As part of women’s history month, the Nassau Court system recently hosted a ceremony at the building honoring women in the legal profession.
“Women and the law is very close to me,” President Marc Gann said, since his wife is a law secretary in the court “and controls her court room and controls me I think rather effectively, not that that’s a bad thing,” and his daughter is a first year law student at Hofstra Uiversity School of Law.
The dean of Hofstra’s law school, Nora Demleitner, was one of the women honored that day and was presented with a plaque for her work in the field of law, education and equality in the courts. A suma cum laude graduate from Bates College, Yale Law School and Georgetown, Demleitner clerked under Judge Samuel Alito on the circuit court of appeals.
“She’s an incredible leader, Steve Schlissel, cochair of women in the courts committee said, singling out the PEACE program which helps to educate couples and parents going through divorce proceedings. The program is the first of its kind in New York State.
“That peace program set the standard for every other peace program in the country, for people going through the separation and divorce program,” Schlissel said.
“Hofstra has always been under the leadership of the dean, a tremendous partner,” Nassau Administrative Justice Anthony Marano said.
In a recent poll, the profession of lawyer ranked as the third best profession for women and there exists almost a 50-50 ratio of male and female ratio in law schools.
“Female attorneys, female judges, female prosecutors have truly become a staple in our courtrooms and in the boardrooms,” Demleitner said in remarks to the court personnel gathered.
“Nevertheless, despite 20, 25 years of incredible progress, we still see women underrepresented at the highest echelons of the legal profession,” Demleitner said. “The legal profession is now more unequal than engineering and nonprofessional jobs for women. Curious isn’t it for a profession charged with protecting fairness and equality?”
While legislative acts such as Title IX and judicial rulings have brought the gap between women and men closer in terms of equality in the workforce, the dean says that there is still inequality that exists and wont take care of itself “if we’re just waiting for time to pass.”
Approximately 45 percent of associates of law firms are women, but only about 17 percent go on to become equity partners.
“They call everyone a partner,” she said, “but there’s a huge disparity between an income partner and an equity partner, and surprise surprise, many fewer women are equity partners than men.”
Demleitner believes change will come mainly from the corporate sector which values more diversity.
“Ultimately the values that they value will carry into the legal profession,” she said, and that new structures for compensation and promotions that would value investments that women make in institutions would have to be created.
“After all, we should be in the business of supporting men and women who want to do it all and who want to build a more equal profession.”
Statistics also show that women in the legal profession are less likely to be married and have children, and pressures from the job can take their toll both physically and psychologically.
The event was cosponsored by the bar association and the lawyers assistance program, which exists to help attorneys and members of the legal profession who find themselves in need of confidential assistance.
“Attorneys set apart from other professions, often suffer from higher than usual degrees of stress, depression, high suicide rate, alcoholism and substance abuse,” lawyer assistant program chair Anabel Bazante said.
All calls are confidential and one does not need to be a member of the bar to receive assistance.
Judge Sarah Krauss was one of those how can attest to the battles some legal professionals suffer from, speaking to the crowd about her own recovery from alcoholism.
“Often in those days I was the only woman in the room,” Judge Krauss said of the first years of her legal career in the 1970s. “I had to kind of hold my own as a woman in the court system.”
As she progressed along her career, “I thought I drank in order to deal with all the stress and fear being a single mother, having to go to law school at night... and so I had no idea what that really meant.”
The judge did inject a bit of humor into her story, saying that as part of her recovery program, when Krauss went back to make amends with one of my bosses at the state division of probation, “she looked at me and she goes ‘I don’t know what you’re saying, you were my best worker’.”
While men are more inclined to drink socially or at bars, women often drink privately.
“I was just lucky I had good friends who helped me and manage to get into recovery and stay that way for a long time,” Justice Krauss said. “If lawyers have a higher incidence of alcoholism than the regular folk out there and those lawyers become judges then guess what happens? the same statistics are going to hold true for judges.”