Last year, I watched as a law student was introduced to a lawyer volunteering at the legal clinic. The lawyer was a white man in his 60s. The student was a woman of color in her 20s, and she was wearing hijab. I happen to know that both people have hearts of gold and come to the legal clinic with a desire to help and to give their time and talents selflessly.
Nonetheless, upon being introduced, the lawyer’s first words to the law student were: “It’s nice to meet you. Are you a foreign exchange student?” The student looked confused and embarrassed as she replied, “No. I grew up here in Milwaukee.”
A similar incident happened recently when a white lawyer asked a student of color where he was born and whether he had voting privileges. Again, the student in question replied that he was born and raised in the United States.
Yet another time, a white lawyer sat down at a table with a student of color: “What can we help you with at the clinic today?” The underlying assumption was that the student must be a client.
I also remember a moment when a white lawyer worked with a Latinx student for an entire shift and remarked at the end, “You are so articulate.” Why would this be mentionable? This is a student who has a college degree, has been admitted to law school, and will have a law degree in a few years.
The Milwaukee Association for Women Lawyers (AWL) Foundation has named two Marquette University Law School students as the winners of AWL Foundation scholarships.
Liz Simonis, 2L, received the AWL Foundation scholarship. The AWL Foundation Scholarship is awarded to a woman who has exhibited service to others, diversity, compelling financial need, academic achievement, unique life experiences (such as overcoming obstacles to attend or continue law school), and advancement of women in the profession. Simonis, a Wisconsin native, received undergraduate degree in dairy science. She spent her last semester of undergrad between Beijing and Hangzhou, China, learning about dairy farming there. After receiving her undergraduate degree, she worked for as a dairy cattle nutritionist, visiting (in her conservative estimate) more than half of Wisconsin’s 9,000+ dairy farms. Being a dairy cattle nutritionist “requires an incredible amount of science and industry knowledge,” Simonis said. “It’s not like feeding your dog a scoop of dog chow.”
Simonis then transitioned to marketing product manager at a company in Iowa, where she took feeding concepts and developed them as products. However, she noted, her experience in Iowa also taught her that the world isn’t always a fair and equitable place. “In the year of our lord 2020, there are still people out there who will not respect you because of any number of ridiculous reasons. Breaking through that kind of stigma is at the core of what drew me to law school,” she said. She returned to Milwaukee to attend MULS, where is she is an active member of the student chapter of AWL and a volunteer at the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic. Simonis is also a member of the Intellectual Property Law Society, Saint Thomas More Society, and the Environmental Law Society. She plans to sit for the patent bar when she’s done with law school.
Kelly Ryan, 3L, received the AWL Foundation’s Virginia A. Pomeroy scholarship. This scholarship honors the late Virginia A. Pomeroy, a former deputy state public defender and a past president of AWL. In addition to meeting the same criteria as for the AWL Foundation scholarship, the winner of this scholarship must also exhibit what the AWL Foundation calls “a special emphasis, through experience, employment, class work or clinical programs” in one of several particular areas: appellate practice, civil rights law, public interest law, public policy, public service, or service to the vulnerable or disadvantaged. During law school, Ryan has volunteered for the Domestic Violence Injunction Clinic and the Milwaukee Volunteer Legal Clinic and was selected for the mock trial team. She’s clerked for the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and the U.S. Copyright Office of Policy and International Affairs.
Ryan is vice president of the Intellectual Property Law Society and lead articles editor of the Marquette Intellectual Property Law Review. This fall, she will intern with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office as part of MULS’ Prosecutor Clinic. She said the most interesting thing she’s experienced through her public service—interning at the county, state, and federal levels—“is seeing how profoundly law, policy, and government interact to impact people’s everyday lives.”
Simonis and Ryan will be officially honored (virtually) at AWL’s annual meeting on September 30. Congratulations to both women for outstanding service and for their representation of Marquette University Law School.
Marquette University Law School Student Bar Association writes to you today to address the tragedy that we as a community and a country have faced in the last three weeks. Not one of a pandemic, but rather the state-sanctioned murders of Black Americans. Namely, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others. Their deaths are not novel, and we would be remiss to categorize them as such. Their deaths are the tragic manifestation of a long-standing system of racial oppression that continues to unjustly claim the lives of Black Americans.
[For Women’s History Month, we invited some of our alumni to provide their reflections as guest bloggers of the month. This post is from Lynne M. Halbrooks, L’88.]
