December 11, 2017

Raise Your Hand, Raise Your Voice

By Michele Coleman Mayes

An important strategy in advancing your career trajectory is to be known as an expert in your field of practice. One key way to develop this reputation and increase your visibility is to be quoted by the media on issues within your areas of expertise. But reporters too often do not reach out to women as readily as they do men. We witnessed this effect in the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and American Bar Foundation’s recent study of women lawyers as lead counsel in litigation, First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table, which revealed that men are three times more likely than women to appear in lead roles in civil cases.

In its report, The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2014, the Women’s Media Center noted that, according to a University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV) analysis, men were quoted 3.4 times more often than women in page-one stories published by the New York Times during January and February 2013. The UNLV report listed several factors that could have impacted these findings, including a lack of diversity among reporters whose stories appeared on the front page, a tendency to turn to the “usual suspects,” women not stepping up to be sources, and a lack of female sources.

Why does this matter? Consider that women represent over half of the population and comprise 36 percent of the legal profession. What’s more, they bring diversity of thought to the discussion and offer voices distinct from those of their male counterparts. Why shouldn’t reporters’ sources reflect the composition of the profession and the population in general?

What can women lawyers do to level the playing field, be part of the group of “usual suspects,” and serve as go-to sources for reporters? If you want your voice to be heard, first, raise your hand. An important start is to submit your interest in serving as an expert to reporters to the ABA Communications and Media Relations Division (CMR). CMR works to generate media exposure for ABA members and entities and, toward this end, has developed a database of volunteers in various entities who have legal expertise in specific issue areas. To be included in this database, simply submit a brief form to CMR. You can download the form on the Commission on Women’s website at www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/women/2016_issue_expert_questionnaire.pdf.

Of course, there are no guarantees that you will be contacted by a reporter or, if so, how often. In addition, only the ABA president, or a person designated by the president, is authorized to speak on behalf of the ABA or about ABA policy. With any media referral, you would speak as a legal expert. That said, CMR receives numerous media inquiries, and this is a terrific opportunity for you to increase your visibility.

It has been said that one’s fortune depends on whom you know. I would like to modify this familiar piece of advice to read: It’s not whom you know, but who knows what you know. So, Ms. Legal Expert, raise your hand, raise your voice.