Raise your hand if you’ve ever been mistaken for the court reporter when you walk into a room to take or defend a deposition. If your hand is in the air, chances are you’re a woman.

In 1987, the American Bar Association was concerned about the status of women in the legal profession and created the Commission on Women in the Profession to identify barriers to advancement and recommend strategies to address such barriers. The 12 members of the Commission are appointed by the ABA President and their mission statement is to “secure the full and equal participation of women in the ABA, the legal profession, and the justice system.”  Almost three decades after the creation of this Commission, the ABA’s A Current Glance at Women in the Law report released in July 2014 shows 52.2% of people in law school are women, but only 20.2% of partners in private practice are women. Clearly, we still have work to do.

The Commission has four business meetings throughout the year to discuss their initiatives and many groups, including Ms. JD, the National Women’s Law Center, ABA section groups, as well as practice-specific, state and local bar associations, send liaisons to these meetings. Erin Hennessy, MSJDN member, partner in Bracewell & Giuliani’s Technology Group and head of her firm’s Trademark and Copyright Practice in New York, has been appointed MSJDN’s liaison to the Commission due to her extensive legal background, previous experience in working with national organizations and her commitment to supporting her fellow military spouses as they pursue legal careers. As liaison, Hennessy hopes to provide a voice for MSJDN’s constituency and be a part of the general conversation on women in the legal profession. She also sees this as an opportunity to network with other groups who may be interested in partnering with MSJDN to raise awareness about our issues, particularly portability of employment and jurisdictional barriers.

The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession

Image via http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/marketing/women/grit_brochure.authcheckdam.pdf

At the Commission’s October 7 business meeting in Chicago, one of the primary initiatives discussed was the Grit Project Toolkit. What is “grit?” The Toolkit defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” According to Hennessy, “if any word describes military spouses, it is ‘grit.’” Whether it involves dealing with deployments, frequent PCSs, or juggling the demands of a career and family while supporting a service member, military spouses are the epitome of grit. However, grit alone is not enough. In their article, Grit & Mindset: Implications for women lawyers, Milana Hogan and Katherine Larkin-Wong discuss social science research showing that a growth mindset is also key to the success of women in the legal profession. Even if you have a ton of grit, a fixed mindset where you believe there is a ceiling on your intelligence and talent can still stymie your success. Find out how gritty you are and whether you have the right kind of mindset for success in the practice of law and life on the ABA’s Grit Project webpage.

The Commission is also keenly aware that women of color face the additional challenge of racial stereotypes in the legal profession and has developed the Women of Color Research Initiative Program Toolkit as a separate resource.

Both Toolkits provide discussion scenarios and facilitator notes regarding frequently encountered workplace issues, such as pay disparity and promotions. The Toolkits are designed for anyone to initiate a discussion about gender and race issues in the legal profession and they are available online to everyone free of charge.

Hennessy recommends military spouses go to their law firms, companies, local bar and professional organizations and offer to coordinate implementation of either the Grit Project or the Women of Color Initiative. According to Hennessy, participating in local programming for these initiatives has a two-fold purpose: enlightening people about the challenges facing women in the industry and valuable networking opportunities with like-minded individuals and organizations. For MSJDN members in remote locations or who are not presently employed in the law, consider taking these Toolkits to your professional women’s groups, In Gear groups, or the coffeehouse. MSJDN is also working on online options to implement these programs in the near future.

The Commission’s next business meeting is set for February 2014 and MSJDN will have the opportunity to submit a liaison report outlining the efforts made by our organization to advance the role of women in the legal profession. By showing how active and dedicated MSJDN is in advancing issues of gender equality, Hennessy hopes to inspire other groups to partner with MSJDN in improving employment opportunities for military spouses. If you have the opportunity to implement or work with the Grit Project or the Women of Color Initiative in your local community, please send feedback regarding your efforts and experience to sdmartin@gmail.com.