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One of my last duties as president of my bar association is to write my last “President’s Message” which will appear in the next newsletter. I thought that it would be neat to write something that I thought was relevant to me and perhaps some words to live by. So, for any of you that might be interested, here it is:
Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice, is the personification of the legal profession. She is an infamous symbol of the fair and equal administration of law. She is the legal system’s personification of balance. The blindfolded woman in the flowing robes balancing the scales with the double-edged sword is depicted throughout the world in courtrooms, legal publications and courthouses. We see her so often that we seldom think about what it is that Justitia symbolizes. She carries a set of scales that balance the justice in a case, weighing the pros and cons of each litigant’s position and a double-edged sword, which is wielded to dispense justice and reason as necessary to the deserving party. She is blindfolded to indicate that justice should be meted out fairly without regard for who is involved. Justitia is a befitting symbol not for our profession but also for us, individually, as attorneys. Female attorneys must be well balanced. Just as Justitia, we are constantly battling to keep equilibrium in our lives. We endeavor to balance our professional and our personal lives. This balance that the goddess of justice manages so effortlessly, is not easy to maintain, particularly if you are a woman attorney raising young children. You are often torn between family commitments, family issues, career related choices and commitments. We find ourselves all too often judged unfairly by those who have little insight into our personal lives. We sometimes have to justify to total strangers why one may be more important than the other at any given instance in time.
A woman who puts her family before her legal career, particularly in the area of litigation, is usually referred to as taking the “Mommy track” when she is a part of a firm and thought to be less than motivated when she practices elsewhere. In either instance, she is judged by where her values lie at that moment in her life and the end result is usually less than desirable. Women who choose to put their legal career before their families are often thought to be obstinate and referred to by many people in less-than-complimentary terms. In a truly “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario, we are constantly battling the external prejudices that fly in our face everyday. We are, nonetheless, usually our own worst enemies, making ourselves jump through hoops to attempt to be everything to everyone.
There are some people that might view my decision to forego a second term as President with incredulity. I view it as a proverbial “fork in the road” in my life. As I write this to you I have relocated out of state to a much more rural area. Primary in that decision, I will not deny it, is the beneficial aspect this decision will have on my children. My husband and I are raising three boys and have chosen to do it in what we consider a much better environment for them; presented with opportunity to have that choice. I am fortunate enough to have chosen a legal path that has given me the opportunity to do what I do, what I can say I actually enjoy doing, from where I would like to do it. I realize that I am luckier than most and for this I am very grateful. I am the editor of two nationally recognized legal publications, National Jury Verdict Review & Analysis and New England Jury Verdict Review & Analysis. In this capacity, I enjoy the ability to speak with attorneys, both male and female from all over the United States about their jury trials. Most often than not, I speak to the winning side, but there is on occasion the “losing” attorney who is more than willing to discuss the case as well. I have a great opportunity to constantly learn not only the laws relevant to the jurisdictions to which I am admitted but to jurisdictions, both state and federal, across the entire country. I enjoy the ability to learn about different aspects of each case that I write about and in the process learn new trial techniques or new things that I would most likely never venture to explore if this were not my career.
My career has taken many twists and turns along the way in the almost twenty years that I have been admitted as an attorney, with my family life tied closely to each of those decisions. I know many other women who are doing the same “give and take”. We cannot look back on each decision and speculate “what if….” otherwise we lose the ability to enjoy the good fortune that we have been given in each of our choices. Don’t be afraid to open yourself up to new and different experiences, you never know where the path you choose may lead you.
The field of law is constantly evolving and there are many opportunities for women at all different stages in their lives to have a freedom and a flexibility that was not available to us just 10 or 15 years ago. We must open ourselves up to these new choices and tread ahead unafraid. We are the pioneers for the women that will come after us, just as many of the older women attorneys have carved pathways that enable us to do what we are able to do today. For example, when I had my first son, I was working in a firm and there was no flextime or part-time positions available. Now, flextime and part-time positions are more common, yet not as prevalent and well received as they could or should be. I know an enormous number of women my age with families that could do more legal work in a part-time or flex schedule situation while raising their children and in doing so, could put some “full-timers” to shame. And as one of my dear friend and colleagues put it, when you leave your legal work for the day, most of us are just starting our “mommy work”. We are used to being on duty, to be working 24/7, it is an inherent part and parcel of our make-up, we should just be able to do it on our own terms, and enjoy it.
The “fork” I have taken is that which best suits the person that I have become over the years, not just the lawyer that I am. As women, we should never shove aside our personal lives to pursue our professional lives. We are a package, a composite of our experiences. We are the professional women that we are today because of the personal women we are. Our femininity, our friends, our colleagues, our spouses and our families define us and shape us. None of us should have to apologize to anyone for who we are. I enjoy being a lawyer, I worked very hard to become a lawyer, I am very proud to be a lawyer, however being a lawyer does not define who I am. Celebrate your uniqueness, go forward to carve new and exciting pathways for those women who will follow us. Walk through life free of the blindfold that Justitia dons, explore your opportunities looking straight ahead to the future, not down and never back.
My best to all of you,