The Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia (“WBA”) is proud of its long history of promoting the advancement of women lawyers. Since 1917, the WBA has fought for equality and, in accordance with its mission, it has specifically fought to protect the interests of women lawyers and to promote their mutual improvement. Because of its commitment in this respect and because of its commitment to maintaining the honor and integrity of the profession, it is consistent and imperative that the WBA speaks up when women lawyers are unjustly attacked, criticized, or denigrated.
Recent negative and inaccurate commentary about the business efforts and successes of lawyer moms and caregivers strikes at the core of our profession’s integrity. The WBA objects to, and vehemently disagrees with, the notion that lawyer moms and caregivers do not take ownership of and actively pursue their own upward mobility, or that they do not provide adequate mentoring opportunities to others because of family obligations (which include being parents or caregivers to other family members). This narrative is not borne out by the data. A recent report by Sky Analytics (a legal invoicing company) showed that women bill an average of 24 minutes more each day than men. A negative account of the efforts of lawyer moms only serves to exacerbate the well-documented and pervasive biases that women lawyers face.
Indeed, as available data shows, it is more likely that gender-based stereotypes and assumptions placed on lawyer moms and caregivers hinder this demographic’s advancement and improvement. For example, the You Can’t Change What You Can’t See study (a joint effort of the MCCA-ABA Commission on Women in the Profession) confirmed via empirical evidence what many women attorneys have long spoken about and endured, which is that “widespread gender and racial bias permeates hiring, promotion, assignments and compensation in the legal industry.” Specifically, the data revealed four main patterns of implicit bias – Prove-It-Again, Tightrope, Maternal Wall, and Tug of War – and showed that these patterns permeate almost every kind of legal workplace. Each pattern creates additional burdens for women lawyers as they navigate a competitive, high-stakes profession. An example of the Maternal Wall is the double standard on how men and women are perceived after getting married and/or having children – men are seen as stable and reliable, while women are seen as unreliable – negatively impacts upward mobility. Now, imagine the compound effect of this bias on lawyer moms and caregivers — or on women of color. The burden is almost unfathomable. Even women lawyers in the top echelon of our profession are subject to these stereotypes and pay disparities. To put a finer point on pay disparities rooted in gender biases: As recently as 2018, women partners at larger firms were still making 35% less than male partners. This and other patterns of bias cannot be readily overcome by individual action alone, if at all. Rather, addressing systemic issues in the legal profession such as implicit (and explicit) bias requires intentional, collective, and collaborative action to either reform or reconstruct the compromised systems.
The WBA believes there is no limit to the upward mobility of women lawyers who are mothers or caregivers, and that women lawyers’ tireless efforts to advance their own careers and the careers of others are demonstrated daily by the scores of successful WBA women lawyer members who are mothers and caregivers. The long list of women lawyers who are mothers and caregivers and who have been honored by the WBA over its 104-year history also stands as stark evidence that lawyer moms and caregivers are as capable as their peers – of whatever gender and regardless of family obligation – at excelling and mentoring junior professionals as they excel.
The WBA will continue to focus on – and indeed, increase – its work and programming on this critical issue. At a minimum, we will continue to educate our communities and spotlight our members who are mothers and caregivers by:
- highlighting our successful lawyer moms and caregivers via our online platforms;
- soliciting and showcasing thought leadership by our members on this issue;
- leveraging our social media presence to encourage discussions and to feature programs that support this demographic;
- developing and presenting programming on the issue;
- developing or promoting initiatives that support lawyer moms and caregivers; and,
- convening discussion on the issue in collaboration with other organizations.
The WBA remains steadfast in its commitment to elevating women in the legal profession. We welcome all persons to join our efforts in confronting biases that negatively impact women lawyers and in eliminating all forms of discrimination against women lawyers.
 In a recent ABA Journal column, Susan Blakely Smith suggested that, among other things, lawyer moms lose focus on career advancement. This view is antithetical to the mission and goals of the WBA. Even though in past years, Ms. Smith spoke at WBA programs and was featured in a WBA bulletin, the WBA rejects the reasoning and conclusions espoused by Ms. Smith that lawyer moms do not pursue upward mobility and are the main hindrances to the same.
 Alison Monahan, “Understanding the Gender Wage Gap in the Legal Profession” (May 2019), available at https://www.thebalancecareers.com/understanding-the-gender-wage-gap-in-the-legal-profession-4000621
 Joyce Sterling & Linda Chanow, Am. B. Ass’n, IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Experienced Women Lawyers Explain Why They Are Leaving Their Law Firms and the Profession (2021), available at https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/women/intheirownwords-f-4-19-21-final.pdf. See also Joan C. Williams, et al., Am. B. Ass’n, YOU CAN’T CHANGE WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE: Interrupting Racial & Gender Bias in the Legal Profession (2018), available at https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/women/you-cant-change-what-you-cant-see-print.pdf; Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct r. 8.4 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2016) (amended 2016) (changing the [former 1998 ABA] Comment to a needed black letter rule), and also Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct r. 8.4 Report (Am. Bar Ass’n 2016) (quoting 2016 ABA President Paulette Brown in a public hearing on the amendments stating, “Discrimination and harassment . . . is, and unfortunately continues to be, a problem in our profession and in society. Existing steps have not been enough to end such discrimination and harassment.”).
 Williams et.al, supra. See also “Systemic bias in legal profession confirmed by new report” (Sept. 2018), available at https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2018/09/new-study-finds-gender-and-racial-bias-endemic-in-legal-professi1/
 Monahan, supra.
 Debra Cassens Wise “Pay gap has widened for male and female partners in larger law firms, new report says” (Sept. 2020), available at https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/pay-gap-has-widened-for-male-and-female-partners-in-larger-law-firms-report-says.