Here is what an engaged organization looks like:

A crowded University Club for an annual Arizona Women Lawyers event, in Phoenix, Oct. 24, 2013.

A crowded University Club for an annual Arizona Women Lawyers event, in Phoenix, Oct. 24, 2013.

Not such a great picture, eh? Well, that’s what I get for attending a function put on by an active group of lawyers.

Last Thursday, I stood in a packed-to-the-gills University Club in Phoenix. There, the Arizona Women Lawyers Association gathered to mingle and to honor a great judge, Roxanne Song Ong.

Judge Roxanne Song Ong spoke briefly, describing her path toward her current position as Presiding Judge of the Phoenix Municipal Court, “the State’s largest limited jurisdiction court and among the top ten busiest municipal courts in the United States,” as the court’s website says.

The judge spoke of her challenges as a young lawyer who was also a young mother. On that path, she would work part-time as a prosecutor, meeting her office’s needs by increasing her work-week from one day, to two, and so forth, until she found herself a full-time employee. On many of those days, she would rush home to breast-feed a young child. The trek repeated itself as she moved from being a part-time pro tem judge to becoming a full-time jurist.

The popularity of the AWLA annual event is conveyed somewhat by my bad crowd photos. Here’s another. The diminutive Judge Song Ong is way up there, in the back of the photo.

Judge Roxanne Song Ong speaks at the AWLA event, Oct. 24, 2013.

Judge Roxanne Song Ong speaks at the AWLA event, Oct. 24, 2013.

Even more evocative than the number of attendees, though, is the engagement I witnessed. Here’s an example.

I spoke with many folks at the event, and by the time the prepared remarks began, I found myself toward the back of the room, standing near a group of six or so young women lawyers (that was a coincidence, I assure you).

judge roxanne song ong headshot

Hon. Roxanne Song Ong

As Judge Song Ong spoke about her life’s path, I was able to see the reaction among those young women. The judge’s description of her challenges in balancing life’s needs was met by multiple nods by the women. Time and again, they smiled at her remarks. Most telling, they caught each others’ eye, smiled broadly and nodded.

Having spoken with a few of the women at the evening reception, I know that they don’t all have growing families or spouses. They are not (yet) toiling as judges pro tem or presiding judges. And yet the judge’s remarks resonated with them. In her story, they could spy parts of their own path.

As I left the University Club that evening, I walked to the parking lot with a young lawyer who had been among that group. I was not so surprised to hear that she was headed back to the office for more work. That is not very uncommon in law. I’m confident that Judge Somg Ong’s remarks cheered her, just for a bit.

I wrote last Friday about the multiple values of diversity, among them an actual increase in quality in the legal profession. That quality was transmitted by Judge Song Ong, and appreciated in the young lawyers who seek guidance in a challenging profession. Well done.

Arizona Women Lawyers Association logo pin

Have you gotten your AWLA pin yet?

The Arizona Attorney Facebook page sports a new button on June 21, 2013.

During Convention, the Arizona Attorney Facebook page sported a new button in recognition of the AWLA Breakfast.

Amidst the bustle of an annual conference, it’s always a pleasure to find a quiet but impressive respite.

That is the dual role played annually by the breakfast of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association, this year held on Friday, June 21.

The breakfast is a scholarship fundraiser, but it’s also an opportunity to honor a recipient for the Sarah Herring Sorin Award, AWLA’s top recognition.

This year’s honoree was Dee-Dee Samet, Tucson lawyer and member of the State Bar of Arizona Board of Governors.

Dee-Dee Samet receives the Sarah Herring Sorin Award, June 21, 2013.

Dee-Dee Samet receives the Sarah Herring Sorin Award, June 21, 2013.

Dee-Dee was introduced by friend and attorney Jean Gage, who pointed out that the recipient was “president of almost every board she’s a part of.”

Gage praised Samet and offered the large audience a “double-dose of Dee-Dee.” She reminded listeners that Samet is “a tenacious fighter for the underdog” as well as a tireless fundraiser.

“She is the only person I know who can be in two places at the same time.”

Attendees at AWLA Breakfast, June 21, 2013.

Attendees at AWLA Breakfast, June 21, 2013.

Audience members smiled when Gage said, “If the measure of wealth is friends, Dee-Dee is fabulously wealthy.”

Samet has always been willing to offer a hand or advice, Gage said. She encourages women to apply for the Board of Governors, get on the bench or to change their career path to another legal practice area. And in so doing, she conveys to mentees a confidence Samet herself possesses: “Dee-Dee does not stay at the back of any line.”

