Why WLALA? Because We Still Have A Long Way to Go To Achieving WLALA’s Critically Important Mission
by Stacy R. Horth-Neubert, WLALA Foundation President 2019-2021
At the WLALA awards event last week, I asked the question: Why WLALA? Why invest your time and energy — and even your money – on WLALA? A look at WLALA’s mission is a good place to start in answering that question:
The mission of the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (“WLALA”) is to promote the full participation in the legal profession of women lawyers and judges from diverse perspectives and racial and ethnic backgrounds, maintain the integrity of our legal system by advocating principles of fairness and equality, and improve the status of women by supporting their exercise of equal rights, equal representation, and reproductive choice.
I sure do wish we lived in a world where no organization had to advocate for those principles. A world that just embodied those principles. But alas, we still have work to do.
Full participation of women in the profession?
According to the National Association of Women Lawyers 2019 Survey Report on the Promotion and Retention of Women in Law Firms, well, women are not yet fully participating.
- Women are about 50% of graduating law students—a little more than the roughly 45% that we have been for about 30 years.
- And we’re almost 47% of associates—not bad.
- But we’re still only 20% of equity partners.
- And only 26% of firms report having a woman among their firmwide managing partners.
As for other sectors of the profession, the ABA’s A Current Glance at Women in the Law April 2019 report shows women are doing a bit better, comprising:
- 30% of Fortune 500 general counsel (but only 23.8% of Fortune 501-1000 general counsel);
- 35% of law school deans;
- About 35% of federal judges;
- But just 22% of state judges;
- And women are 23% of U.S. House of Representatives, and 25% of the Senate—although we’re about a month away from losing one of those women Senators – albeit for a much more suitable position.
… from diverse perspectives and racial and ethnic backgrounds?
As you probably guessed, we’re doing even worse in this regard. According to NAWL’s 2019 Report:
- Women of color are only 14 % of associates, and a dismal 3% of equity partners.
- LGBTQI+ people are only 4% of associates and 2% of non-equity and equity partners.
- People with disabilities are less than 1% of all attorneys in firms.
Principles of fairness and equality?
You all saw the new Major Lindsey & Africa partner survey that came out last month, right? The one that found that the pay gap between men and women lawyers has actually increased in the last decade from 24% to whopping 35%? NAWL’s 2019 report contains similarly unfair and unequal realities, including:
- “Men are paid more per year than women, and this pattern existed without significant variance across the AmLaw 200 for all attorney types and levels.
- Women work the same hours as men but their billing rates and client billings fall short of men’s.
- 93% of firms reported that their most highly compensated attorney is a man.
- Of the top 10 revenue-generating attorneys, most firms have 0 women in that group.
- Of the top 10 most highly compensated attorneys, most firms have 0 women in that group.”
Integrity of our legal system?
Really, there is a topic for an entire treatise in an era in which the legal systems has become a political ping pong ball – and an underfunded one at that. Suffice to say that the integrity of our legal system is in great need of defense right now.
The status of women?
Another NOT cheery topic: the status of women in America. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s 2018 report, the Economic Status of Women in the States found that the economic status of women in America is either stagnating or declining, depending on the state you live in. And the Feminist Majority Foundation reported just last week what too many of us already know first-hand: that women are bearing the brunt of the economic blow dealt by the pandemic, bearing the majority of the childcare and family-related labor, and women are three times more likely than men to be not working due to COVID-19 related childcare needs. And of course, there have been a slew of legislators who have decided that the pandemic is a great excuse to shut down abortion care, including the governors of 11 states. And that is just the tip of that iceberg: the Center for American Progress reports that since 2011 alone, state legislatures have passed more than 400 laws restricting abortion.
So, yeah, WLALA
So, um, yeah, unfortunately, we kinda, sorta actually, really still need WLALA. Indeed, I shudder to think about the status of women and girls in our profession and in our nation were it not for the work of organizations like WLALA and our sister bars.
I know you are all familiar with the incredible work of WLALA, from the incredible programs – even in a pandemic – to the incredible networking, and the incredible – life sustaining – friendships.
