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Judge triggers social media storm after berating lawyer for bringing new-born to court

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US sole practitioner said she had no choice after adjournment application was thrown out — highlighting difficulties women face in legal profession, which five London lawyers aim to tackle with new group

lawyer

Women may form increasingly large chunks of the legal profession on both sides of the Atlantic, but they are still often treated with little more than contempt by their more established male counterparts.

One incident from Atlanta has highlighted the hurdles women continue to face — and triggered a social media outrage. Local attorney Stacy Ehrisman-Mickle applied (see below) to a Georgia immigration court to adjourn a hearing as she was on maternity leave.

Motion for Continuance Due to Maternity Leave

According to US website Above the Law, which broke the story, the judge, J Dan Pelletier Sr, dismissed the application out of hand (see below), apparently irritated that it came with only a week’s notice.

Judge Pelletier's Order

Not wanting to let her client down, Ehrisman-Mickle duly attended the hearing — with new-born infant in tow. She said that as a sole-practitioner, she had little choice but to bring the sprog along.

But catching sight of the child rather predictably exacerbated Judge Pelletier’s wrath:

“When the [immigration judge] saw me with my daughter, he was outraged,” the lawyer reportedly said. “He then questioned my mothering skills, as he commented how my paediatrician must be appalled that I am exposing my daughter to so many germs in court.”

The tale was picked up by US women’s issues website Jezebel and even the BBC online has reported the row. According to American Bar Association figures, some 30% of US lawyers are women, with the figure much higher for younger practitioners.

On this side of the pond, more than 45% of solicitors practising in England and Wales are women, with the number of female qualifers hitting nearly 60% last year, according to Law Society figures.

Despite that increasing demographic, women lawyers — especially in the City — feel their issues get little attention. The Law Society-affiliated Association of Women Solicitors has been around for years, but many view it as ironically being too establishment linked and ultimately little more than a knitting and baking club.

Which perhaps explains the recent launch of Women in Law London (WILL), created by five Square Mile — or Square Mile fringe — lawyers. According to the five — four of whom are with the London offices of US firms — the group was born:

“… after unsuccessfully trying to find a network aimed at pre-partnership (or top level in-house) women lawyers. It was clear there was a big gap in London at this level, which was surprising given the low partnership figures for women, set against the high entry rates to the profession”.

will-network

The founders are: Sascha Grimm and Ellen Hughes-Jones, both associates at Edwards Wildman Palmer, Sophie Bragg, an associate at Mishcon de Reya, Suzanne Szczetnikowicz, a senior associate at Shearman & Sterling and Fatema Orjela, an associate at Kirkland & Ellis.

According to the founding five:

“We have amassed a considerable amount of enthusiasm for the network — it is clear that there is a real need and desire for networking at associate level in London. We believe that WILL will be an extremely important and positive part of life for women in law in the City and aim for it to go some way to improve the poor retention figures in the profession.”

Perhaps WILL should invite Judge Pelletier as a guest speaker for an inaugural event.