women used to be more blatant. Thirteen years ago, when a federal judge refused to allow a woman attorney to use her maiden name, the Women’s Bar Association was born. “You need an organization that can bring attention to certain issues, if necessary,” Pagac said. “The association got together to end gender bias in the court and legal community.” Pagac, 37, a native of Richeyville, Pa., became involved with the Women’s Bar Association in 1992, the same year she joined Meyer Darragh Buckler Bebenek & Eck. She worked at Ross & Hardies in Chicago for three years and then briefly at another Pittsburgh law firm before joining Meyer Darragh. Another of the firm’s attorneys, Vicki Linn Beatty, was a founding member of the Women’s Bar Association and encouraged Pagac to get involved. Although the number often varies, Pagac said, the Women’s Bar Association has 150 members. Membership isn’t restricted to women practicing in Allegheny County, but most of the members practice there, she said. Now, as co-president, Pagac is trying to increase awareness of the association’s goals and generate more interest among the women members of the region’s legal community. “We’d like to have more members, but one drawback is that many firms no longer pay professional dues for their lawyers,” she said. “Our challenge is to make it interesting and worthwhile, especially when most members are paying out of pocket.” Pagac said her goals for the coming year include increasing membership and improving technology, possibly by creating a Web site. The association has monthly activities aimed at networking and increasing awareness about issues surrounding women lawyers. Some of these activities include continuing legal education courses (preferably with women presenters), group golf lessons, an annual golf outing, an annual judicial reception usually held in the fall, a new admittees reception to honor women who just passed the bar, and networking luncheons. The association also presents the Susan B. Anthony Award annually to someone who has made efforts to improve gender relations within the legal community or the judiciary. Some past recipients include Carol McCarthy, a family lawyer in Allegheny County, 3rd Circuit Judge Carol Los Mansmann and Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Livingstone M. Johnson. Pagac, a chairwoman of Meyer Darragh’s labor and employment practice, said the association has a diverse membership, with attorneys practicing in areas from litigation to family law to public-sector law. “Our members span the whole spectrum,” Pagac said. “When you work at a law firm, it’s nice to have outside contact. You have people dealing with some of the same issues and also some different ones. You need an organization that can bring attention to certain issues when necessary.” Pagac was co-chairwoman of the public affairs committee for the association last year. Mary Beth Buchanan, now in her second year as co-president, recommended Pagac for the second co-president position. “I worked with her while she was co-chairing the public affairs committee and thought she did an excellent job,” said Buchanan, an assistant in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Pittsburgh and member of the Allegheny County Bar Association’s judiciary committee. “She’s efficient, did excellent work and is a credit to the Women’s Bar Association.” Carol Hesz, a member of the executive board of the association and an associate with Burns White & Hickton of Pittsburgh, echoed Buchanan’s opinion regarding Pagac’s abilities. “Shelly has excellent people skills, and she’s well-known in the legal community,” Hesz said. “She will be a good liaison between our organization and the legal community.” PBA COMMISSION REPORT CARD Buchanan also served on the PBA’s Commission on the Women in the Profession. The commission’s mission statement says its goal is to ensure “full and equal participation of women in the PBA, the legal profession and the justice system.” To further those goals, the commission monitors the status of women in the legal profession, identifies their career paths and goals, and promotes their advancement and achievement. Pagac said the commission’s findings in its recently released report card showed some startling statistics that reinforce the need for a group like the Women’s Bar Association. The statistics were gathered from responses to surveys sent to the 100 largest Pennsylvania firms reported in PaLaw 2000. Forty-two of the 100 firms responded to the commission. Women accounted for 27.1 percent of all lawyers in private firms, but only 5.1 percent of managing partners, 13.8 percent of department heads and 14.2 percent of partners. Women account for 40.8 percent of associates and 78.5 percent of part-timers. In district attorney offices, women account for 38 percent of all lawyers, 11.4 percent of the district attorneys and 14.3 percent of first assistants. Women in public defender offices across the state constitute 26.7 percent of all lawyers working in those offices, with 10.3 percent as public defenders, 40.9 percent as first assistants and 18.6 percent as part-timers. The commission does note that part-time assistant public defender positions are “desirable” positions. In the state judiciary, 26 of the state’s 67 counties have women on the bench. In Western Pennsylvania, four of the seven counties have women. Allegheny County has eight women and 32 men. Beaver County has no women and six men. Butler County has one woman and three men. Greene County has no women and two men. Mercer County has no women and three men. Washington County has two women and three men. Westmoreland County has two women and nine men. Fayette County has no women and five men. The state supreme court has one woman justice. Thirty-three percent of Commonwealth Court judges are women, and 27 percent of Superior Court judges are women. At the federal level, for the Western District, 14 percent of the district judges are women, while 33 percent of magistrate judges and 20 percent of bankruptcy judges are women. On the 3rd Circuit, three of the five women on the 12-member bench are from Pennsylvania. Within the Pennsylvania Bar Association, women represent 29.2 percent of the board of governors, 19.9 percent of the house of delegates and 30 percent of the nominating committee. The house of delegates is the body charged with setting the policy of the PBA. The board of governors manages and carries out policies established by the house of delegates. The nominating committee selects one candidate for each of the general offices of the association to be presented to the house of delegates for consideration. The number of women in prominent positions within the PBA has declined recently. Women represented 20.8 percent of the board of governors in 1995, 45.8 percent in the 1999-2000 year, and just under 30 percent today. Similarly, the number of nominating committee seats held by women decreased from 40 percent in 1999-2000 to 30 percent in 2000-01. Pagac said those numbers clearly indicate that women are underrepresented in higher-ranking positions and over-represented in the lowest-paying and least-powerful positions in firms. “It’s our job to keep an eye on what’s happening,” Pagac said.

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