A recent survey by the Young Lawyers Division of The Florida Bar reveals gender bias in the legal profession.1 The survey respondents reported being mistaken for court reporters and being referred to as “blondie” and “little lady”. Ramón Abadin, President of The Florida Bar, is responding to these findings in the following ways: 1) by acknowledging that the problem exists; and 2) by bringing more men into the conversation. The goal is that through open dialogue women should not realize any limitation of personal or professional growth based on their sex.
It is coincidental that these findings came at a time when we have learned of the passing of Judge Susan Schaeffer.2 Judge Schaeffer passed away on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. It had been my privilege to practice before her. I can remember the high standards to which Judge Schaeffer held anyone that appeared in her courtroom. Sue Rudd, her longtime judicial assistant and life partner, stated the following about Judge Schaeffer’s start in the practice of law: “She was not accepted in the man’s world, but she kept working. She built a reputation, and they couldn’t deny that she was a force to be reckoned with.”
Thus, hard work overcomes bias and is the great equalizer in the practice of law. For Judge Schaeffer, her great energy, talent and intellect as a jurist overcame the fact that she experienced gender bias. All of us can learn from her example.