Some wonder whether a rule against discrimination in the practice of law is necessary and whether other, less formal or proactive measures may be sufficient, such as supporting minority attorneys. On this point, the history of gender disparity in our profession is a good example of why such efforts, though important, have not been sufficient to address the problem.
“Since the establishment of the Equity Club at the University of Michigan in 1886, women lawyers and law students have formed associations of their own: sometimes because they were excluded from the formal or informal mentoring networks of men, sometimes for a special purpose, such as getting a woman on the bench, or sometimes just to share common concerns in a supportive setting. Specific women’s bar associations have come and gone. Some of the oldest in continuous existence are the National Association of Women Lawyers (1899), Women’s Bar Association of Illinois (1914), the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia (1917), Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (1919), Women Lawyers Association of Michigan (1919) and Queen’s Bench of San Francisco (1921). During the “Second Feminist Wave” of the 1970s, an influx of women into the profession brought renewed energy to women’s bar associations, and many new groups were created. It was in response to this interest that the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations came into being at an American Bar Association meeting in 1981.” — National Conference of Women’s Bar Association’s History Page.
For decades, women lawyer groups have carried out their missions of supporting and advancing women lawyers, holding regular meetings and programs year after year. These examples of past efforts, while very important and helpful, have not been enough, in and of themselves, to correct the gender disparity in our profession. Broader diversity in our profession is an even bigger issue, highlighting the need for further action.