UHLC alumni talk unique paths of women, minorities in law
University of Houston Law Center alumnae converged Thursday to discuss the importance of women and minorities paving the way at this year’s annual Yale L. Rosenberg Lecture, presented by the UH Law Center.
Though the American Bar Association predicts women potentially making up the majority of law students in 2017, coverage by The New York Times reports women are still underrepresented in law leadership. The newspaper states women make up only 20 percent of partnerships at law firms.
“I would say the most important thing is to find a mentor who is a validator,” said UH Law Center professor Renee Knake. “Find someone who not only will give you the inside on how they’ve advanced, but equally will stand up publicly and claim you and will say ‘this person is qualified.'”
Knake’s presentation, “What Does it Mean to Be the First? Lessons from Women Shortlisted for the U.S. Supreme Court,” featured an all-female panel discussion on women and minority pioneers in law. Knake opened the presentation with anecdotes about these leaders, such as former Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore, a graduate of UH Law Center, said maintaining personal integrity and work ethic are essential aspects of people who go on to become firsts.
“Be who you are,” Gilmore said. “At the end of the day, if you’re doing a good job, your clients don’t care if you’re black, or whatever.”
Knake emphasized the importance of predecessors who set the groundwork for people like O’Connor to break into roles as leading firsts.
Referencing a study conducted on initial judgements people have of women running for office, Knake stressed that it is critical for women and minorities to establish a mentor relationship with someone who will vouch for them. In the study, Knake said, participants were given nothing to judge a candidate by except a photo of them.
“The public will say a man is qualified just because he’s running for the office,” Knake said. “For a woman to be qualified, an external validator will have to come up and say ‘qualified.’ So I would say that’s the most important thing.”
Molly Bagshaw, a first year law student at the UH, lamented the importance of learning from the women who have been pioneers in her field of study.
“Me and my friends were just talking about how we’ve been so fortunate that so many women have come before us already,” Bagshaw said. “It’s really important for us to understand that this is a privilege and not to take it for granted and we still have a ways to go.”