The last panel of today's "Gender and the Legal Profession's Pipeline to Power " Symposium is "Bringing it Closer to Home: The Pipeline to Power for Women Lawyers in Michigan."
The first speaker is Julia D. Darlow, a former present of the State Bar of Michigan (1986-87). She was the first woman to serve in that capacity. She reports that when she started practicing law in 1971, her main goal was to be able to support herself and her toddler daughter. Being the only woman in her firm Dickinson Wright PLLC, she forged connections with women lawyers outside her firm. They banded together on legal reform projects involving women's issues and promoting women's election to office. Ms. Darlow urged a broad view of working as a non-conformist through bar associations. For her, the "path to power" was not bar work, though, but rather rainmaking with clients. These clients were not ones handed to her from senior lawyers, but clients that had started out small but became bigger consumers of legal services.
The second speaker, the Honorable Victoria Roberts (E.D. Mich.), was unable to attend at the last minute because of illness. She was the President of the State Bar of Michigan in 1996-97. She was the first woman of color to hold that position. She was the managing partner of a prominent Detroit firm before being appointed to the bench.
The third speaker, Nancy Diehl, is the Retired Chief of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, Trial Division. She was the State Bar of Michigan President from 2004-05. She described how her male colleagues were gleeful that a woman was in the bureau to take over all of the child abuse cases, which were "unimportant." Ms. Diehl turned that to her advantage and became an expert prosecutor of those cases. Her advice is to be flexible in taking work assignments. Ms. Diehl became involved in the county bar association. She ran for a local judgeship, but lost. She was then asked to run for a position in local bar leadership, which was otherwise dominated by big-firm attorneys. That led to further bar leadership positions. She concluded with the thought, as a retired prosecutor, that "happiness is power."
The last speaker, Julie Fershtman, is the current president of the State Bar of Michigan. She describes her "personal pipeline story." She had been counseled by her father not to go to law school out-of-state, for fear of lacking local Michigan colleagues when she returned to the jurisdiction to practice. Ms. Fershtman made connections as a young lawyer through the bar association. She says that power as a private attorney comes with having portable book of business, but don't expect that doors will open to you. What we can do to help women succeed? Encourage, encourage and encourage. Be bold. Mentoring is critical to success. What is the future of women in bar leadership at the state bar level in Michigan? It is difficult for any woman who wants to be a high-level bar leadership position without making sacrifices being away from family and the office. Nevertheless, there are many examples in the State Bar of Michigan of women in leadership positions who are willing to help other women.