President’s Message: Food for Thought and a Call for Action

WDC Journal Edition: Winter 2016
By: Laura M. Lyons, President, Wisconsin Defense Counsel

He walked into a deposition, wearing a suit. He had file materials with him. The receptionist told him that the attorneys weren’t ready for the court reporter yet and asked him to wait in a nearby area.

He was talking to some colleagues. They told him he should smile more. They explained that he looked better that way, more handsome and more approachable.

He wore a new suit and brought a new briefcase to a court appearance. The more experienced female attorney saw him before their case was called and said, “Wow! Look at you, with your fancy briefcase looking all professional!”

He filed a motion that she didn’t like. She called him up to complain about it. When he didn’t budge, she said, “Why are you doing this? You don’t have to do this.” He explained the reason behind his motion and indicated that he was representing his client’s interests. She said, “No, I mean, why are you working as an attorney? Why aren’t you staying at home taking care of your wife and kids?”

He arrived at a motion hearing. There were many lawyers and no seats available. A more experienced female attorney told him that he could sit on her lap.

He answered a phone call at the office. The female caller did not like what she was told and asked for his female supervisor, assuming he was the subordinate. He wasn’t. He was the supervisor.

He was in his office working after the long work day. A group of female attorneys were chatting in a nearby hallway. An experienced female attorney loudly asked the others if they heard a noise. What noise, they asked? She loudly responded: “Oh, you know, the sound of his reproductive system growing old and dying before he could have children.”

Are these situations ridiculous? Yes, they are. Are they true? Yes, they are, with one modification: The genders have been flipped. All of these instances are true stories that happened to female attorneys in Wisconsin. And, unfortunately, they are not decades-old stories. All occurred within the past 10 years.

We can do better. We MUST do better.

Disagree with me? Consider these reasons in support of my position:

1. Because this is a small sampling of just a few instances. There are many more than this that female lawyers could tell you about. If you doubt me, ask around.

2. Because the attorney’s oath indicates that as an attorney you have an obligation to “maintain the respect due to courts of justice and judicial officers” and to “abstain from all offensive personality.” SCR 40.15.

3. Because no attorney, regardless of gender, should have to deal with situations like this.

4. Because you know that your daughters, nieces, sisters, and granddaughters do not deserve this treatment.

5. If those reasons aren’t enough, consider the financial component. It is simply not a workable business model to continue these practices and behaviors.

More women than ever are entering the legal field. Ignoring these issues and failing to correct them may result in loss of talent and loss of business. Need data? See the recent ABA data from May 2016 entitled “A Current Glance at Women in the Law.”

We need to start addressing these issues for all the reasons set forth above. And because, frankly, we are all better than this. I encourage you to take a stand when you see or hear of instances like this. By supporting your friends and colleagues you are helping advance the legal profession in the right direction: Toward equal footing and equal treatment, regardless of gender.

Biography:

Laura represents and advises clients in a variety of areas, including civil litigation defense and worker’s compensation. She has also handled appellate matters, including appeals to the Labor and Industry Review Commission and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. She is admitted to practice in Wisconsin and before both the Eastern and Western U.S. District Courts of Wisconsin.

Laura is a member of the Dane County Bar Association, the Wisconsin Association of Worker’s Compensation Attorneys (WAWCA), and the State Bar of Wisconsin. She is also a barrister in the James E. Doyle Inns of Court.

Laura and her husband live in Madison. She has been a Big Sister in Dane County’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program since March 2006. Laura also volunteers as a coach for the Millennium Soccer Club, which brings affordable and accessible organized youth soccer to Madison’s low-income, ethnically diverse neighborhoods. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, running, reading, and playing soccer.