Thursday, July 6, 2017
We welcome Professor Jamie Abrams to the Gender & Law Prof Blog for the month of July. She is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law where she teaches Torts, Family Law, Legislation, and Women and the Law. Her research focuses on reproductive and birthing decision-making, gendered citizenship, legal protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence, and legal education pedagogy. Professor Abrams' most recent work includes Debunking the Myth of Universal Male Privilege, in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, and The Feminist Case for Acknowledging Women’s Acts of Violence in the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism
MothersEsquire: An Introduction to a Supportive Community
As a member of the academic community, I often find myself stuck in something of an outsider status with the practicing legal profession. I am not a practicing lawyer, so my role in the local bar associations, CLEs, and practitioner-related groups often is a bit awkward and strained. I attend as many events as I can, but they are downtown and my campus communities have historically not been conveniently located to these groups. The kinds of conversations – particularly those related to gender dimensions of the profession – are often a powerful and painful reminder of the obstacles faced during my six years of private practice, but they do not quite reflect the day-to-day obstacles that I face in academic life. The same outsider phenomenon can also describe the role of students attending these events. I often recommend that students attend bar events and CLE programs, but likewise the relevance and applicability for them might not always translate smoothly to students to justify the commute downtown in the middle of their academic day.
This blog entry is an opportunity to highlight a new organization that I think has ably bridged communities for moms in the legal profession: MothersEsquire. This year has been an important one for the organization of women’s groups. From the D.C. Women’s March to Pant Suit Nation to Law Mamas, there is no shortage of outlets for women and women lawyers to come together this year. The MothersEsquire organization stands out in a couple of key ways.
First, it is not limited to geographical boundaries or bar licensure borders. For example, I am a member of the Maryland Bar, but not a member of the Kentucky Bar where I currently reside. This is an obstacle, or at least a deterrent, to my participation in local bar events. The same is true for many law students who might be studying in Kentucky or Virginia or California, but may not necessary call that community their home later as a practitioner.
Second, MothersEsquire has followed a “participatory action model” of modern governance. Many long-established bar organizations and affinity groups have signature events that fill the calendar like annual dinners, annual fundraisers, annual awards, golf tournaments, etc. As a new group, MothersEsquire has organically responded and adapted to changing conditions faced in communities. For example, when student members last Fall were attending a state bar ethics program and some questionable and inappropriate comments regarding women in the profession were made by a prominent speaker, the group quickly mobilized via social media and local organizers at the event who were also present on social media responded and addressed the concerns effectively and promptly in real time. The organization is also working on breastfeeding accommodations. It was able to effectively advocate for a law student denied bar exam nursing accommodations and it established an advocacy group to work on courtroom accommodations.
Third, the group has played a role and provided a focus that fills a gap in traditional women’s bar associations. Certainly, not all women lawyers are mothers or identify as mothers. Further, not all women lawyers are interested in or need to have an outlet to think about unique issues of parenting and the profession. For those that do, however, this group provides an outlet, an information source, a networking portal, and more. Its website explains:
“We are Moms. We are Lawyers. We are Master-Negotiators and Multi-Taskers -- at work and at home. We are the Equity Partners at the office and the Team Coach at school. We drive mini-vans to depositions and to carpool line. We read briefs by day and Goodnight Moon by night. And we are bringing women together to Disrupt the "Motherhood Penalty" in our profession.”
Finally, this group is unique for its founding in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky by practicing attorney Michelle Coughlin. Historically, countless influential women’s groups and professional change-agents have originated in large coastal cities, or at least perceptively so. This group is distinctively inclusive. It originated in a so-called “red state” or a so-called “flyover state,” but includes members from far beyond that. Its members include SAH mother attorneys, practicing mother attorneys, prospective mother attorneys, and attorney prospective mothers.
For more information about MothersEsquire join the Facebook group or check out its website: I highlight it here on the Gender & Law Blog as a great example of leadership in the profession that bridges academia and practice, crosses geographical boundaries, and fosters organic professional connections.