Advocating for Texas Women Lawyers
The Women in the Profession Committee celebrates 30 years.
Written by Katherine Kunz
“I haven’t observed a [gender discrimination] problem. Those women complaining about discrimination that I have observed have been those that are least competent.” —male respondent to the Women in the Profession Committee’s 1990 Membership Attitude Survey
The Women in the Profession Committee was created in 1989, when then-State Bar President Darrell E. Jordan formed a special committee on women in the profession to research and make recommendations about how to improve the roles of women lawyers in Texas and their contributions to the profession. Initially, the special committee conducted a survey among all Texas lawyers to gauge bias about women’s roles and work in the legal profession and to determine to what extent and in what areas lawyers encountered gender discrimination. Numerous male survey respondents (like the one quoted at the beginning of this article) categorically denied the existence of any gender discrimination in the legal profession—and, in so doing, inadvertently made the case for the survey’s utility.
However, more than half of the survey respondents at the time agreed
that women attorneys face more discrimination and have more difficulty
balancing their personal lives than male attorneys. Women were also
three times more likely to agree that female attorneys would never have
equal status with their male counterparts and twice as likely to feel
that there is more gender bias in law than in other
professions.1 The special committee used the survey results
as a springboard to develop a set of policies and programs designed to
address the issues the survey raised, and the special committee became a
standing committee of the State Bar of Texas in 1991.2 The
Women in the Profession Committee’s formal purpose is to assess the
status of women in the legal profession; to identify barriers that
prevent women lawyers from full participation in the work,
responsibilities, and rewards of the profession; to develop educational
programs and materials to address discrimination against women lawyers;
and to make recommendations to the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors
for action to address problems identified by the committee.
Over the years, the committee has addressed various issues facing women in the legal profession. For instance, in 1998 and 1999, the committee had over a dozen subcommittees focused on priorities, including recruiting and retaining qualified women professors and law school faculty, compiling an index of resource materials relating to gender issues, analyzing attorney grievance data to determine if gender is a significant factor in the filing or handling of complaints, and working with law firms to promote the use of more gender-neutral attorney evaluation techniques.3 At the State Bar Annual Meeting in 2000, following the trend of more than 19 other jurisdictions that had recently adopted similar per se prohibitions against lawyer-client sexual relations, the committee proposed, and the general assembly overwhelmingly approved, a resolution to amend the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct to provide that a lawyer may not engage in a sexual relationship with a client, unless the lawyer and client are married to each other or already had a consensual sexual relationship before the lawyer-client relationship began.4 In 2003, the committee studied intersectional “Impact of Gender on Ethnic Minority Women” and assisted in initiating a racial bias task force.5
One of the committee’s signature achievements was bringing to life the book Rough Road to Justice: The Journey of Women Lawyers in Texas, which describes the many “firsts” of women lawyers in Texas. In 2004, the committee recruited a professional historian, Betty Trapp Chapman, to research and write a book filled with inspirational stories to help readers develop a better understanding of the challenges faced by women lawyers in Texas.6 The book was published in 2008 and remains available through Texas Bar Books, a product of the committee’s dedication to the project and commitment to report on the status of Texas women lawyers.
The committee’s current objectives are centered on the theme of “Where We Came From, Where We Are Now, and Where We Are Going”—continued promotion of Chapman’s book (where we came from); advocacy for issues facing women lawyers today that the committee can address in a tangible way to decrease some of these obstacles (where we are now); and promotion of fellow women lawyers through networking, building, and making new relationships (where we are going). The committee welcomes any input, insight, or concerns and looks forward to continuing its work identifying, researching, and advocating for equitable treatment and opportunity for women lawyers in Texas.TBJ
is senior counsel to Gibbs & Bruns and practices commercial civil litigation in state and federal courts. She is a member of the State Bar of Texas Women in the Profession Committee and chair of its Issue Identification and Bar Recommendations Subcommittee.