Barbara Bowden* –
Only about a third of all attorneys are female— and that number is hard-won, as in this typically male-dominated world, women have worked hard to carve their niche.
A bit of history regarding women in the law profession:
In 1868, Mary E. Magoon opened her own law office in Iowa, although she was not a member of the state’s bar.
Also in 1868, Lemma Barkaloo became the first woman to apply for admission to Columbia University’s law school—and Columbia was the first Ivy League law school to reject a woman.
A year later, Barkaloo became the first woman to enter a former legal education after being accepted to the St. Louis, MO law school of Washington University, however after enduring harassment from male classmates, she quit after her first year.
Barkaloo did pass the Missouri bar exam, but died in 1870 during a typhoid epidemic.
The U.S. Biographical Dictionary claimed Barkaloo died of “over-mental exertion.”
Ada H. Kepley finally became the first woman lawyer to graduate from law school (the Union College of Law in Chicago) in 1870.
By 1895, four out of five law schools were still refusing to admit women, although 29 states allowed women to practice law. That number reached 37 states by 1905, and by 1923, every state except Alaska allowed women to practice law—Alaska did not “give in” until 1950.
As you can see, women did not have an easy road on their quest to become lawyers, and, even today, many women attorneys feel they must put in more hours just to be considered “equals” to the men in the firm. For those who are not only attorneys, but also mothers, there can be significant issues associated with the lack of a work-life balance.
Most attorneys must work late hours, remaining accessible nearly 24/7. For a mom, particularly a single mom, practicing law within such an arduous time frame can be challenging, to say the least.
Consider the mom who has packed lunches and diaper bags, and is driving safely to her destinations: daycare for the baby, pre-school for the four-year-old, and elementary school for the 8-year-old.
While mentally calculating whether she will make it to court on time, and going over the case in her mind, this mom is reassuring the 8-year-old that his costume for the school play will be done on time, making a mental grocery list, and trying to remember whether she turned off the stove this morning.
Law Firms, no matter how accommodating, are simply not typically ideal for mothers
This daily tightrope walk has been made a bit easier by law firms which allow their attorneys to do some of their work at home with a laptop and internet connection.
While one study found that about 68 percent of mom attorneys took advantage of telecommuting and flex-time options when they were available, the flexibility of those options came with their own challenges, due to demanding clients, unpredictable schedules, hectic deadlines and the long-hours requirements for attorneys.
Law firms, no matter how accommodating, are simply not typically ideal for mothers, particularly those who have young children. While time off can be had to deal with childcare issues and attend school events, that time must be made up, which usually requires late nights and weekends working, consequently cutting down on family time.
Obviously, the situation is different for every single attorney who is also a mom. Whether it is a workable life depends heavily on whether the mom has help, how understanding her law firm is regarding issues with children, and the level of guilt the mom feels when she is not “there” for her children due to her work, or is unable to “be there” for a client because of her family.
While the challenges of being a female lawyer have changed over the years, they are still very much in evidence, particularly for moms.
Barbara Bowden is attorney and owner of The Law Offices of Barbara A. Bowden. Barbara’s favorite part about being a defense attorney is handling a case from beginning to end – turning something from a negative into something positive. She is extremely passionate about making a positive impact on people’s lives through the tireless work of her law office. When Barbara is not in the office, she is doing her other job – being a mom to her two daughters.
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