Last week we wrote about an upcoming panel discussion, sponsored by the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Women in the Law, that generated some controversy. The panel, entitled “Their Point of View: Tips from the Other Side,” was going to feature “[a] distinguished panel of gentlemen from the legal field,” who would opine on “the strengths and weaknesses of women in the areas of communication, negotiation, mediation, arbitration, organization, and women’s overall management of their legal work.”
After some negative reactions, including calls for a boycott, the NYSBA revised the panel title and description. We noted this in an update to our post (added on Friday at 6 PM before the holiday weekend, so some of you may have missed it).
The revised panel, according to the NYSBA, will feature both women and men. The new description of the event led Professor Bridget Crawford to rescind her call for a boycott.
But at least two “distinguished gentlemen” will not be participating in the new and improved panel. Details — plus a READER POLL, and highlighted comments from our last post — after the jump.
We reached out to Zachary Carter, the former U.S. Attorney (E.D.N.Y.) and Dorsey & Whitney partner who was scheduled to be on the original panel. We asked if he would be participating in the revised panel. He informed us that he would not.
In addition, we asked if he knew about the title and description of the original panel at the time he agreed to participate. He responded: “To my knowledge, none of the panelists were aware of the panel description that was published.” (In light of this information, comments questioning the judgment of the men who agreed to serve on the panel would seem to be misplaced.)
We also touched base with Davis Polk partner Carey Dunne, another one of the original panelists, who told us that he did not see the language describing the original panel until last Friday (when the controversy broke). As for the revised panel, “despite the good intentions of the organizers, I will not be participating on the panel.”
So who will be serving on the retooled panel? According to an NYSBA spokesperson:
The Committee is working with the State Bar to reconstitute the panel as quickly as possible. We’ll make those details public as soon they are finalized.
Was the controversy over the panel overblown? We read over your 160+ comments on our original post about the controversial panel, and there was a healthy divergence of opinion. Some commenters found the panel offensive, as did our original tipsters; others defended it, or thought it was no big deal.
What do you think? Read over some of the noteworthy comments we’ve highlighted below, then take the reader poll. You can also read more coverage by Professor Crawford at Feminist Law Professors (links collected at the end of this post).
Partner Emeritus (at 3) – Practitioner’s tip for women desiring success in the legal profession: Act like a man, do not get married and do not reproduce. No need to sacrifice billable hours to attend this dog and pony show. That is all.
5 – I never realized, until I began working for a firm that, in 20 years of existence, has NEVER had a female partner, just how much bigotry still exists in the legal industry. It’s heartbreaking for me to know that, if I stay in my current job, I will never be anything besides an associate…despite the fact that I work as hard and sacrifice as much as my male colleagues.
23 – this is just taking group identity politics to its logical conclusion. if you’re bothered by it, you should be bothered by the whole idea of treating people as group members as opposed to individuals in the workplace (including, of course, segregated “how to succeed” conferences).
24 – Most women just want to be treated with fairness and respect. That is why this conference is so insulting to all the women who want to do their jobs and have the same chance to succeed as a man.
Pacific Reporter (at 25) – Guys at my high school used to give girls tips on how to strengthen their practice all the time. It was no big deal.
31 – CHECK YOU FEMALES.
41 – I think everybody is getting way too worked up over nothing. As an Hispanic man, I’d have absolutely no problem with a panel of white attorneys giving a lecture on what Hispanics need to do to overcome stereotyping and fit in in the modern workplace. A lot of us have personal affectations that, to be perfectly honest, support negative stereotyping. Many women do to. There’s nothing wrong with a view from the outside to show the common perceptions of your particular group and what you need to do to correct them, and change the perceptions into misconceptions.
49 – The panel was organized by The Committee on Women in the Law, which is presumably composed largely (or exclusively) of women, right? So some women must have thought this panel was a good idea. They may have been wrong, of course, but its not like some group of men got together and said, “we have to have a panel to put those broads in their place and tell them how to behave.”
50 – Women argue that men control all the top spots and achieve, by far, the most success, in the legal profession. But they are supposed to get all outraged that men are telling them how to succeed? Seems actually like some mentoring. Playing both ends against the middle. An old feminist game.
