One of the scenes in the trailer for the RBG biopic “On the Basis of Sex” is of Harvard Law School Dean Erwin Griswold—played by Sam Waterston— having dinner with the incoming class of students. He says, “Ladies, let’s go around the table and report . . . why you’re occupying a place that could have gone to a man.”
If you’ve seen “Legally Blonde,” I’m sure you remember the scene where Harvard Law School’s admissions committee is watching Elle Woods’s unconventional admissions video. When the scene shows the makeup of the committee, you—the viewer—see something historically stereotypical: Older white males.
There’s a reason law school has been described as a boys’ club. Look at the enrollment numbers, by gender, compiled by the ABA since 1947. That first year of collecting data showed that men made up 96.5 percent of the first-year enrollment in law schools across the country. It took until the 1970-1971 school year for women to even break the 10 percent barrier. That school year, female students accounted for 10.3 percent of the first-year class.
But times, they are a changing. In 2016, the ABA reported that women were in the majority of first-year students in law school. That school year, female students accounted for 51 percent of the incoming class. The following year, 2017, saw that number increase to 52.3 percent. Fifty-three percent of first-year students in 2018 were female.
Though the scales are tipping to law schools producing more females in the legal world, those women are still facing the stereotypes that have followed the “boys’ club” for years. Some include the older generations still believing women have no place in law, nitpicking the way woman lawyers dress in the courtroom, and making unwarranted advances.
What makes this generation any different than the ones that came before? Social media and the #MeToo movement has shifted the ground in the legal world.
The tweet that launched a movement
In 2006, when Twitter was just getting started and Facebook was available only to students with a .edu email address, the #MeToo movement was getting its start in the height of the Myspace era. It was created by Tarana Burke, who—when listening to the story of a teenaged sexual assault survivor in 1997—wished she simply could have said, “Me too.”
Fast-forward a decade, when several females, celebrities included, came forward to accuse movie producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. Then, actress Alyssa Milano sent the tweet that took #MeToo from a movement on Myspace to the mainstream. In her tweet, Milano asked her followers to reply with “me too” if they’d ever been sexually assaulted or harassed.
With that one request, the #MeToo movement exploded like spoiler alert wildfire in Game of Thrones. The Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., determined the hashtag was used 19 million times from Oct. 15, 2017—when Milano sent her tweet—until Sept. 30, 2018. The movement has even gone international, with 29 percent of all uses of #MeToo being in a language other than English.
How does this relate to law school?
As the #MeToo movement goes global, it still affects you and other law student locally. Type in @LadyLawyerDiary on Twitter.
What started as its own hashtag in the Twitterverse has become its own entity, helping women in the legal community one tweet at a time. I reached out to @LadyLawyerDiary to get the story behind it and the founders’ advice for law students in school and well through their transition into practice.
The concept started in June 2017—before the #MeToo movement took the world by storm— with Rachel Gurvich, a 2007 graduate of Harvard Law and professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill. Gurvich started a thread about law and gender, specifically how gender plays a role in the professional life of a woman in law, using the hashtag #LadyLawyerDiaries.
She started this thread as part of her “Practice Tuesday” hashtag, where she, and other law professionals, offer tips and advice to the legal community about how to conduct yourself when in practice. The camaraderie that grew off the #LadyLawyerDiaries hashtag became such an active community that it became obvious something more formal was needed.
Thus, the handle @LadyLawyerDiary was formed in mid-2017.
Gurvich and 14 other women lawyers from across the country formed the main administration group and started actively tweeting in January 2018.
Who is (or are) @LadyLawyerDiary
The @LadyLawyerDiary handle is managed by 15 women involved in the law. They’re practicing attorneys from small and large firms, law school professors, judicial clerks, nonpracticing lawyers, and even government lawyers.
While some who run the handle remain anonymous, a few have no qualms about revealing who they are. Five of the most publicly known administrators of the handle are:
- Jaime Santos, an associate at Goodwin in Washington, D.C.
- Kendyl Hanks, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig LLP in Austin, Texas
- Kristen Vander-Plas, an attorney with Davidson Sheen LLP in Lubbock, Texas
- Ellie Margolis, a Temple University—James E. Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia professor
- Lauren Rad, a 2010 Harvard law graduate who teaches high school
One of the things the LLD group prides itself on is its diversity. However, they find themselves bonded by being women in law who saw a way to help other women in law navigate the tough matters.
How @LadyLawyerDiary works
The LLD handle is an outlet, a way to reach out, when things get tough for women in the legal profession.
While men reach out on the site infrequently, they frequently engage in the discussions the group posts. In fact, since the time of the #MeToo movement, LLD admins say more men engage in discussions now than they did a year ago.
