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Downs urges women to become involved in Bar work

Managing Editor Regular News

Downs urges women to become involved in Bar work

Mark D. Killian

Managing Editor

Does The Florida Bar Board of Governors really care about involving more women in Bar governance?

Mayanne Downs “I can tell you the answer is — at least in my experience — a resounding yes,” Bar President Mayanne Downs told those attending the Florida Association for Women Lawyers’ “Path to Bar Leadership” program at the Midyear Meeting in Orlando.

“Every single president I have served with sought my opinion on getting women more involved in Bar activities,” she said.

Downs’ advice for those who want to become active in Bar work? Apply.

“It is really hard for us to appoint you if you don’t apply,” said Downs, noting that when she was making Bar committee appointments the pool of men seeking positions was much greater than the number of women applying.

“The first thing I tell women is get your name out there at every opportunity — run, apply, e-mail, do all those things to get yourself front and center so you can become a part of the process.”

Downs also encouraged women lawyers to get a Martindale-Hubble rating. She said the legal profession “tends to be conservative and tends to do things the way they have been done in the past” and Martindale-Hubble ratings are traditional and mean something in the profession.

“Frankly, if a lawyer. . . has to pick five people for an appointment and is faced with 30 applicants, what’s the easy differential?” Downs asked. “Who are the lawyers who are AV-rated?”

When Downs was first elected to the Board of Governors in 2002, there were three women board members at the time. Now there are eight.

“Is that the hugest increase in the world? No, but it is an increase, and we are seeing more women rise up in section leadership roles,” Downs said. “I’m seeing more women rise up in the appointment process. It is happening, and it is clearly happening in a way I know will continue.”

Bar President-elect Scott Hawkins also encouraged women and other minority lawyers to seek board certification as a way to distinguish themselves.

“It’s arduous, it’s hard, it’s a pain, but it is worth it,” said Hawkins, noting a big component of certification is peer review, and that is important because “how you treat people matters.”

Hawkins also said once you are appointed or elected to a local or state Bar position, do your best to exceed expectations.

“If you excel, it will be noticed and people will begin to believe they can rely on you,” Hawkins said. “How do you do that? Prepare, show up, deliver, and shine the light on others.”

Being active and competent will assist you in building relationships that will help you along the way.

He said those who excel also tend to bring others along with them.

“I believe you can help each other quite intentionally and appropriately,” Hawkins said. “As you move up the ladder and have opportunities come your way, reach out and identify young women who you think have the ability to succeed and excel if given the chance.”

When asked if it could hurt your chances for future success if you run for a position and lose, Downs recalled that when she was fresh out of law school, she ran for a seat on the Bar Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors, but lost by 11 votes.

“But I’ll tell you what,” Downs said. “I got to send my resume to 900 people, and I got my name out there, and I was proud of my resume and people called up and said, ‘Hey, that is a pretty cool resume.’ So that is why I said my first rule is getting your name out there.”

Downs said she went on from that defeat to win election or appointment to many various Bar offices, commissions, and committees on her way to becoming Bar president. She also said working your way up the ladder sometimes means having to wait your turn or deciding whether to challenge the existing order.

“There is an important political balance; there is no question about that,” Downs said.

Downs said the very best Board of Governors members she has served with are the ones who have been active in their local bars or Florida Bar activities before they were elected to the board.

“Sometimes we see people come out of the blue and land on the board, and, frankly, their effectiveness is often very limited because it is so daunting to learn how the board works that that muzzles them for a year or two,” Downs said.

Hawkins also said running and losing should not be a hindrance, so long as you run a good race, give it your best, and are prepared and honest.

“You gain friends, you will gain respect — even if you lose — and that will help you again,” Hawkins said. “I’m a real believer in taking the courageous step, and you can lose but win in the process.

“If you want to be viewed as a serious lawyer, part of a serious legal community, it is in the Bar association that you find that,” Hawkins said. “If that means something to you, then you can receive the satisfaction by getting into this field of work.”

Hawkins also said most people who excel at Bar service have first excelled as lawyers.

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