When Samet rose to accept her award, she promised to “keep it short and sweet, like me.”

That she did, as she encouraged all lawyers to help others: “That’s how you make your life worthwhile.”

The persistent advocate reminded the audience to be persistent but enjoy life.

“As opponents, we fight hard, then look for some shoes, and then drink some wine.”

Finally, Dee-Dee remained indefatigable, encouraging her colleagues to participate in the Convention’s silent auction.

“Don’t forget to contribute,” she exclaimed that morning, and always.

Great Convention addition: My AWLA pin

Great Convention addition: My AWLA pin (click to enlarge)

The Arizona Attorney Facebook page sports a new button on June 21, 2013.

The Arizona Attorney Facebook page sports a new button on June 21, 2013.

Happy Friday at the State Bar of Arizona Convention.

In case you haven’t wandered over to the magazine Facebook page recently (whaaat?), take a look at our wide profile photo. Here’s how we describe it there:

“In honor of the annual breakfast (on June 21) of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association at the State Bar of Arizona Convention, we’ve changed our profile picture. The vintage button was purchased from an exhibitor at this year’s Bar Convention at the Arizona Biltmore!”

Well, THAT sure sounds like a page worth Liking, doesn’t it?

AWLA Arizona Women Lawyers Association logoAs you read this, I may be tucking into some delicious scrambled eggs and even better fellowship with fellow members of the AWLA. The annual breakfast is the occasion of the granting of the Sarah Herring Sorin Award (past recipients are a who’s who of amazing Arizona lawyers). And funds from the breakfast go toward law school scholarships.

If you missed this year’s breakfast, consider buying a ticket for next year. It’s well worth it.

gender equality scale in the legal professionRecent news articles suggest that we may have quite a ways to go in regard to gender equity in the legal profession. (Cue the women lawyers, who mutter “Really?” in mock surprise.)

The first article reports on some discouraging trends that affect women lawyers. The study was done by the National Association of Women Lawyers, and the article notes:

“The Survey once again found that women’s compensation lags men’s at all levels, although this year the gap between male and female equity partner compensation has slightly narrowed.  NAWL Foundation President Stephanie Scharf, a Partner at Scharf Banks Marmor LLC in Chicago, who founded the NAWL Annual Survey, noted that ‘the gap between male and female compensation at the equity partner level does not correlate with male/female differences in billable hours, total hours or books of business, begging the question of how firms actually set compensation for their partners.’”

The complete news story provides some striking findings from the study. And you can read the entire study here.

Adding to the findings of that October report, I came across another recent article, this one in Forbes, that puts a more specific face on the challenges women may face.

Titled “Your First Name Is Killing Your Business,” the article’s author Victoria Pynchon writes:

“If we want work or more money for the work we’re already doing, it would be better for us to adopt a male name than to earn another degree, work longer hours, or, deliver higher quality work product.”

Drawing on the comments of Bloomberg financial analyst Susan Antilla, Pynchon points out that people think better of applicants when they have a male name.

Adding to the challenges that lawyer–parents face, an article I read just this morning is titled “Parenting Gets the Best of One Biglaw Associate.” In it, the author shares an email from one large-firm associate—who is also a young, married mother—as she describes why she is opting out of biglaw practice.

As author Elie Mystal opens the article, “It shouldn’t be so damn hard—in the richest country on Earth—to have a big-time job and be a loving parent. The struggles highlighted by this woman make me sad as a new parent myself.”

(Hat tip to lawyer Graham Martin for pointing me toward the ATL article. And thank you to the terrific dialogue on the LinkedIn page of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association, which got me on this trail in the first place.)

Findings and data and experiences such as these rightly anger women lawyers and those who support their work. Does the research match your own experience? What do you think are the next major obstacles that must be overcome to achieve something closer to parity?

The annual award breakfast of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association was held Friday morning. At the event, the AWLA recognized Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch with the Sarah Herring Sorin Award, the group’s greatest honor.

A recurring theme of the event’s comments focused on why groups like AWLA are still vital and needed in 2012.

AWLA President Kim Demarchi took that question on head-on when she looked back at Arizona history. She noted that Sarah Herring Sorin was admitted to the Bar—the state’s first woman lawyer—in 1892, 22 years before Arizona became a state. And then in 1951, Mary Anne Richey—for whom the annual breakfast is named—was the only woman admitted to the Bar that year. Thirty-seven years after statehood, the only one admitted.