51 – Schools and employers have been giving me (and all the men) tips on how to comport myself around women since junior high. And it usually wasn’t something I had the option to skip, as with this conference. So you don’t like the idea? Skip it. If the idea that something like this exists is, to you, an intolerable statement on the world we live in, you probably don’t get out much.
53 – I just think that if the NYSBA is going to have such a panel (even if sponsored by a women’s group), then there should be an opposite panel, women lawyers telling everyone what needs to be changed in the workplace in order to attract more female attorneys, keep the ones they have, and grow them into partners.
57 – I understand why some women are really pissed off about this, but I don’t really see the big deal (and I’m also female). I agree with 53 that they probably should have countered it with an opposite panel, but it might be somewhat useful to hear what the male lawyers believe are female weaknesses. Or it might be a total waste of time because they have no idea what they’re talking about. I don’t know.
I don’t perceive this as a smear against women lawyers. I imagine the law group who created this thought it might be helpful to get a male perspective, and I think some people might be taking it too seriously as an insult to the gender. It doesn’t seem that much different from getting constructive criticism from your (probably male) boss and applying that to be a better employee. Obviously these guys can’t approach this from that angle, but maybe they see things over and over that women lawyers do that hinder our progress, and maybe we’re completely oblivious that these things are problems until they’re pointed out. Who knows. But I’d probably go to this panel and see what they had to say, and if I thought they were all full of crap, I’d let them know.
70 – It absolutely astounds me sometimes how mind numbingly sheltered and ludicrous some lawyers can be. Try spending some time in a firehouse or a military base or a construction site and then come back and tell me about how awful it is that a partner takes some male associates out to a strip club or asks you to work on whatever day you happen to think God wants you to stay home and play videogames.
79 – How to dress for success: wear a white penis.
81 – This cannot end well. Men opining on the strengths and weaknesses of women? Yes, let’s stereotype an entire sex and see what happens. I think the challenges women face in a male-dominated workplace is less about their weaknesses and more about their perceived weaknesses. If men would stop looking at us in the same way as their mothers, sisters, wives, and girlfriends at work we’d be better off. You can take your panel and shove it.
89 – I’m a man, so I’m probably missing something, but it seems to me that the basic premise of the panel, if not its execution, is pretty reasonable. Most people (excluding the chauvinistic “bend over and I’ll show you” types) recognize that lack of advancement by women is a problem in the legal profession. Among other discussions at a conference to talk about this problem, hearing from the “other side” is not a bad thing. The framing of the panel is atrocious, but the concept seems sound.
98 – I’m a female BigLaw associate and I would totally go to this. Men run these places, and although I might not like everything they think or have to say about women lawyers, I think it could only be helpful to hear it.
121 – It would do most of you good to attend this panel. True, male associates have deficiencies, but since most firms are run by other men, these deficiencies are understood…. As a black female, I’ve had to learn this and marvel at how my Caucasian counterparts complain about everything and think the world should bend to their abilities and inabilities. I’ve spent my life bending to a Caucasian world and a Caucasian standard, there are worse things in life. Get. over. it. Work to be the change you want to be, but in the meantime understand that you’ve got to sometimes find a way to work within a given system to achieve your personal goals.
136 – Sure, we women can handle the truth; but the men on that panel are never going to tell you the truth of what they really think. Total career-ender! Their comments will haunt them forever, no matter how carefully they try to spin them. The best they can do is, what, a powerpoint of successful women attorneys they admire and what they think makes them so great?
149 – As a woman working in a man’s world, I have two options (or so I believe from my experiences):
1. Try and “be a man” in a man’s world. The women who do this are the abrasive coworkers you hope your daughter does not grow up to emulate. Also, this option means not wearing cute outfits (and not doing hair and makeup in the morning). She may be partner, but is it worth it?
2. Retain your femininity. You may or may not rise to the top (i.e. partner status) while doing this. But you will get to be a woman (just be happy with who God made you, for crying out loud) and enjoy it. I have found that more men respect me for being a lady and being feminine and at the end of the day, I’ll take that.
Mentoring Across Gender: Suggestions for the NYSBA Committee on Women in the Law [Feminist Law Professors]
NYSBA “Responds to Concerns Regarding Annual Meeting Panel Presentation by the Committee of Women in the Law” [Feminist Law Professors]
Earlier: Hey, Lady Lawyers: Have We Got a Conference for You….