U.S. Supreme Court nomination bolsters women’s status

By Pamela Manson

And Elizabeth Neff

The Salt Lake Tribune

 

But overall, women are underrepresented in the state’s judicial positions, making up just 22 percent of district, juvenile and appellate court judges. One one of eight federal judges is a woman.

Three attorneys associated with the Women Lawyers of Utah — Lisa A. Yerkovich, Eve Furse, and Melanie Vartabedian — are examining why women haven’t yet achieved numerical parity in the legal profession.

"We see almost an equal number of women enter and graduate from law school, but we see them dropping out of the profession rather than rising to the top of the firm or going to the bench or taking more prominent roles in practice," Yerkovich said.

A contribution from the Utah State Bar and support from private firms supported the trio’s survey of their profession, distributed in 2008 to men and women who passed the bar exam between 1985 and 2000.

They found just more than 8 percent of Utah women are law firm partners, compared with the national figure of 18.4 percent. A key finding: 75 percent anticipated leaving the profession within five years.

 

Among the reasons cited by women were a lack of a mentor, little chance for advancement, lack of meaningful assignments, a desire for flexible hours, and dislike of required billable hours.

Yerkovich cites the so-called "mommy track" perception.

"A lot of their offices had a perception if they were on the mommy track, they weren’t all in at the firm and needed not to be given big cases," said Yerkovich, a shareholder at Ray Quinney & Nebeker. "That doesn’t allow a person to shine, or others to see what she’s doing because you don’t see her in those roles."

The group will present its final report in July at the annual bar convention. The end goal: to develop best practices information.

Lawyers and judges interviewed about Kagan’s nomination said they don’t believe men and women jurists make rulings based on gender, but hailed the diversity Kagan represents.

"It doesn’t matter what gender a judge is but there may be an added benefit when a court more closely matches the makeup of the population," said Karra Porter, president of Salt Lake City law firm Christensen & Jensen. "It may instill more confidence in the overall court system."

Assistant Utah Attorney General Laura Dupaix looks forward to the day when a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court isn’t a surprise because of the nominee’s gender.

"It’s nice to see women who are clearly qualified and capable of being nominated," said Dupaix, who is chief of the AG’s criminal appeals division.

Durham, who in 1982 became the first woman appointed to the Utah Supreme Court, said the courts are a place where diversity is welcome. Responding to criticism that Kagan, former dean of the Harvard Law School, has never been a judge, Durham said she doesn’t see it as a drawback.

"There’s a long tradition of bringing people to the bench from academia, private practice, the executive branch and state service," Durham said.

Retired Court of Appeals Judge Pamela Greenwood noted the nomination as historic.

"It’s a great step forward for women and the legal profession," she said.

In the photo

Lawyers Eve Furse, left, Lisa A. Yerkovich, and Melanie Vartabedia, are working on their final report of a very unique initiative. The three put together the first initiative on the advancement and retention of women in the legal profession. Their main project has been the first community wide study and symposium on the retention and promotion of women in law firms. (Al Hartmann / The Salt Lake Tribune 5/13/2010)

Pamela Manson email  – pmanson@sltrib.com

Leave a Reply