In the three decades since I became a Marquette Lawyer, I have had the opportunity to cross paths with dozens of woman lawyers early in their careers. I have mentored, hired, and worked with tremendously talented young women who have had diverse and amazing professional experiences. I watched them struggle, overcome obstacles, and excel in their jobs. The same is true for my law school friends and women I had the privilege to work for over the years. My experiences as a government lawyer, in private practice, and now as in-house counsel have introduced me to women lawyers working in a wide variety of jobs across the legal industry. The following five tips for a rewarding legal career are based on my own experiences and my observations of how successful women lawyers have navigated their careers.
1. Work with people you like. You will spend a lot of hours at work, especially if you’ve chosen a career in private practice. There will be teamwork, meetings, lunches, and maybe even travel and dinners together. It is important that you like your supervisor and your colleagues. Continue reading “Advice for a Rewarding Career as a Woman Lawyer”
[For Black History Month, we invited some of our alumni to provide their reflections as guest bloggers of the month. This post is from Kristen D. Hardy L’14.]
When probing and prodding at the legal profession’s existential, ever-persisting diversity and inclusion (D&I) crisis, race and gender are routinely discussed in separate vacuums. Thus, inclusion efforts focusing on the improvement of gender diversity have largely come to consider only one subset of women — the majority. Similarly, inclusion efforts targeting racial diversity also tend to focus on the majority, which in most cases refers to men. Articles and conferences promising to break down barriers and unpack bias for women lawyers either completely ignore, or barely mention, the added layer of complexity for women lawyers of color. And without the voices of minority women attorneys, spaces promising to offer diverse perspectives begin to feel homogeneous and exclusive.
There is no denying that many women, regardless of race or background, share similar instances of gender bias and discrimination. But women of color must grapple with a separate set of unique challenges that remain largely disregarded. When the D&I conversation shifts to improving gender diversity, the challenges associated with women of color are frequently, perhaps unintentionally, ignored. Consequently, solutions intended to eliminate barriers for all women in the profession are falsely presented as equally effective for White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Indigenous women. This phenomenon is not only isolating, but arguably detrimental to the progression of minority women within the legal profession.
Double-Bind and Double-Barreled Bias
Most know, at least anecdotally, about the double-bind bias apropos to women in leadership. This type of implicit bias is a haphazard blend of gender stereotypes and ostensible leadership characteristics that gum together to form what feels like a catch-22 for women. Continue reading “Don’t Forget About Women Lawyers of Color”
Ah, yes, the Baby Lawyer™. The finished product of the intense demands of law school, crisp diploma freshly in hand, joining the fray of the courtroom or the boardroom, ready and oh-so-willing to tackle each and every problem he or she is about to face. So full of life and hope, chock full of caselaw, best practices, tidbits from internships, faculty blessings and encouragement, and an undying love for the Oxford comma. We are blindingly sure that all of our preparation will be enough as we strut into the hallowed halls of the legal profession, away from the strictly regimented last three years . . . and its safety net of office hours and a curved grading scale.
I can say with some certainty that the baby lawyer experience is relatively similar throughout the generations. Some new attorneys begin in the proverbial “mail room,” getting coffee, delivering senior attorney mail, and living in a three by three foot cubicle that they have determined to make their own with pictures of friends and motivational quotes from Target. Baby Lawyer is our name, legal research is our game, and we have embraced “other duties as assigned” as our personal motto.
Some First Year Associates (i.e. the Baby Lawyer With A Title) may have a trial by fire. They will be handed a brown accordion folder, a case of their very own.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing an incredible colleague — and friend — Isioma Nwabuzor. This intelligent, passionate, and compassionate woman has served as a role model for many youth of color in the Milwaukee’s legal and social communities. Please enjoy her thoughts and insight into the good work she is doing for our city and for the future of the legal profession.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Isioma Nwabuzor and I am a transactional attorney at Baird. I am originally from Nigeria, West Africa, but was raised and lived in Milwaukee for as long as I can remember. I am a member of several professional and/or service organizations, including Rotary International, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and the Association of Corporate Counsel.
How has your journey to and through the legal profession been influenced by your life and roots?
My maternal grandfather was a high-court judge in the country of Nigeria. I come from a long line of attorneys on my mother’s side, so my family always jokes that my inclination towards a career in the legal profession is hereditary. However, from a different facet, all that I am motivates me to give a voice to the voiceless. My experiences as a member of several minority demographics (I’m a Black woman and an immigrant) has inspired a passion and fight in me that, I believe, lends itself well to adversarial careers, such as the legal profession.
Tell us about Dreamer Next Door, your new 501(c)(3).
Yesterday, September 17, 2019, the Milwaukee Association for Women Lawyers (AWL) Foundation honored two Marquette University Law School students with scholarships.
Jana Budet, 2L, received the AWL Foundation scholarship. The AWL Foundation Scholarship is awarded to a woman who has exhibited service to others, diversity, compelling financial need, academic achievement, unique life experiences (such as overcoming obstacles to attend or continue law school), and advancement of women in the profession.
