March is Women’s History Month. Approximately 40 years ago, women’s history was not a well-discussed topic in general curriculum or within society. Women served as the backbone for much of the country’s innovations, movements, and change, and yet had not been publicly celebrated or appreciated. In the 1970s, many groups, such as the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women initiated a Women’s History Week celebration. Due to the success of this celebration, other groups and organizations began to organize similar week-long celebrations, and the success of these weeks/events became widespread knowledge. In 1980, President Carter declared the week of March 8th as National Women’s History Week. This declaration was the first Presidential Proclamation of its kind. Other politicians began supporting and sponsoring events for Women’s History Week, which led to wide-ranging political support to ensure that women and the achievements of women were recognized, honored, and celebrated. Soon, equality between men and women was a country-wide discussion and it impacted classrooms, courtrooms, homes, and the work force. By 1986, 14 states had already declared March as Women’s History Month and in 1987, Congress officially declared it so. A Presidential Proclamation is issued every year which honors the achievements of women. This has grown to what we now recognize on March 8th as International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day is globally recognized and encourages the celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
Today, there is still much work to be done to ensure that equality between men and women is a reality. In many professions, women are still not promoted at fair rates and do not earn income at the rate of their peers. As a second-year law student, I have experienced first-hand what the journey through law school and within my legal career entail. Additionally, people so often speak about being a first-generation student that I do believe many people have become desensitized to the realities of what this means for the student. What it means is that there’s no one to rely on for help or information, there’s no one to call on when you’re unsure about what to do or what things to pursue, there’s no one to ask about what decisions you should make or what interpretations you can/should take away from a case, and so much more. In many ways, a first-generation law student is literally learning the law and learning about the legal profession itself all at once; and it’s a huge and very stressful task to take on. People are constantly assuming you know everything there is to know and that you’re completely aware and confident about the area of law you want to practice upon graduation. They also assume you’ve had exposure to certain types of people and work. This reality is even more true for women in law school. Often, we are not provided the same opportunities as our male counterparts, and in some instances, are even encouraged to pursue certain practice areas over others where men are deemed more likely to succeed (i.e. patent law). Thus, many women in law school spend countless hours outside of studying and reading for class trying to research even the most basic aspects of the law and the legal field that they seek to enter.
Much of what you need to know about the law isn’t taught until you go to law school or until you are working in the legal field. Therefore, what I learned along the way, what I saw upon reading and viewing moments in women’s history, and what I ultimately feel empowered by during this Women’s History Month, is that finding mentors to instill the right message into you and to assist you with your life’s goals and journeys is so important. The legal career is still very heavily male-dominated and a woman seeking to pursue this career are often faced with overcoming specific challenges. This motivated me to build mentoring opportunities and programs that all law students could take advantage of.
The mentoring program that I created is the Florida Bar YLD Law Student Division Mentoring Program. The program aims to have experienced, competent, ethical legal professionals impart their wisdom upon law students who attend law schools in the State of Florida who wish to successfully complete law school, graduate and obtain their J.D., and pass their respective Bar Examination (or pursue whatever legal career they seek). Thus, mentoring is key to the professional growth of law students who aim to become experienced, competent, ethical legal professionals. The legal profession has seemingly been resistant to mentoring programs largely due to the belief that they do not generate revenue. However, legal professionals should consider that programs such as these may lead to new attorney productivity and attrition; ultimately increasing profits, reducing errors, increasing client satisfaction, and reducing unnecessary costs related to on-going recruitment and other efforts. Also, these relationships can also help to eliminate much of the negative things that people are currently experiencing at work which has fostered movements such as “#MeToo.”
Effective mentoring can also give law students confidence in their skills as a law student and future lawyer. As this confidence grows, it is my hope that it will lead to an overall shift in performance at their respective law schools and on The Florida Bar Exam. Additionally, as The Florida Bar YLD Mentors are involved with these law students, recruitment and engagement efforts for individual firms are also possible; and these students-turned-associates will be likely to remain with the firm. From the perspective of a law student, having a Mentor may serve as a way to tie in practical experiences with objectives learned in law school, may contribute to employment, and may assist the student with important practices such as organization, public speaking, researching the law, and writing the law.
Upon meeting one of my most impactful mentors, I now understand that embarking on this journey of self-care and positive mental health opened my mind to abilities that I either knew I possessed but initially had trouble tapping into or abilities that I didn’t even know I possessed. I was able to overcome the obstacles I faced as a woman; and this made me a better student and person, while opening my life up to new, positive experiences. Ultimately, I made the decision to be fearless in the pursuit of what I needed to do for my future self and career.
It is my hope that the mentoring program will serve as a platform to allow women pursuing their legal degree(s) to seek equality in their journey. With mentors to support the journey, I hope that women will pursue ethical measures to obtain what they deserve in their careers, including access to information, access to equal pay, and access to equal promotion.
Please visit https://students.flayld.org/mentoring-program/ for more information.