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Jewish World Review April 2, 2001/ 9 Nissan, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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The devil in the legal details -- WOMEN are becoming lawyers in increasing numbers. Whether this is a triumph for the "second sex'' or a failure of feminism may depend on what you think of lawyers.

Women are expected to be the majority of students entering law school this fall, the New York Times reports. Women made up only 10 percent of first-year law students in 1970, but women comprised 49.4 percent of the 43,518 first-year law students in 2000, and so far more women than men have applied for law school this year.

This is not necessarily good news, for either women or society. Sad, perhaps, but true: the greater the number of women in the law the less the prestige for the profession, says Deborah Rhode, who teaches at Stanford Law School. The profession becomes isolated in the "pink collar ghetto,'' as when a prestigious profession formerly dominated by men becomes increasingly female. (Think college professor.)

The law isn't as prestigious as it once was, whatever the color of the collar. Lawyer jokes long ago replaced little-moron jokes as the stuff of low humor. Type in the words "lawyer jokes'' on any Internet search engine and hundreds pop up on the screen. This one is typical:

A lawyer meets the devil at a bar. The devil tells the lawyer that if he will sell him his soul, the soul of his wife and the souls of each of his three children he'll make him a full partner in the top law firm in town. The lawyer scratches his chin, pauses for a moment, and asks: "So what's the catch?''

"Legal ethics'' is the oxymoron everyone understands. John Watson, the behaviorist, says he could take any healthy infant at random, regardless of his intelligence, and make him into a lawyer. The richest and most famous names in the law are those famous for helping robbers, rapists and killers go free.

"The first thing we do,'' says the conspirator in Shakespeare's King Henry VI, "let's kill all the lawyers.'' This is often quoted, and nearly always out of context, but it expresses the universal view of lawyers. So making lawyers of women is not likely to do much for women.

Some feminists argue that feminization of the law will make the practice more "teamlike'' and "less adversarial,'' but that's bad news for anyone caught in the toils of the judicial system. Who wants a nicer lawyer when the price of niceness is a prison cell? Carol Gilligan, a Harvard University psychologist who sees women as the more caring sex, suggests that women lawyers could change the "structure of our society.'' Just how she expects them to do that isn't clear, but you can bet she doesn't picture the likes of Johnny Cochran and F. Lee Bailey in skirts.

As in all professions women have entered, some will climb to the top. The president of the American Bar Association is a woman, but the law is nevertheless one in which women are more likely to claw themselves to the middle. They continue to face many obstacles in the law. They have trouble making partner in the big, high-pressure law firms where long hours make it especially difficult to balance family and career. Mothers who work outside the home remain responsible for 80 percent of their children's care and women are also more loath than men to reduce that part of their life.

Lani Guinier, who teaches at Harvard Law School, says that women, even assertive women, are more easily intimidated than men in law school classes. She should know the power of intimidation. Bill Clinton nominated her to be assistant attorney general for civil rights and then humiliated her by withdrawing her name when others began looking at her radical views, which the president had not bothered to consider.

Women, she says, aren't as aggressive as men in the highly competitive classrooms at the elite law schools: "Women ... feel more pressure to perform well for many reasons, including the fact that when they speak they feel as though they are speaking on behalf of women who are not present.''

This sounds like "gender'' profiling, but it may also be true. Inexplicably, women don't perform as well as men on the LSAT, the test everyone takes before law school so it can be used as a predictor of academic performance. The proportion of women in the top 10th of the classes at the top 10 law schools has hit a plateau at about one-third, according to James F. Guyot, professor at City University of New York. This may slow their climb to the judiciary no matter how much everyone likes Judge Judy.

So why do so many women want to be lawyers? It may be that so few of them have asked the devil: "What's the catch?''


03/29/01: Making marriage glamorous
03/27/01: Crime and punishment on the small screen
03/23/01: When speech isn't free
03/19/01: Russell Crowe doesn't wear a Black Beret
03/15/01: 'The little intimidator' of the breakfast table
03/13/01: "We are asking the Creator for clemency"
03/08/01: Saving El Salvador with dollars and sense
02/27/01: The last cowboys of their craft
02/23/01: When Bubba graduates to Bobo
02/16/01: Clarence Thomas addresses an imperfect world
02/12/01: Ariel Sharon, not by Steven Spielberg
02/07/01: Profaning the sacred with the political
02/05/01: What's the Creator got to do with it?
02/01/01: Live like the snopses, leave like the snopses
01/29/01: It's education, stupid
01/25/01: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"
01/22/01: Poetry and religion in the Bush administration
01/18/01: Ashcroft can't dance (don't ask him)
01/15/01: Clothes make the First Lady
01/11/01: Pity Jerusalem in the 'peace' process
01/08/01: Laying the political race card
01/04/01: 'What women want' in the new millennium
01/02/01: This year, looking ahead is sure sweeter than looking back
12/21/00: Black power with a Republican face
12/21/00: First impressions of two First Ladies
12/18/00: Challenge for the 'better angels of our nature'
12/14/00: What we've lost sight of
12/13/00: Hillary in the lion's den
12/08/00: Return of the 'second sex' on campus
12/04/00: Politics as entertainment today
11/30/00: Winner vs. whiner
11/27/00: Measuring against history
11/23/00: Memories of Thanksgiving past
11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
11/16/00: More than one way to win an election
11/13/00: Sexual politics squared
11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate