While the 2001 comedy “Legally Blonde” played a law school student’s excessive hairdos for laughs, it failed to address the more serious issues problems confronting women in the legal profession, the topic of a Yale Law School conference this weekend.
Saturday’s conference, entitled “Legally Female: What does it mean to be Ms. J.D.?”, discussed current issues for women in legal careers and law schools. The panel, hosted by Julia Simon-Kerr LAW ’08, Michelle Morin LAW ’08, and Anna Nelson LAW ’08, was held to promote the launch of a new Web log called “Ms. J.D.” that offers a forum for discussion about gender issues in the field.
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Legally Female, the national group sponsoring the event, aims to help women share their experiences and offer advice through the use of emerging technology.
The national conference consisted of panelists such as law professors, judges and practitioners working in law firms, nonprofits and NGOs. The diversity of speakers and work experience reflected Legally Female’s aim to include women from all aspects of the legal field.
Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh opened the event, speaking about the four gaps — in opportunity, knowledge, courage, and tolerance or respect — between male and female law students that the conference was intended to address.
The idea for the blog came from students at Yale, Stanford and other prominent law schools across the country who decided they could delve into these prevalent issues using the blog format. Morin, one of the conference organizers, said she has high aspirations for the Web site.
“[Legally Female] decided to create a blog to launch an online community,” Morin said. “Our conference will help publicize that blog and will pursue similar goals outside the virtual world.”
The blog’s mission statement expresses the necessity to have a “Ms. J.D.” Web site given the grim percentages of women in law. Only one woman is on the Supreme Court, 17 percent of partners at major law firms are women, and over 60 percent of states have never elected a woman to an executive office.
Koh — a featured blogger on the Web site — agreed that statistically women are less represented than men in the legal field, but said he hopes to change this at Yale in terms of the makeup of the faculty.
“It may be just a sense of perception of what’s the norm in the profession,” Koh said. “The faculty has more men than women, but we are trying to address that. Ideally we would like the same proportions in the faculty as in the public at large.”
Currently, 46 percent of the Yale Law School student body is female.
At a time when technology has a large impact on social movements, the fusion of the Internet and gender awareness could have a profound resonance, the organizers said.
Nelson spoke about the new frontier of possibilities the conference and the Web site could foster.
“The conference went really well,” Nelson said after the event. “It is always a good thing when everything is running late because no one wants to leave the room and stop talking to each other. This is a new phase, new beginnings where we can transcend the walls of law schools and discuss decades of shared experiences, and people at the conference recognized that.”
Issues addressed Saturday included topics titled “Beyond Queen Bee and Mommy Wars: Women Working Together,” “Technology as a Tool: Changing What it Means to Be a Woman in the Law,” “A Struggle Within a Struggle: Women Lawyers of Color in the Legal Profession” and “Is Legal Academia a Gendered Environment?”