The WLALA Foundation is the charitable and philanthropic arm of WLALA. It was created to increase the utility of the law as an instrument of social justice. The Foundation is where WLALA members are able to put the mission of WLALA to work for our broader community.
The Foundation is also the vehicle through which WLALA supports other organizations whose missions align with our own, such the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law, and the Downtown Women’s Center.
Finally, the WLALA Foundation provides scholarships and public interest fellowships. And this is where the news from me gets really, really good. Because the young women who are our 2020 scholarship and fellowship recipients are so incredible, and so passionate about making change for women and girls in our community, they replenish my previously overflowing but these days very scant optimism.
Over the course of the coming year, you will see many of scholarship and fellowship recipients highlighted here, in the WLALA newsletter. I encourage to read about them, track their progress, fill your optimism cup with me.
This month, let me tell you about our 2020 ICLC Fellow Victoria Bonds.
Victoria Bonds is a third-year part-time student at Loyola Law School. During her first year of law school, Victoria was selected as one of Loyola’s inaugural Make A Difference Day 1 Fellows and interned at Loyola’s Project for the Innocent. Last summer, Victoria interned at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles where she assisted indigent noncitizens in applying for immigration benefits. Victoria interned with Public Counsel this past year. At Public Counsel, she assisted with impact litigation in both the Community Development and Opportunity Under Law workgroups. Without the work of nonprofit legal services, Victoria’s grandfather would not have been able to navigate the complexities of receiving his veteran benefits after serving in Vietnam. Victoria is grateful for the opportunity she had to provide help to veterans who are in similar situations through her internship this summer at Inner City Law Center in their Homeless Veterans Program. After Victoria graduates in 2022, she plans on continuing her work in the civil rights and impact litigation fields.
Fill your optimism cup with me
If hearing the stories of the incredible young woman who are the WLALA Foundation scholarship and fellowship recipients fills up your optimism cup like it does mine, I would like to encourage you to pay it forward by making a generous donation to the WLALA Foundation. Click HERE and make a donation to the WLALA Foundation today. Your donation goes to fund scholarships and fellowships for the next generation. The young ones who are full of passion and fire, and who truly inspire hope that we are all going to be OK – maybe even fair and equal and strong – someday.
 American Bar Association, A Current Glance at Women in the Law April 2019, https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/women/current_glance_2019.pdf.
 See Major, Lindsey & Africa, 10-Year Partner Compensation Survey, Sept. 15, 2020, https://www.mlaglobal.com/en/knowledge-library/research/10-year-partner-compensation-survey. The report notes a “surprising” finding that pay variances between men and women partners are absent when controlling for certain variables that law firms value, such as originations and hourly billing rates. But the factors that firms value are not gender-neutral measures for valuing contributions to the firm. See, e.g., Tracey J. Coates, Eva N. Juncker & Geoffrey Witherspoon, The Battle for Origination Credit, Law Practice Today, June 15, 2020, https://www.lawpracticetoday.org/article/law-firm-origination-policies-climbing-mountain-equity/ (“Women partners and partners of color report that racking up originations is more difficult for them for a number of reasons, including 1) having less access to networking and mentoring because their white male colleagues form more meaningful relationships with their white male supervisors, and 2) in the case of women, generally receiving less help from their networks than men.”).
 See, e.g., Judy Perry Martinez, How lawyers and judges can help rebuild public trust and confidence in our justice system, Aug. 9, 2018, https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/how_lawyers_and_judges_can_help_rebuild_public_trust_and_confidence.
 The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, The Economic Status of Women in the States: 2018, https://statusofwomendata.org/fact-sheet/economic-status-women-states-2018/.
 The Feminist Majority Foundation, The Pandemic & Its Detriment to the Female Workforce, Sept. 22, 2020, https://feminist.org/news/the-pandemic-its-detriment-to-the-female-workforce/.
 Nora Ellmann, State Actions Undermining Abortion Rights 2020, Center for American Progress, Aug. 27, 2020, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2020/08/27/489786/state-actions-undermining-abortion-rights-2020/.