Attorneys often speak of mentorship as an essential building block to a career in the legal profession.
Indeed, one of the first pieces of advice bestowed upon young attorneys is to find a mentor, cultivate that relationship, and soak up all advice like a sponge. Mentorship roundtables, “speed networking” events, and student-attorney mixers are stylish events celebrating these connections, encouraging both sides to learn, grow, and expand one’s worldview. And yes, mentorship should be important to legal practitioners across the board, from students fresh from their first briefs to attorneys with long, successful, and active careers.
But why does one need a mentor or a mentee and how does one find a perfect match? Do I click my heels together three times, whisper “Please help me,” and one will magically appear like a fairy lawmother? What if my mentor or mentee doesn’t suit me or even like me? Let’s discuss. Continue reading “The Art of Mentorship”
When I was asked if I would—together with my daughter Micaela—write a blog for the Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog, I wanted to make sure it was known I haven’t practiced law full-time in fifteen years. So, fair warning, this is not going to be a technical legal discussion.
Let’s start with a short background: I graduated from MULS in 1989. In fact, I just celebrated my thirty-year reunion (quick shout out to my classmates: You guys rock! We had the highest turnout of any reunion class!). It was wonderful catching up with old friends, some I have kept in touch with; regrettably, some I have not.
As I stood in the Zilber Forum (as I have done several times previously, more on that later), I reflected on my law school experience at Sensenbrenner Hall, and, despite feeling envious of the students who are privileged to study law in such a marvelous facility, was transported in back thirty years to the year I graduated from MULS. I remember the hope, the promise, coupled with the uncertainty and anxiety I was feeling at the time. Not to mention the excitement of my impending marriage one month later to my beautiful wife of thirty years, Ellen, whom I met while we were both studying at Marquette (she was earning her Masters in Analytical Chemistry at the time).
I was recently posed an interesting question which I thought would make a great topic for discussion and,while I’m unsure of how this post will be received on the faculty blog, I hope it will spur conversations as interesting as those I’ve had about the subject over the past month.
Next year I will graduate from Marquette Law School along with my fellow classmates. What is particularly noteworthy about our class is that, having first come to campus in the summer of 2017, we will be the first class to graduate who started law school under the current presidential administration. Whether you voted for Donald Trump or not, one cannot deny that his presidency has created an interesting climate not just in politics, but for the law in general. So, I was left to ponder how that interesting factoid has colored my law school experience and might affect the legal field for first year lawyers next year and in the near future.
My first intuition when pondering that question was to discuss how divisive politics and social media appear to be impacting the teaching and practice of law, but I can’t presume that my class is novel in thinking that these are tumultuous times in the legal field. I can’t personally speak to the law school climate in the past, but in my own experience being a law student can be a bit a political minefield, especially outside of Eckstein Hall. Throughout my time in law school, all of my friends and family have been eager to ask me about or to debate about constitutional issues the president has raised that month. But that is almost to be expected, as I have been told by some of my family members who are in the field.
On April 29, 2019, I moderated a panel discussion for the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Diversity Counsel Program titled “Closing the Gender Leadership Gap.” The following statistics were shared at the program. According to a study by the American Bar Association, “A Current Glance at Women in the Law,” half of the students graduating from law school with a J.D. are women. Yet, only 22.7% of law firm partners are women, 22% of state court judges are women, and 26.4% of Fortune 500 general counsel positions are held by women. A significant barrier for women in the workplace is implicit bias. After serving on this panel, I was curious to explore how the concept of implicit bias might contribute to the gender leadership gap in the legal profession.
Implicit bias is the term that describes how the subconscious mind categorizes people. The concept was first developed by psychologists Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald in the 1990s. Through the use of implicit association tests (“IAT”) Banaji and Greenwald evaluated the time it took for a participant to categorize concepts such as family or career with gender. The quicker the applicant could categorize concepts, the stronger the implicit association. The most frightening aspect of implicit bias is that a person may be consciously opposed to gender discrimination but may unknowingly discriminate against women due to an implicit bias that exists only in the subconscious mind.
Studies suggest that implicit bias may play a role in explaining why men are systematically preferred for positions over women. For example, a Yale study demonstrated a statistically significant preference for men in the field of science. The study involved sending a fictional resume to 100 faculty members at top universities. The only difference was that 50 fictional students were named John, while the other 50 fictional students were named Jennifer. Even though the candidates had identical experience and qualifications, faculty members were more likely to find John competent and were more likely view him as a suitable candidate for lab positions. Continue reading “Implicit Bias and the Gender Leadership Gap”