There’s usually one member of the administration at the helm ready to answer questions about how to handle specific situations a Twitter user may have encountered or to just be a beacon of inspiration when members of the community find themselves having a particularly hard day and wondering if what they’re feeling is normal.
LLD accepts comments and requests either publicly—so everyone knows who posted for help—or privately through a direct message option. If someone asks for advice anonymously through a DM, LLD will ask permission to share the request with their Twitter followers and solicit advise from a multitude of sources in the legal community on Twitter.
Sometimes, LLD will address requests privately to protect the person in need of their help. As of early February, it had 6,429 followers.
The issues tackled
The most common inquiries LLD has faced deal with issues that face women in practice or those who are seeking opportunities. One example involves a follower asking about pursuing a clerkship or even changing jobs. However, there are always those few that stick out, and not every request for advice is easy.
One of the toughest requests for advice became a five-tweet thread for a new female attorney. She happened to be in court, and opposing counsel commented about how pretty he found her to be. Being courteous, the new attorney thanked counsel for his “compliment.” Opposing counsel then decided it was OK to sit next to this new attorney and made several inappropriate advances.
The new attorney came to LLD for advice on whether she should report the event to her firm, though she feared retaliation or backlash if she did take such an action. What happened after this went live on LLD, anonymously, was what they called a “great example of how the larger community weighs in to support our followers.”
More than four dozen followers from the legal community came forward and gave this new attorney their advice. One follower asked for input about the attire women attorneys wore in the courtroom. The follower pointed out that, as a feminist, she believed women should be empowered to wear what they want, but she admitted feeling torn when the outfit could also be worn for a night out. She felt people judged a woman’s attire differently from that of a man but also noted how ingrained it is for attorneys to respect court decorum.
One lawyer, in giving his advice, even noted how it’s easier for men to dress for court. “Our options are limited. Suit, tie, button down, dress shoes. Hard to screw up,” he said.
Recently, the site addressed a request for advice about an appellate oral argument in which a male attorney used the metaphor of a “siren’s song” to warn against listening to the argument of his opposing counsel. Seems innocent enough, right? It would be to the eyes of most, except opposing counsel was the only woman arguing on the docket that day.
Followers have fun, too
It’s not all serious when it comes to the LLD community. It has what’s called #LadyLawyerDiariesMovieNight. It was started by two followers, known as Alice and TheLawNerd, as well as several others, who found themselves tweeting one another while watching the same movie at the same time.
What came next has become a way for the community to take a break “together” and blow off steam. All the movies have themes centered around experiences women have in the professional world. When Alice or TheLawNerd decide to have a movie night, LLD puts the invite to everyone in the community and on Twitter in general.
“It’s a way to feel like I’m socializing and breaking out of my introverted shell without having to worry myself with the anxieties of actually leaving my house,” said Alice. “It’s a fun time, but it also allows us to gain insight into our unique interpretations of the movie.”
TheLawNerd echoed the sentiment: “It’s a fun, lighthearted way for us to connect. It’s usually a good group of lady lawyers.”
To date, there have been three “get togethers” for movie night; they’ve watched “My Cousin Vinny,” “A League of Their Own,” and “Hidden Figures.”
How you can do your part
It’s no secret interactions in the workplace have become a source of uncertainty. To say that everyone is walking on eggshells is an understatement. In the world since the #MeToo movement, men are seemingly more aware of their interactions with female colleagues, and women are more forthcoming about things that make them uncomfortable.
Even still, it’s a far cry from ideal, and there’s a lot of learning to be done on both sides. LLD had advice for men, both in law school and currently in practice: “Men need to realize that having a more equal workplace isn’t something we can do alone and that efforts to fix workplace inequality don’t stop when you leave the office.
“If you truly want to help the women around you, you also need to be a good partner at home, sharing both physical and emotional labor. You need to be a good mentor and advocate for women in extracurriculars. You need to actively seek out women to include in the panels you host. Women can’t fix this on our own.”
They added, “Don’t ask us for dating or gift advice.”
LLD also had advice for women, both in law school and in practice: “You’ve earned your place. It’s not a mistake; you’re not an imposter.
“You deserve respect, success, and equal treatment. You deserve not just to be heard but to be listened to. And the success you achieve is important not just for you but for the women who come after you.
“You’re also not alone. There’s a community of women who’ve been where you are right now. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Trust your gut. If you feel like something is wrong, it’s not just you. The gaslighting starts early.”
In a time of #MeToo and social injustice, LLD had this final piece of advice: “Everyone—not just men—needs to be aware of unconscious bias. We all have it.
“It plays out in particular detriment to women and minorities. Sometimes unconscious bias is on display, even if you don’t intend it to be, or consider yourself to be, biased. If someone points it out to you, try to listen and engage instead of being defensive. If you notice the bias in someone else, call them on it.”