As I begin my term as chair of the Commission on Women in the Profession, I am mindful of the legacy of those who came before me and what an honor it is to serve in this role. The Commission was founded in August 1987 to evaluate the status of women in the legal profession, which was quickly followed by the appointment of Hillary Rodham Clinton of Little Rock, Arkansas, as its first chair.
The first several years for the Commission were busy, with nationwide hearings on the status of women in the legal profession and the establishment of the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Awards to honor women who have achieved professional excellence and paved the way for other women in the legal profession. The Commission’s good work continued. Following the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings that exposed the need for education on sexual harassment in 1991, the Commission published Lawyers and Balanced Lives: A Guide to Drafting and Implementing Sexual Harassment Policies for Lawyers (1992).
As the years have gone by, the Commission’s legacy has been further boosted through the publication of numerous reports and books focused on exploring and documenting the experiences of women lawyers of all races and ethnicities, as well as presenting strategies and recommendations to maximize their chance of success. In 2006, the Commission published the seminal report Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms, presenting the findings of a survey and focus group research and concluding with specific recommendations for law firms interested in retaining women of color.
In more recent years, the Commission has continued to present work about reducing gender and racial bias in the legal profession. The year 2018 marked the release of You Can’t Change What You Can’t See: Interrupting Racial & Gender Bias in the Legal Profession, in partnership with the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. This important report, available at http://ambar.org/biasinterrupters, includes specific steps to reduce bias tailored to law firms and in-house legal department environments. In 2020, the Commission released the This Talk Isn’t Cheap Toolkit, http://ambar.org/guidedconversations, part of the Guided Conversations Project. This toolkit provides a guide to improving conversations about gender, race, and ethnicity so all women can work together to combat barriers to advancement in the legal profession. To encourage these important conversations, the Commission has held multiple Day of Conversation events, with another planned for early 2024.
While it is not possible to present here all the good work that the Commission has accomplished since its founding, I can say how I plan to continue its rich legacy. During my time as chair, I hope to heighten awareness of the Commission’s activities and reports in the legal community at large and ensure that all are aware of the wealth of resources available—often free of charge. Two research studies begun during the term of former Commission Chair Honorable Maureen Mulligan will be released in the coming year with associated programming; one considers the impact of child caregiving on the careers of lawyers (especially its impact on women lawyers), and the other looks at the experiences of Native American women lawyers and how they differ generationally. Looking further ahead, I anticipate the Commission looking at mental wellness for women in law, reaching out to additional lawyers in the in-house legal space, and inviting them to become more involved in our work.
If you have questions about the Commission and how your organization can make use of the many resources available or support our work, please do not hesitate to contact me.