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Some say the war is over. The “war,” that is, for gender fairness or gender equality or gender neutrality in firms and our profession. Remember this: War is defined as a sustained hostile conflict between parties. Therefore, it was war when women lawyers and their many male allies openly challenged the entrenched mentality that only white males were permitted to advance in firms. The hostility was evident, and it lasted a long time. Today, with the exception of sporadic flare-ups from the radical wing of anti-feminism, many of the large battles have been fought and won. No one should long for the thrill of that combat. I certainly don’t. What I worry about, however, is the belief on the part of many in our profession that if the war is over, there’s nothing left to fight for. Combine that with the fact that many women lawyers don’t have time to engage in combat, what with the fact that they now have the opportunity to become partner, so long as they bill enough hours, bring in enough business and successfully balance that strenuous effort with a life outside the office. I can remember my father telling me in 1976 during my first year of law school that I could have the best of both worlds. He just didn’t know how hard it would be. Too many people are acceding to the notion today that they’ve got too much on their plates to be distracted by gender issues or that issues of gender fairness have not affected them. However, I sense that awareness and concern may be increasing again — and that women in the early stages of their careers sense that something may be amiss in their professional progress. In the American Lawyer annual associates survey for 2001, the following observation was made with respect to at least one large firm: “A disturbing note: Mid-levels north and south of the Mason-Dixon line complained about unfair treatment of women associates.” Young lawyers who entered law school and our profession after the major battles were won are beginning to face obstacles to their career advancement — obstacles they wanted to believe did not exist. They do exist, and have existed forever. What can each of us do to help? First, remember that each of us is responsible for her own career development. You must be involved internally and externally. For example, at the firm I work at, we have a strong women’s initiative, run by a dedicated cadre of partners and associates with the help of an external advisory committee. At the risk of appearing overly partisan, it’s a wonderful effort that is bearing fruit and will go further than many of us can now imagine with the participation of all involved. What it needs, however, is an ongoing commitment from fresh minds — young and old, male and female — who are willing to engage and work with the leaders of the initiative. This will prevent the initiative from devolving into a top-down, consultant-driven program that risks missing problems in their infancy, allowing them to grow into big problems that drive capable young women lawyers away. Other organizations also need to face these difficult issues and deal with them aggressively in today’s marketplace. It will take hard work to make sure these problems don’t persist. According to a recent study by Catalyst, the nonprofit research and advisory organization working to advance women in business and other professions, there are more women than men in law school in the United States, but only about 15 percent of all firm partners are women. Turnover among female associates remains higher than male turnover. More and more in the ranks of corporate counsel are women, and they are insisting that the firms they hire demonstrate the same commitment to gender diversity that their companies have. OPPORTUNITY AND SECURITY In other words, it’s clear there is a business case to be made for rooting out and eliminating those problems that stand in the way of women’s ability to advance in firms and business cultures. So how can we motivate overloaded, mentally taxed, ambitious women lawyers to play a role in solving the problems that remain? What are we hearing? “If the war is over, why risk getting shot?” “If we’ve got a committee that’s handling these issues, let it handle them.” “Please, don’t bother me now, I’ve got a week’s worth of depositions to prepare for, and my kids are in two different youth soccer leagues, and it’s my turn to drive them and their friends to the games.” “Give me a concrete answer as to how this new initiative is going to help me — what is in it for me?” Let me tell you what is in it for you. Opportunity and security. Young lawyers must realize that career development is a two-way street. We need individual and organizational commitment to promote opportunity. We need to work together on developing programs to foster and enhance marketing, communications and leadership-related skills. Firms and businesses must realize that “one size does not fit all” when developing plans for business and marketing skills. You must do it your way, and we need to provide programs to assist you in that effort. Programs that can assist you in determining your particular strengths and how to build on those strengths do exist — don’t just attempt to imitate the “cold call champion” of business development. It’s not my style, and it’s probably not yours. Ask for help, but don’t just present the problem, offer a solution. Take responsibility for your career. Not only will you be more satisfied with yourself, but you also will meet wonderful men and women who want to continue to improve our profession, society and each other in the process. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Progress does not occur automatically but requires a concerted effort to change habitual modes of thinking and action.” Be involved. We all need you. Paula W. Hinton is a litigation partner in the Houston office of Vinson & Elkins. She is past chairwoman of the Women in the Profession Committee of the State Bar of Texas and currently co-chair of the Texas Supreme Court’s Gender Fairness Task Force.

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