The incoming class of the J. Reuben Clark Law School contains more women than men for the first time in history.
The law school hosted its annual Women in Law Conference and Panel discussion on Oct. 3. Women of varying backgrounds in law came and answered questions about their experiences in law as women.
The panel consisted of Stephenie Larsen, the founder of Encircle who previously represented abused children on Capitol Hill; Angel Zimmerman, managing partner of Zimmerman and Zimmerman and president of the National Conference of Women’s Bar Association; and Lindsay Combs, a second-year law student.
The master of ceremonies said the panel was chosen to represent different backgrounds and phases of a law career to provide those in attendance varied perspectives to questions ranging from gender bias they have encountered to balancing family life and career.
One question, primarily directed to Larsen and Zimmerman, was on how to balance family and career.
Larsen stayed single throughout law school and then chose to remain at home for 18 years when her first child was born to take care of her children. She said she is very grateful for the opportunity to begin using her law degree in a nontraditional sense.
“Prior to starting Encircle, my children had only seen me really do laundry, taking care of them and cleaning floors,” Larsen said. “For my daughters, it has been really important for them to see their mom do hard things. When we see our parents do something, we think we can do things too.”
Zimmerman said she went to law school while managing a firm and being a mom, and she incorporated her children’s lives into the firm. Instead of vacations, they would go on business trips together where the children would attend conferences and take notes.
“People have heard of a Kansas family farm, we have a Kansas family firm,” Zimmerman said.
When asked about gender bias in law school, Combs said she has never seen any bias from professors or administrators and only occasionally insensitive remarks from students. She also mentioned how the culture in the law school is different than the culture when getting her undergraduate degree.
“I am very happy with how aware of gender issues the men in the law school are,” Combs said. “There are actually so many more male feminists here than I would have ever thought. It’s awesome.”
In order to illustrate ongoing bias, Zimmerman told a story about pregnant lawyers in Canada. Attorneys wear robes, but pregnant attorneys would have cases canceled due to disrespecting the robes since they did not fit correctly.
“No trial was ever canceled because a guy 40 years later couldn’t fit into his robes very well,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman quoted a statistic from the National Association of Women Lawyers that, if the rate of women becoming equity partners remains consistent, women will make up 30 percent of those positions in the year 2181.
Zimmerman strongly believes that these issues are real but also expressed hope that change can start happening now that women in their 50s and 60s are in positions of power to enact real changes.
One question was directed to Larsen about how a law degree has helped her establish something as unrelated as a non-profit organization.
“Credibility has been huge. A law degree is well respected,” Larsen said. “It is such a well-rounded degree that lets you be a part of any conversation.”
Larsen mentioned specifically how a law degree touches on enough areas, like taxes, that it gives enough knowledge to communicate well and be seen as an asset.
“A law degree is a leadership degree, and it teaches you how to be an advocate and better your community,” Combs said.
After the panel discussions, booths were set up representing different fields of law that prospective and current law students might eventually go into.
“A legal education opens a lot of doors,” said Gayla Sorenson, dean of external relations at the law school. “A primary purpose of the event is to help those who have not entered law school to better understand what a legal education provides.”
BYU Law has several resources to help students learn if law school is right for them on its website, as well as in the pre-law advisement center in room 3328 of the Wilkinson Student Center.