This June, along with it being my birthday month, will include a very special event in my career. I’m a member of a group called PILMMA. I won’t bore you by writing out the acronym, but basically, it’s a group of personal injury attorneys who meet regularly to discuss issues unique to our field. Every year, the biggest event the group hosts is called the PILMMA Super Summit. The summit is in New Orleans, and I’ve been asked to speak at this year’s event. Of course, I’m honored to fulfill such a request, but I’m also nervous as heck about it! I’ve never spoken to a group for 45 minutes, let alone one full of colleagues and peers whom I admire and respect. Gloria Allred, one of the most famous attorneys in the world, is on the same agenda as me. Pretty crazy, right? Even scarier, I’m closing the show as the final speaker for the day. You better believe I will be drilling my lines and rehearsing my speech many times between now and flying to NOLA, timer running and PLEASEWELCOME MELISSA EMERY MY FIRST BIG SPEAKING GIG
especially at big firms, that you will be expected to work 70–80 hours per week and devote the majority of your life to being an attorney. While demands like these feel like unwritten rules, more people need to be unafraid to challenge them. When I passed the bar, I was already a single mom, so doing what amounts to a double workweek was simply out of the question. Sure, I had to make compromises in terms of salary and the like, but I stated plainly from the start that I would be leaving at 5 p.m., and that was that. It was crucial to me, so I made a point to do things my own way.
everything. I’ve never much suffered from stage fright, but it’s been a long time since I was on anything resembling a stage. Luckily, the subject of that day’s talk is something I’m eminently familiar with: empowering women lawyers. I think about this topic all the time because I know the statistics surrounding the rate at which women leave the profession. Recently, I was reading an article by Roberta Lindberg in Law Practice Today. “Distressingly, although women have been graduating from law school at nearly the same rate as men for more than two decades,” she writes, “recent statistics show that women make up only 40 percent of practicing lawyers over age 40 and only 27 percent of lawyers over age 50.”
“When I passed the bar, I was already a single mom, so doing what amounts to a double workweek was simply out of the question.”
That attitude, I think, is something young attorneys of all genders need to adopt. When you’re new in the field, there’s so much pressure to say “yes” to every request a firm makes of you. But, as long as you set honest, agreed-upon terms that everyone clearly understands, there really isn’t a need to follow the herd every step of the way.
Sometimes, it just comes down to having the mentality that you can do it your own way and make it work. My mother, who built airplanes for a living, challenged traditional gender roles during her time. I like to think I’ve helped contribute to that legacy by demonstrating that you can be a successful attorney without giving up focus and dedication to your family. To be able to help other women attorneys feel like they can do the same will be the ultimate goal of my speech. Let’s just hope I get my lines ready in time.
-Melissa Emery WWW.EMERYLAWOFFICE.COM | 1
Why does this happen? Well, the No. 1 reason women lawyers list for leaving the profession is familial concern. There’s a culture in the legal profession,
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