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An IWD Reflection

6 minute read
Also authored by: David John

This time of year tends to bring about a certain degree of introspection on my part. Whether it be a general sense of gratitude with the promise of spring on the horizon, or in feverish anticipation of whatever potential ideas the month may bring; my mind turns to reflection.

This year, my degree of introspection seems to be even greater. No doubt in part that my wife and I are on the cusp of expecting our first child, adding to the seasonal sense of liminality and transition with all the excitement, terror, and impending responsibility that awaits one in new parenthood. The profound sense of wonder and admiration for what my wife is enduring for our budding family is something I could write volumes on, but will not do so here. Suffice it to say that I am left deeply humbled, with a desire to shoulder whatever responsibility I can for her- to be her ally.

This past November marked the start of my 10th year with the firm. While I have amassed no shortage of memories and experiences in my time at Lerners, one of the earliest ones I can recollect was a news article that was posted on our lunchroom bulletin shortly after I started. I recall the headline reading something to the effect of how Lerners had achieved gender parity and featured a group of women that I had not yet had the opportunity to meet. At the time, this seemed to signify to me that I was likely in the right sort of place, I smiled and went about with my day.

Perhaps the reason why this memory remains so clear is how, unbeknownst to me, what an impact the women of Lerners would have on my time at the firm. I have been fortunate to have had the influence of many strong women throughout my life and my time at Lerners has been no exception.

I have no formal background in the legal industry and while I consider myself to be a fairly resourceful and pragmatic individual, there has been a lot that I didn’t know (or didn’t know that I didn’t know!). In retrospect, my greatest allies at the firm have been those who have taken the time to provide me with meaningful context and explain the why to me.  This is not to suggest that I have not received meaningful consults and mentorship from the men of the firm but merely a reflection that those individuals who have taken the time to elucidate and offer me meaningful guidance over the years (sometimes in dire circumstances) have invariably been the women of the firm.

As we approach International Women’s Day I am challenging myself, as I would challenge my male colleagues, to look reflexively and examine our own unconscious biases and privileges. To listen earnestly and honestly and to overcome whatever personal fragilities or ego may stand in the way. In doing so, I find that I am becoming increasingly aware that by virtue of a number of determinants, not the least of which being born a man, I have been afforded certain privileges throughout my life. The very nature of privilege is that it is invisible to those who benefit from it and as such, I find that I must be intentional in practicing humility and actively examining them.

All of this is to say that I am cognisant that I can not do it alone- I need my allies. I believe the same holds true for gender equality. While empathy may be a key component underlying allyship, it is meaningless without action.  It is a shared responsibility and as men, I believe we have a duty to be meaningfully engaged in the dialogue and to examine our role within those systems of power which perpetuate inequality.  To shoulder the responsibility of dismantling them. To be an ally.

In my time working in this industry, I have come to understand that the legal profession is one, like many others, with a long history of paternalism. One in which women were historically undervalued by their peers and not provided with the same opportunities that their male counterparts were.

The article on the bulletin board noted that there was no explicit intention to achieve gender parity, but it rather came about as a by-product of “hiring the best”. This seems so logical to me- Why wouldn’t any firm want a significant portion of the population’s best minds, with experience, empathy, and viewpoints that cannot be offered by their male counterparts to advocate for their clients?  The value that a female lawyer can bring to a female client seems self-evident. The answer is multifaceted and stems from a history of discriminatory hiring practices, harmful stereotypes, and misogynistic attitudes that have served to disempower women in law (the irony of my attempting to “mansplain” this is not lost on me).

To me, this speaks to the collective intelligence that is held and valued at Lerners and the strength that comes through the diversity of perspectives and lived experiences that our firm members possess. To my understanding, it was in part this logic in valuing those perspectives which set the stage for trailblazers like Janet Stewart and have allowed Lerners to continue to flourish and grow into the firm that it is today.

So while this legacy of female disempowerment does not seem to be the case at Lerners, there is clearly much work left to be done within the larger legal industry, justice system, and within our society.

The purpose of this blog was to share the story of a woman who inspires me, and in my own meandering way, I realize that I have neglected to actually do so. There have been so many and as such, I would rather dedicate this blog to the all women of the firm, who whether knowingly or unknowingly, have provided me the knowledge, guidance, and support throughout the years that has enabled me to continue to grow in my career and beyond.

So, to all of the Annes and Alysias… the Carols and Christinas through to the Dawns, Debras and Hollys… To all the Kellys, Kirstens, and Michelles…From the Ornas, Sarahs, Shaunas to the Sahars, Zahras and everyone in between- Thank you for being my ally.

I have now had the opportunity to meet many of those women in the photo and as it turns out, (perhaps not surprisingly!) they have continued to serve as beacons of accomplishment and integrity in their respective fields. They continue to amass accolades from colleagues, clients, and the larger legal profession alike. They have led our firm as managing partners and as practice group leaders, tirelessly advocating for their clients and embodying the very values that Lerners strives to represent in our communities.

It has been nine years since that article was published and to date, more than 70% of the senior leadership at Lerners are women- as are both of our managing partners and many of the firm’s practice group leaders. And the individual who was seated in that photo I noticed on the bulletin board all those years ago? She is now seated as our Firm Chair. It almost seems a little prophetic in retrospect.

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