GPSolo Magazine - September 2005

They Broke Through the Ceiling: A Tale of Three Women Glass Cutters

By Beth Finke

Every year after the Business Law Section’s spring luncheon, they sneak off to the hotel bar. Sipping martinis and giving toasts, this gaggle of spunky women has a lot to celebrate.

They’re the Glass Cutters.

The Jean Allard Glass Cutter Award is presented annually to a woman business lawyer who has made significant contributions to the profession and to the Section of Business Law. The award is named for Jean Allard, the first woman to chair the Section and the first to be given the Glass Cutter Award back in 1993.

The way former Glass Cutter winner Elizabeth S. Stong sees it, this particular group of women is not in jeopardy of becoming overly formal. “It’s a tremendously inspiring and energetic group,” says Stong, a U.S. bankruptcy judge for the Eastern District of New York.

The Glass Cutters are women she has looked up to and admired for years, she says, still recalling her surprise at receiving the award in 2003.

No stranger to honors and awards, Judge Stong chaired the Section’s Business and Corporate Litigation Committee from 2000 to 2003, is now the vice chair of the Rules Subcommittee of the Business Bankruptcy Committee, serves on the Advisory Committee of President Robert Grey’s American Jury Project, and is a member of the ABA House of Delegates. After serving as liaison to the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, Stong now finds herself dealing with similar concerns in her role as president of the Harvard Law School Association.

Stong points out that men in the profession face the same challenges women do when balancing home and work. “You know, men become parents, too,” she says. “But I think family issues are much more demographically on the front burner because of the wonderful number of women entering the profession.”

Taking time to find just the right word to describe the issue at hand, Stong ponders for a moment. “The word is not ‘accommodate,’” she finally says. “Because I think it’s important not to think of it as a special accommodation.” Another pause, and she’s got it. “The question is how to facilitate lawyers having rich and full practice lives, while also having rich and full outside lives. Including family lives.”

After receiving a J.D. from Harvard Law in 1982, Stong served as a law clerk. An associate with the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York City from 1983 until 1987, Stong then became an associate and a partner with the law firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York City.

Appointed as a federal bankruptcy judge on September 2, 2003, Stong is ebullient when describing her job on the bench. “It’s intellectually and personally satisfying every single day,” she says. “Your client is the justice system, and your job is to get it right. And you spend the time it takes to do that.”

With a long list of editorial positions and publications already under her belt, Stong enjoys the writing involved in her work. Having always enjoyed her work in law firms, Stong guesses she’d be in private practice the next 20 years if not for the judicial appointment. “I truly love my work with the court—I loved private practice, but I never knew a job could be so personally and professionally satisfying.”

Glass Cutter Barbara Mendel Mayden hopes Stong is right about the benefits of combining parenting and practicing law. “I’m juggling my family—three kids and a husband—with chairing the Section of Business Law,” she says.

Mayden was with the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in New York City before moving to Nashville in 1995. After taking time off work altogether, she accepted an adjunct position teaching law at Vanderbilt. From there she settled in with the law firm of Bass, Berry & Sims, PLC, in its Nashville office.

Winning the Glass Cutter Award was particularly significant to Mayden, who remembers having very few female role models when she began her law career at Atlanta’s King and Spalding in 1976. “There really were no paradigms for what women did. Or what they didn’t do.”

She focused on business law, realizing it could be less confrontational than other specialties. “You’re trying to get to win-win. It’s just much less of a contentious environment than other areas of law.”

Glass Cutter Linda Hayman agrees. “A good business lawyer is trying very hard to plan in advance in order to avoid litigation,” says Hayman, a partner in the firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in New York City.

Hayman began her career as a lawyer with Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP in Columbus, Ohio. Large transaction-oriented firms were very good places for women to gain acceptance on an equal footing with men, Hayman says. Still, she acknowledges working in a law firm is no walk in the park.

After years staying up late waiting for her mom to come home from work, Hayman’s daughter is now an associate just down the street from Hayman. Watching her daughter’s career path, Hayman is especially keen to issues facing younger women in business law these days. Entry into business law is no longer a problem, Hayman says. “The challenge for us today is to keep women in the profession. Women just aren’t staying in the same numbers as men.”

Acknowledging the biological clock’s role, Hayman says, “I watch so many women come here to New York City hoping to get married, have children, and establish a career—all before they turn 35,” she says. “That’s a lot of living to compact into only five or six years—not much time to accomplish so many important things.”

So while she touts the meritocracy of private practice, Hayman acknowledges that the travel, long hours, and inevitable stress can be the undoing for some women business lawyers.

Men are not to blame for the low number of females advancing in corporate law, Hayman insists. “Men have been tremendously valuable to me in my career, very supportive,” she says. “For most women my age, their only mentors were men.”

“I just don’t think it’s men sitting up there who don’t let you in.”

The most frustrating thing about all this, says Hayman, is that she doesn’t have an answer. “You can say, well, let’s just have women do a little less, and it just ends up on that mommy track thing,” she says. “You know, there is some value in doing these deals in Hong Kong and whatever. A guy who’s not on the mommy track, he’s racing along doing three deals while the woman does one. There’s a point at which, face it, he’s more valuable.”

That glass ceiling still exists, Hayman concedes. “Come time to make partners in the law firm, or pick the general counsel in a private company, or whatever the big steps are, there are just so few women who are left in tenure.”

That, says Hayman, must be the goal for women in corporate law today. “Not just to be a lawyer. Not just to go to law school. Or to get an entry-level position as a lawyer.

“But to break that ceiling. To move up through the ranks.”

Beth Finke is a Chicago freelance writer and a commentator for Morning Edition on National Public Radio. She can be reached at info@bethfinke.com.

For More Information About the Business Law Section

- This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared on page 19 of Business Law Today, March/April 2005 (14:4).

- For more information or to obtain a copy of the periodical in which the full article appears, please call the ABA Service Center at 800/285-2221.

- Website: www.ababusinesslaw.org.

- Periodicals: Business Law Today, bimonthly magazine; The Business Lawyer, quarterly law journal.

- Books and Other Recent Publications: Corporate Director’s Guidebook, 4th ed.; The Portable UCC, 4th ed.; The New Bankruptcy Code; Fund Director’s Guidebook, 2d ed.; Guidebook for the Directors of Nonprofit Corporations, 2d ed.; Managing Closely Held Corporations: A Legal Guidebook; Prototype Limited Liability Partnership Agreement; Model Asset Purchase Agreement with Commentary; The Practitioner’s Guide to Sarbanes-Oxley.

 

 

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