“What AWLA is about today,” Demarchi said, “is support for each other, service to the community and a willingness to collaborate and build coalitions.”

Longtime AWLA member (and past President) Paige Martin echoed that mission. She also reminded attendees the reason the Chief Justice was receiving the award: not for being Chief or her work on the Court of Appeals before that, “but for her day-to-day acts of being a mentor.”

Martin also read a wonderful tribute to the Chief from Justice Berch’s daughter, who could not attend due to a conflict in her work teaching at Southwestern Law School. Among her remarks: “My mom is the glue that holds our family together. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.”

L to R: Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, Kim Demarchi, Paige Martin

Chief Justice Berch then spoke movingly about mentoring, which she called “the work of everyone who cares about our profession.”

She then encouraged a new generation of women lawyers to advance to leadership positions, especially as part of the judiciary.

“I know we’re all balancing a lot, but you have to apply for those positions.”

Although more and more lawyers may be women, she said, “Look at who are the associates and who are partners. At law schools, look who are tenured faculty and who is teaching legal writing.”

The Chief demonstrated her down-to-earth advice when she urged attendees to focus on what’s important and to sometimes push other things down the to-do list.

Let your house go another day without dusting, she said. “I’ve served Grape-Nuts for dinner,” she laughed. “I am fond of popcorn and a glass of wine for dinner.”

“Get up and do the things we need to do that will have a lasting effect.”

To emphasize that drive, AWLA Vice President Janet Hutchison announced the winners of the AWLA Mary Anne Richey Scholarships: ASU Law student Ashlee Hoffmann and UA Law student Judith Davila.

Congratulations to the AWLA for another great event. More photos are available at the Arizona Attorney Facebook page.

Track down an AWLA Board member at the State Bar Convention. Any one of them will give you the little indicia of support for the Arizona Women Lawyers Association, a great organization.

Here’s a shot of my sticker. Jealous? Get one for yourself.

Great news from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University:

Justice Berch to receive top AWLA award for encouraging, mentoring women in law

By Janie Magruder

Hon. Rebecca White Berch

Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch will receive the 2012 Sarah Herring Sorin Award from the Arizona Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) for her superior contributions to women in the field of law. Justice Berch, who graduated from the College of Law at Arizona State University in 1979, will accept the award on Friday, June 22, during the State Bar of Arizona’s annual convention at the Arizona Biltmore.

The award is named for Sorin, Arizona’s first woman lawyer who, in the early 1900s, became the 25th woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Sorin was admitted to the Arizona bar in 1902, and practiced throughout the Arizona Territory, developing a specialty in mining law and practicing with her father, William Herring.

The award is given by the AWLA Board of Directors to a member who demonstrates support for and encouragement of the advancement of women in the legal profession.

“Rebecca is a living mentor who reaches out to help those coming up through the ranks behind her,” said Paige Martin, a partner in the Scottsdale office of Kutak Rock LLP, who submitted her nomination. “She is not a pedestal-sitter. She’s a person who takes all of this very seriously.”

In assembling the nomination, Martin spoke to people who work directly with the Chief Justice, and Martin also had a great deal of personal, first-hand experience with Justice Berch’s support for women in the law.

“The award has several components, including professional achievement and personal involvement with women in the law, and Rebecca certainly is outstanding in both of those,” said Martin, a past AWLA president and member of its advisory board. “She also is a great supporter of AWLA and its goals. She comes to our events, she brings people with her, and she encourages her clerks and others to join. Moreover, Rebecca’s physical presence at AWLA events demonstrates her recognition of the importance of an organization such as ours. Our mission is to promote and encourage the success of women lawyers, and she is a living embodiment of how to accomplish that goal.”

AWLA advocates for and shares information with its members on maternity policies, part-time work flexibility options and salary disparities, among other issues, fosters connections among women lawyers, and monitors and celebrates the successes of its members and women lawyers.

Justice Berch said she is honored by the nomination and the award, especially to be included in the company of its past recipients. They include Justice Ruth V. McGregor (ret.), Judge Mary M. Schroeder, Helen Perry Grimwood, Doris F. Mindell, Roxana C. Bacon, Grace McIlvain, Barbara A. Atwood, Laura A. Cardinal, Amy Schwartz, Georgia A. Staton, Judge Janis Ann Sterling (ret.), Amelia Craig Cramer and Martin.

