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About 30 people gathered in Emerson Hall last night for the inaugural event of the Harvard Pre-Law Society, a panel discussion about women in the legal profession.
The five women who made up the panel ranged from a third-year Harvard Law School student to the first female assistant U.S. attorney for the federal district of Massachusetts.
Despite their different positions, however, all of the women agreed that much progress still needs to be made by women in law.
"Just because it is 1997 does not mean all of the battles have been won," said Susan Garsh, an associate justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court.
Each panelist stressed the importance of being aware of the obstacles facing women in the legal profession.
"Today women represent about 40 percent of all graduates of law schools," said Karen Green, a senior partner at Hale and Dorr.
"We are no longer living in an age where access to legal jobs is a problem," she said. "But we are living in an age where advancement in legal jobs is a problem."
Green gave examples from her own experience as a trial lawyer and as an assistant U.S. attorney.
After Hale and Dorr gave her only a short maternity leave, Green said she helped write a more generous maternity leave policy for the firm.
"It's very important to set your own goals and priorities," she said.
Laurie Burt, a partner at Foley, Hoag & Eliot, said despite such obstacles, there were also advantages to being a woman in a profession that continues to be dominated by men.
"There are some things our culture engenders about how women relate and how men relate," Burt said. "Women are more empathetic by nature...it allows you to see the shoes your client is walking in, and that is an asset."
Deborah H. DosSantos, a third-year student at Harvard Law School, said women should not be intimidated by the law profession.
"Women don't speak up in my classes," she said.
Harvard Law Professor Lucie White '71-'72 also mentioned intimidation as a problem.
"I see a lot of women law students either being pressured into careers they don't want or getting discouraged and taking the 'mommy' track," she said.
Audience members were impressed by the panelists' discussion.
"I thought it was very informative and interesting," Camberley M. W. Crick'00 said.
Thomas G. Saunders '00 said, "What impressed me most was the mix of perspectives we had."
"There were women from all sides of the legal field, and they gave different ideas about what it's like to be a woman in law," he said. "Not all of them had good experiences."
The panel was the first event sponsored by the Harvard Pre-Law Society, a student group that evolved out of the Harvard Mock Trial Team last year.
"We thought this would be a great way to encourage women to find out more about law and maybe apply to law school," said Tanya L. Barnes'00, co-president of the Pre-Law Society.
According to Barnes, the Pre-Law Society is planning its next panel for early March.
The panel will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of taking time off between college and law school.
"We hope to involve more of the Harvard community," Barnes said. "So many people apply to law school, and the Pre-Law Society can be a great resource for them."
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