Tuesday, May 29, 2012

From One Boys' Club to Another

After graduation, I began practicing law at a small firm in the South.  At the time I was hired, there were four women (including me) in a firm of almost forty attorneys.  When I left several years later, the firm had grown in size, but the number of female attorneys had dwindled to two. 

The numbers weren't the only problem.  I don't think the firm intended to be an old boys' club, but it was, in many ways, a network of former fraternity brothers who now had law degrees.  If you didn't drink, golf, or drink while playing golf, it could be a lonely place to work.  And you haven't been patronized until you've been introduced to a client by a senior partner with the following (in a thick Southern drawl): "Don't let this little girl fool you.  She's a real lady lawyer."

In my second year of practice, I was assigned to serve as local counsel in a Title VII case in federal court.  I had written and filed all of the pretrial motions, researched the salient issues of law, and prepared witness testimony.  A week before the trial, three of us--the lead counsel from New York, a senior partner from my firm, and myself--met to discuss trial preparations.  What did they ask me to do?  Make copies of the exhibits and hand them to the lead counsel during the trial.

I suggested bringing a paralegal or secretary to the trial to help with the paperwork. 

"Why do we need a secretary when we have you?" the senior partner replied. 
"Do you know what I really need you to do?" the lead counsel gestured to me.  "I've got to get a trim before the trial.  Can you recommend a good salon in town?"
In that moment, I knew I wasn't in the club. 

Needless to say, I breathed a sigh of relief when I left the firm.  I had enjoyed the research, writing and oral argument part of legal practice, but I knew I didn't belong in a firm whose partners viewed my greatest contributions to be a headshot for the marketing brochures (a badge of hiring diversity) and the ability to recommend hair salons to out-of-town attorneys.

Several years later, I find myself again outnumbered by the men in my life. Once more, I am a welcome guest but never a full-fledged member, of another tight-knit club of boys.

Today, I sat down on the playroom floor with my boys as they readied themselves to tinker with the heaps of Legos spread across the carpet.  One of their favorite pastimes is building battle scenes for their extensive collection of Star Wars minifigures, and I decided to enter their world for an afternoon.  They were rather excited for me to join them and happily offered to instruct me in the basics of Lego engineering. 

Twenty minutes into the endeavor, I finished an intricate forest scene reminiscent of the planet of Endor.  I had carefully constructed two sprawling trees and a neatly manicured hedge accented by red and yellow flowers.  The scene was complete with a few Ewoks standing guard, C-3PO sitting on a throne, and Princess Leia and Han Solo facing each other in a corner. 

Rather proud of myself, I showed my creation to my boys.
"What is this?!?" one of the boys cried.  "Are these... flowers?  Where are the missiles?  The blasters?  Why don't any of the characters have weapons?"

"This is my favorite scene," I answered.  "Han Solo and Leia share a nice moment.  He finds out that she loves him."
"That's not in 'Star Wars'!" my 6-year old exclaimed in horror. 

"Yes, it is," I replied.  "It's at the end of Episode 6.  Han tells Leia that he knows she loves Luke, and he won't come between them.  Leia replies that she loves Luke, but that Luke is her brother..."    

"A kissing scene?" my 8-year old gasped.  "You're actually building a kissing scene?  Disgusting!"
He proceeded to place a Lego gun in Leia's hand, and repositioned the minifigure so that she was now shooting Han Solo. 

"Let's destroy it!" my 6-year old chimed in.  Two seconds later, my little garden was razed to the ground.  The Leia and Han minifigures, with arms and heads removed, lay in a pile of green Lego bricks.   
"Mom," my oldest son informed me, shaking his head, "we build battle scenes.  We don't build kissing scenes."

And with that, I knew I was out of the club again.        
It doesn't matter if they're lawyers or little boys... I just can't seem to fit in.

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