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YLD to recognize the achievements of women

Associate Editor Regular News

YLD to recognize the achievements of women

Associate Editor

To celebrate the accomplishments of women lawyers, the Young Lawyers Division’s Commission on Women in the Profession recently instituted the Outstanding Woman Lawyer of Achievement Award.

The award recognizes the achievements of a female attorney or judge who excels in her field; possesses an excellent reputation for integrity; exhibits dedication to her community and her profession through bar-related or similar activities; and demonstrates a commitment to the success and advancement of young women lawyers.

Nominations will be accepted by April 1, 2016, and the inaugural award will be presented at the June 2016 Florida Bar Annual Convention in Orlando.

Jacqueline Simms-Petredis of Tampa, co-chair of the commission, said the award will distinguish “a woman who has really excelled in the profession and been a mentor and sponsor to other women,” and the purpose of the commission is to identify issues for women in the workplace, and “actually do something about it and implement change in our profession.”

“You don’t have to look far to read the statistics of the challenges that female lawyers as a whole face in terms of quality of life, balance, and the professionalism issue,” said Valerie Barnhart of Ft. Lauderdale, co-chair of the commission. “Just from what I know, it’s a huge quality of life issue.

Valerie Barnhart “You have disparity in pay. You have a pretty big gap in advancement rates where you have female attorneys entering at associate levels on par with men. It’s about 50/50. When you look at the partnership levels, it’s 20 percent women. The remainder are men.”

Barnhart said unequal treatment of women isn’t uncommon.

“Female attorneys are treated like paralegals, sometimes. I’ve seen that happen. I’ve seen it in all kinds of ways. I’m in Ft. Lauderdale. I’m in a very progressive area of the state. There is an issue with treatment in the workplace,” she said.

To get a better idea of women’s issues, the commission recently disseminated a survey to several young female attorneys in Florida, who will remain anonymous, Barnhart said. The survey results may uncover personal and career struggles, if any, relating to gender bias, harassment, lack of advancement, and quality of life.

The commission is working on a webpage with a tentative release date of February, according to Barnhart, which will include a written interview series, “Balancing in Heels: Self, Family, and the Practice of Law.” The webpage will provide links to female-centric professional associations in the state, links to a three-to-four- part webinar series with a tentative April release date, and informational articles of interest.

Simms-Petredis said “there is a lot of talk” about women’s issues, but not much action.

“Men are in the power position at law firms in our profession and they feel more comfortable talking, hanging out, with other men,” she said, adding that in a male-dominated workplace, coworkers and supervisors can be unaware of behaviors that exclude women.

Jacqueline Simms-Petredis “It’s going to be hard to change things from the inside. We want to reach men and people in charge of their firms, but I think we also have to teach women and empower women on how to advance themselves,” said Simms-Petredis.

Barnhart and Simms-Petredis, both female lawyers themselves, shared a few examples of instances where a woman may perceive herself to be left out by male colleagues: when a group of men in a law firm go out for lunch regularly and don’t invite the females. When she is mistaken for a court reporter. When she is asked to “let the men talk.” When she is sent off to fetch coffee or make copies. When she is chastised by opposing male counsel due to her gender.

“They don’t know how offensive it is,” said Simms-Petredis.

YLD President Gordon Glover said he established the Commission on Women in the Profession because issues pertaining to women lawyers are not being addressed by the Bar and by the Young Lawyers Division.

“There are quite a few women who voiced their concerns,” he said.

Meanwhile, the YLD Transition to Practice Committee, chaired by Zack Zuroweste of Clearwater and Paige Gillman of Stuart, is continuing to move forward with several initiatives.

The committee wants to teach young lawyers how to start their own law firms, and is currently working on a website that will provide step-by-step instructions for each phase of the process, and include videos, forms, books, links, and other helpful materials.

The “Take an Hour” campaign mentoring month will promote mentoring of young lawyers, and the committee began filming a video to inspire mentorship, featuring interviews with justices, judges, and lawyers with varied experiences. Filming began at The Florida Bar Fall Meeting, and the committee plans to film additional judges and Bar leaders in the coming months.

Margaret Good of Sarasota, a member of the committee, is taking the lead in developing “how to” videos designed to educate new lawyers on six areas of practice, including how to handle basic family law, landlord-tenant, criminal law cases from start to finish, and how to handle simple probate administrations. The videos will provide practical instruction so that new lawyers starting their own firms can generate business. A video schedule has been developed and three of the six videos will be completed by the end of the year.

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