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Friday Randoms: ADIFF 2011, Penn State, Women in Law Firms

11 Nov 2011

written by Carolyn

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1. ADIFF 2011
The African Diaspora International Film Festival (ADIFF) features 63 films from 37 different countries, all dealing with the experiences of persons of African descent all over the world. I had the pleasure recently of attending a screening of “An African Election,” a film about the 2008 presidential elections in Ghana that will have Oscar-qualifying screenings during the festival. For those who complain about the limited presence and portrayals of African-Americans in Hollywood feature films, ADIFF 2011 is an opportunity to gain exposure to alternative voices and viewpoints. ADIFF 2011 is screening films in four New York City venues. The festival runs from November 25 through December 13, 2011. For more information, visit www.nyadiff.org.

2. Penn State
Coach Joe Paterno and University President Graham Spanier are gone in the wake of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, but something remains very rotten in State College, PA. While Penn State University officials may hope that firing Paterno and Spanier for their failure to take appropriate action in this sordid, vile matter will satisfy public demand for retribution, it seems we’re just at the beginning of uncovering just how bad things really were. Mark Madden, a Beaver County sportswriter, made waves by repeating a shocking rumor that Sandusky may have pimped out young boys to wealthy donors of his Second Mile foundation. Whether or not this particular rumor proves true, it’s important that Penn State not be allowed to sweep the rest of this mess under the rug. The NCAA’s silence so far is damning. If the NCAA doesn’t take action against Penn State if any of the allegations against Sandusky and the Penn State football program prove true, its whole enforcement of “dirty” programs will be revealed for the sham many people already believe it to be. What’s more important – stripping a young man of an award he earned because he sold a jersey for much-needed cash, or cleaning up a program that allows young kids to be abused and exploited by rich and powerful men?

3. NAWL Report on Women in Law Firms
The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) released its annual report on the state of women in the profession, and its conclusions about women in law firms, which the report calls “sobering,” are pretty dismal. According to NAWL, “[n]ot only do women represent a decreasing percentage of lawyers in big firms, they havea far greater chance of occupying positions – like staff attorneys, counsel, and fixed-income equity partners – with diminished opportunity for advancement or participating in firm leadership.” Supporting this statement are findings that (i) the percentage of women lawyers who are associates and non-equity partners in the nation’s largest law firms declined for the first time since NAWL commenced the survey in 2006; and (ii) women account for barely 15% of equity partners, a level that has remained fixed for the past 20 years.

To me, this report comes as no surprise. Having spent nearly ten years of my career at one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious law firms, I know firsthand that big national law firms generally are structured in a way that disfavors women. There are many reasons why this is the case, but as just one example, the prime years for law firm advancement also coincide with a woman’s peak fertility years. If a woman dares to have children during these years, and she happens not to be fortunate enough to have a wife or stay-at-home husband to raise the kids while she dedicates all her time to the firm, her chances of making full equity partner are all but non-existent.

It’s good that firms now have more alternatives for women and men who need to take themselves off the partnership track but who can make valuable contributions to a firm and its clients, but there should be a path for those men and women to get back on the partnership track if they so desire, to participate in the equity of the firm, and to have a role in firm management. But unless large law firms make dramatic structural changes, NAWL is likely to report similarly dismal findings on the careers of women in large law firms for years to come.


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