The Wisdom of Women in Law

Rachel Loebl is getting married. Family, friends and colleagues are thrilled for her, and personally she couldn’t be happier. Professionally? She has a something of a dilemma. As a young attorney just building her practice, she is registered in the State Bar of Michigan Directory under her maiden name. Rachel asks,“Do I lose the equity I’ve built in my practice if (and when) I change the name on my legal license to the name on my marriage license? Under the State Bar of Michigan Directory, I can only have one name. If I change my name, and someone searches for me by my maiden name, I essentially don’t exist.”

For better or worse, Rachel’s dilemma with her professional name points to just one of the challenges women in law tend to face—particularly in the early years of their practice.

Is it possible to be a partner and rainmaker as well as a wife, mother and homemaker?

Is it possible to run faster, work harder than colleagues and stay on top of your game . . .without playing golf?

Women in law know it’s a dance – a constant effort to find the balance between power and grace in a competitive, often relentless work environment. The numbers tell the story: women start out on equal footing with their male peers in law school, comprising about one-half of the graduating classes of the American Bar Association-accredited law schools. But their numbers fall quickly through attrition (marriage and babies) within their first years of practice.

Data reveals that among entry-level associates, nearly one in ten depart their firms within one year of being hired and nearly half depart within three years. Nationwide, women attorneys comprise only about 17% of the partners of their firms, even though they account for more than 70% of the attorneys working in private practice. According to the U.S. Census, one-third of U.S. lawyers and judges are now women—compared to roughly 4.8% in 1970 data —but they remain relatively rare among the top ranks of the profession.These figures suggest that, relative to total headcounts, women attorneys are under-represented in their profession.

As far as women have come in the legal profession, most can share that they are under constant pressure to outperform their male counterparts on all levels. Or to find their own creative solutions and opportunities to excel.

A case in point

A social entrepreneur in spirit, an accomplished networker and an attorney in solo practice, Rachel (who will stay Loebl in name only for the sake of her career) approached Jewish Family Service (JFS) about two years ago with a desire to provide assistance to probono to clients through the agency’s Legal Referral Service (LRS).

Rachel Loebl and Alexis Schostak
Rachel Loebl and Alexis Schostak

Rachel’s request to partner with a seasoned attorney willing to mentor her in family law immediately became the catalyst for expanding the LRS program – matching mentors with mentees through the agency’s existing network of more than 150 attorneys serving as volunteers to provide direct representation to clients primarily in the areas of Bankruptcy, Divorce and Family Law. Today, the legal support system JFS provides to families is second to none in the country, and is generously funded by the Jewish Women’s Foundation.

As Rachel started assessing the community’s needs, she soon began collaborating with other young, energetic and like-minded attorneys to co-found and become President of the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan (JBAM). Since its launch in 2014, JBAM has grown to a roster of 200 members. Partnering with JFS, as well as JVS and Federation’s NEXTGen HUB, and others in the community, JBAM has become a go-to forum for discussion and events.

Next Up: Women in Law – words of wisdom and panel discussion, August 26

In their first collaboration, JFS, JBAM and the NEXTGen Hub of the Jewish Federation will host Women in Law: Starting the Conversation in the offices of Dykema Gossett PLLC in Bloomfield Hills on Wednesday, August 26, 2015 – 5:30 p.m Reception and  6:00-7:30 p.m. Networking and Panel Discussion.  All interested professionals are welcome to attend.  To register, click here.

The evening promises to be a lively exchange for seasoned and young attorneys alike. On the guest panel are four extraordinary women in law with a wide variety of experiences and success stories to share – with Moderator, Alexis Schostak, Dykema Member and Host:

  • U.S. District Court Judge Laurie J. Michelson (Eastern District of Michigan)
  • 47th District Court Judge Marla E. Parker (Farmington /Farmington Hills)
  • Laurel Stuart-Fink, Family Law Attorney
  • Ilana Ben-Ze’ev, Partner, Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, Former Dean of Students and Wayne State University Law School

Suggested topics for discussion include: current trends and developments in law and policy that impact women, perspectives on future opportunities for women in the practice of law and tips for beginning law careers.

Moderator of the event, Alexis Schostak commented, “We are certain that Women in Law will inspire and fuel opportunities to open doors for future roles for women in our legal community. And it is our honor to have some of the brightest and most respected legal professionals serving on our panel to share their experiences and insights with attendees.”