Allegheny County Bar Association Launches Institute for Gender Equality

Yesterday, the Allegheny County Bar Association (ACBA) kicked off its new Institute for Gender Equality with a luncheon featuring judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Marjorie Rendell speaking about the difficulties women face in the legal profession.

The ACBA created the Institute last year after a study revealed that female lawyers in the Pittsburgh legal community had made very little advancement between 1990 and 2005. Some findings:

According to the survey, only about 5 percent of female lawyers make more than $250,000 a year. About 20 percent of men do. No women surveyed who graduated law school in the 1990s made $250,000 or more, while almost 10 percent of the male graduates of the 1990s did.

Nationally, about 17.3 percent of partners in law firms are women. In Allegheny County, 15.8 percent are, said Kim Brown, president of the county bar association.

The association has approximately 6,600 members, and about 1,780 of them women, spokesman Tom Loftus said.

Brown said the gap exists despite high-profile examples of women in leadership positions, such as U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, Allegheny County Common Pleas President Judge Donna Jo McDaniel and U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose, who recently stepped down as chief judge.

“There has been a lot of progress in many areas of law, such as on the bench,” Brown said. “There’s an inability to crack that last barrier to succeed in law firms.”

The Institute will be headed by Linda Varrenti Hernandez and will offer classes for local law students, policymakers, and lawyers in the next few months.

At the luncheon, Judge Rendell spoke about the difficulties she has experienced throughout her legal career and the importance of mentoring for young female attorneys:

As a young attorney building a practice in bankruptcy law and commercial litigation, Judge Rendell said she was frequently stressed by the demands of work and family.

“I cried to my husband but I wouldn’t let on at work. I was a good soldier. I was a poster child for ‘Women Don’t Ask,'” she said referring to a book published several years ago about women’s reluctance to ask for better pay and for other things they may need in the workplace as well as at home.

While her husband was a supportive sounding board and “my biggest fan,” Judge Rendell eventually found career help through a male partner at her firm who became her mentor.

“Every woman lawyer needs this,” she said.

The local Institute for Gender Equality will “pave the way out of darkness into light,” and help maximize the potential of female attorneys, she said.

We are thrilled that the ACBA has taken this very encouraging step toward rectifying gender inequality in the legal profession in Pittsburgh. We hope that female lawyers and law students will find it a great resource for ensuring that they get the support and recognition they deserve in every facet of their careers.

About womenslawproject

The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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