Mothers should be the “survivors and future leaders we know they can be” ends a controversial article published by the ABA Journal, the American Bar Association’s flagship publication. If you haven’t seen the article or know the context, we at Crafty Counsel thought we’d give an overview of the article, some of the backlash and the American Bar Association’s response.
The piece, Are women lawyers paying enough attention to upward mobility?, has seen many in the legal community take to social media to express their concerns about the writer’s views. The author, Susan Smith Blakely, a former partner in law firm and career counsellor, gives advice to lawyers who are also mothers and writes “There is nothing that can derail a career faster than the responsibilities of motherhood”. She advises lawyer moms against “perfectionism” and warns against them being their “own worst enemies”.
The article was followed by heated discussions on social media after its publication on 29 June. One tweet reads “I am sorry that any lawyer mom ever had to read this”.
I’m married to—and colleagues and friends with—many women who have somehow managed to be both successful lawyers and devoted mothers.
This article is crap. I’m ashamed that the @ABAJournal published it. And I’m sorry that any lawyer mom had to read it:https://t.co/rtMXeP3ecK— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) July 3, 2021
Michelle Browning Coughlin, a General Counsel at an advertising technology company wrote an open letter, published on Medium, to the ABA Journal Editor in which she says the article is dated “we could not help but think we had inadvertently picked up an ABA Journal from a few decades ago”.
Coughlin suggests that instead of “blaming moms for being busy” the focus should rather be on addressing the systems of unpaid labour.
Wendi Wiener, a lawyer and Career expert, wrote a column for the legal website, Above the Law, in which she calls Blakely’s article “against everything women are still fighting for in today’s workforce”
She writes that “It’s not just an attack on women lawyers who are mothers, but an attack on women lawyers as a whole.”
A week after Blakely’s article appeared on the ABA Journal’s website the President of the ABA, Patricia Lee Refo, published a response to the piece warning against blaming women for “lack of advancement” in their legal careers.
In the rebuttal Refo cites ABA research which shows that “45% of the women reported they had been denied proper access to business development opportunities because of their gender. In contrast, just six percent of men felt the same way.”
Refo also cites focus groups in which women lawyers express that they feel they are “used as a diversity token in a meeting” and that many women reported that male colleagues had stolen credit for their work.
Reuters reports that after the backlash on social media following the article’s publication the editor of the Journal John O’Brien added the following note to the top of the article:
“The ABA Journal is committed to covering all issues of importance to women in the law, and we acknowledge the many concerns expressed to us by those offended by this piece.”
Crafty Counsel in collaboration with Obelisk Support featured lawyers who are parents. In an episode titled “Does Being a Parent Make You a Better or Worse Lawyer” the lawyers who are interviewed including Megan Gray, Associated Counsel at Conde Nast, highlight the ways in which parenthood has made them better lawyers.
Gray says working with clients and colleagues in a collaborative environment is comparable to the teamwork required by families to create a safe environment for children and one in which they can thrive.
Lisa GoldKuhl , Supervising Attorney at a Government Agency says: “being an active parent makes you a far better lawyer and it is funny because our industry would have traditionally said differently.”
GoldKuld says there is “a bias towards active mothers that they are less committed.”
Nilema Bhakta-Jones, Group General Counsel at Kanter and Founder of Courageous Leaders Event says that being a parent can make people better lawyers because “you can be ruthlessly focused on the choices that you make with your time.”