Advocating for women in the law is a natural for Justice Berch. She first joined AWLA after her law-school graduation, and later, when she taught and directed the legal writing program at ASU, she was the faculty advisor for the Women Law Students’ Association.

Those were dichotomous times, the era of the “Fab Five,” when the five top elected offices in Arizona were held by women, and yet a prominent local country club still banned women from its men’s grill, and the Augusta Country Club, sponsor of the Masters Golf Tournament, would not have women as members.

“AWLA, then and now, helps lawyers make friends and find mentors. Participation may also alert you about career opportunities. And, by the way, men are welcome to join, too, and we hope they find the same advantages,” Justice Berch said.

The organization helped her with mock interviews and critiques before she submitted her judgeship application, which resulted in a boost to her poise, confidence and knowledge, she said.

“In today’s tough job market, membership in organizations such as AWLA has never been more important for law students and new lawyers,” she added.

“Starting in practice is more difficult than new lawyers anticipate it will be, and they can feel quite alone sometimes, so it’s helpful to have a friend outside your firm who you can call, and who will act as a sounding board,” Justice Berch said. “And don’t we want these new lawyers to have the best possible bridge into the practice of law?”

Born and raised in Phoenix, Justice Berch is a “Triple Devil,” having also earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from ASU. She has spent most of her career serving Arizona and its citizens. She was in private practice from 1979-1986, then directed the law school’s legal writing program from 1986-1995. During that time, she co-authored Introduction to Legal Method and Process, a law-school textbook that is used around the country and is in its fifth printing.

Justice Berch served as Solicitor General for the State of Arizona from 1991-1994, and was Special Counsel and First Assistant Attorney General from 1995-1998. She was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1998, then appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court in 2002. In 2009, Justice Berch began a five-year term as Chief Justice.

She speaks to hundreds of groups annually, from school assemblies to service organizations, and serves on several national boards, including the National Conference of Chief Justices’ Board of Directors, the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ Board of Trustees, and the Green Bag Board of Editors.

Janie Magruder is the Director of Print Communications and Media Relations at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Dru Sherrod

Yesterday, I sat down for an interview with Dru Sherrod.

Those who hang on my every tweet know that he gave a boffo presentation at this month’s Arizona Women Lawyers Association luncheon in Phoenix.

He is a principal at the California trial strategy firm Mattson and Sherrod Inc. Here’s his background:

“Drury Sherrod, Ph.D. joined Larry Mattson in 1988 to form Mattson and Sherrod, Inc. Dru brings a background in psychology and communication to bear on questions of juror behavior and trial strategy. Dru is the author of a textbook on social psychology and more than thirty articles on psychology, jury behavior, attribution theory and the effects of environmental stress on human behavior. Dru holds a B.A. from Southern Methodist University, an M.A. from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. Dru is a member of the American Society of Trial Consultants, the American Psychological Association, and the Society for Experimental Social Psychology.”

On March 28, he spoke on the topic of how stories explain jury verdicts.

His topic was pretty compelling, so we will run a separate Q&A with him in the June Arizona Attorney Magazine.

At his March 28 lunch talk, he revealed his true title for the day: “The Myth of the Open Mind.”

His presentation then unpackaged our common view that people are swayed by facts and by the rewards of a just result.

Um, not necessarily.

As he explains, when a lawyer walks into a courtroom prepared for trial, she may have spent more than a year dissecting every element of the case: facts, witnesses, documents.

When a juror walks in, Sherrod says, he doesn’t come empty-handed. Instead, “Jurors bring to the trial this whole lifetime of collected stored scripts.”

Those stored scripts can play havoc with what the lawyer believes is a carefully organized and orchestrated parade of facts. The scripts may cause the jurors to see the facts in ways the lawyer never imagined.

Of course, jurors are not the only ones with stored scripts; we all have them. They help us make sense of the avalanche of stimulu that comes our way on a daily basis. They are what make the human comedy the diverse thing it is. But while we may gleefully exclaim “Viva la différence,” trial lawyers scratch their heads and consider a career wind-surfing.

More on my conversation with Dru Sherrod in our June issue. And here are some more photos from his AWLA talk.

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Kim Demarchi, President-Elect of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association, summed up a recent event well: “We focus on how the shape of our workplaces shapes our experiences within them.”

Demarchi was offering an introduction for a keynote speaker at the group’s annual convention on November 4. But the concern—creating successful workplaces or their opposite—is one that is shared by many in a difficult profession.

The special speaker was Jessica Natkin, a national expert on workplaces and retention efforts that improve them. She arrived from the Project for Attorney Retention for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

The Center is a national model and a leader in the topic. And Natkin’s pertinent remarks demonstrate why. (Full disclosure: I graduated from UC Hastings Law School in 1993, three years before the Center launched. And, while I’m at it, I am an AWLA member.)

Natkin’s lunchtime talk examined what it takes to have a successful law firm. But, going in, she acknowledged that the order was a tall one, given that our accepted model for success is based on “an ideal worker”—someone who lives and breathes for the workplace, one who “manifests a singular devotion” to work. In that rigid law office, according to one scholar, time becomes a proxy for dedication and excellence. In today’s society, Natkin said, a significant number of lawyers seek a work–life balance that is greater than that.

Kim Demarchi

She explained that “work-life” does not necessarily mean part-time, and it definitely does not mean reduced commitment to the job. In a world in which many firms are expecting 2,200 billable hours a year, “work-life” may often mean simply reclaiming a 40-hour workweek.

“Maternal wall bias” is one of the highest obstacles to women in the workforce, Natkin said. That is simply bias against women because they are or may become mothers. In that worldview, mothers are seen as less competent and committed than other lawyers.

Due that and other biases, women find themselves pushed out of the workplace. Women who are mothers are less likely to be hired, are offered a lower starting salary. And, researchers have found, mothers are held to higher standards of punctuality and performance.

In law firms, Natkin said, men are twice as likely as women to make partner. Women of color comprise only about three percent of the profession nationally. And less than one percent of equity partners in law firms are women of color.

Despite statistics like those, Natkin pointed out that work/life is not merely a woman’s problem: 70 percent of male attorneys and 71 percent of female attorneys report such conflict in their law firms, one in which the work to be accomplished never ends, and time outside work is seen as suspect by firm leaders. As one research respondent aptly put it, “It’s like a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie.”

One possible solution to the dilemma, Natkin said, may lie in something called “balanced hours.” Though it may be similar to what we formerly called “part-time,” balanced hours is an individually tailored approach that also fits the firm’s business needs. “Balanced hours programs involve active management of workloads in proportion to reduced hours, emphasize client service, and promote the values of the firm.”

Jessica Natkin

Natkin also urged lawyers who seek to negotiate a better workplace to be open to the fact that there are occasional job emergencies: “We cannot be rigid. We must be flexible in our flexibility.” When those sometimes occur, she said, be prepared to pitch in.

Perhaps the law profession is pretty far from adopting solutions and approaches like those touted by the Center for WorkLife Law. In fact, many lawyers may reside comfortably in the notion that things are pretty good and change is unlikely—or unnecessary. If so, then perhaps the words of another research respondent—a woman who decided to vacate the profession—may give them pause:

“So I decided to quit, and this was a really, really big deal … because I never envisioned myself not working. I just felt like I would be a nobody if I quit. Well, I was sort of a nobody working, too. So it was sort of, ‘Which nobody do I want to be?’

Congratulations to the Arizona Women Lawyers Association for putting on another great program. More information on WorkLife is available here.

On this Change of Venue Friday, I have to share with you what is quickly becoming one of the hottest tickets in town: State Bar parties.

No, that is not the set-up for a bad joke. These events have become the sleeper hit of the season. And another one is in the offing, this one for the Mentor Committee Kick-Off.

These gatherings have sometimes been sponsored by a State Bar group, or by the Young Lawyers Division, or by the Solo and Small Firm Section, or by a cool new collaboration of multiple groups. These events have grown to be dynamic, packed affairs.

I have attended a few in the past year. One at Macayo’s on Central Avenue and another at Morton’s Steakhouse surprised me with the crowds and the excitement. The many organizers have been diverse, including the Inns of Court, the Arizona Women Lawyers Association and others. Clearly, lawyers, judges and vendor service providers enjoy gathering, talking and networking. And you should join them.

The next big event is on Thursday, September 22. It’ll be at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Phoenix (yes, there are three hours of complimentary valet parking). It will be in the hotel restaurant, District American Kitchen. More detail is available on the flyer to the right (click to make it larger).

And help us spread the word: We’ve created a Facebook event pageplease share it with anyone you think is interested and could benefit from great conversation and refreshments!

Have a great weekend. And I’ll see you at the Sheraton.

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