Even with The Awful looming in the background, I took a few hours to go to my very first CLE class: “Challenging Gender Bias with Positive Role Models in Theater, Society, and Law.”
The class was held at the Guthrie, which is Minneapolis’s local swank theater.
This is the brick book they gave everyone:
Val Jensen moderated the program. Jensen was perched at a podium between a group of actors and a panel of prominent attorneys.
The actors performed excerpts from cases1 and scenes from the play Third. After each performance, Jensen asked the panel to react. The initial comments from the panel were generalizations, but after a few scenes the attorneys began to share personal anecdotes of gender discrimination.
The personal experiences were the most interesting part of the program.
One of the attorneys said that a client attempted to force himself into her hotel room one night. She was an associate at the time and didn’t feel comfortable reporting the incident to her boss. Since becoming a partner, she stresses to her associates that they should report any improper behavior2 by clients. She doesn’t want her associates to experience the same problem she had.
I was surprised that the course was so balanced. It wasn’t a feminist rally.3 One of the attorneys even said that she had to deal with a woman who preyed on the men of the firm.
The excerpts from cases generally focused on the discrimination of women. But the play Third is actually about reverse discrimination:
Third tells the story of professor Laurie Jameson, whose life is thrown into disarray when she accuses a student of plagiarism. In challenging the student, who in turn charges her with reverse discrimination, Laurie is forced to question her feminist ideology, standards and family relationships.
The panel advanced an interesting theory that political correctness can keep women from being promoted: Men choose not to work as closely with women because they fear a sexual harassment problem. It is much safer to work with (and give work to) another male. So the male associate gets the important assignments and advances quicker than the woman.
The panel reiterated that women are “sometimes their own worst enemies.” Females tend give harsher criticisms of female supervisors. There was also an interesting discussion of whether women consciously align themselves with the gender expectations within a firm.4
Typically gender stereotypes are in favor of women being more effeminate. One of the partners shared advice she was given about litigating in Kentucky:
“I was litigating in Kentucky and was told ‘you’d better wear a skirt.’ I, of course found this very offensive because I don’t like to wear skirts! I didn’t wear a skirt, and lost the case…”
This kicked off a portion of the program dedicated to stereotypes. The panel had a lot of good quotes:
Jan Conlin: “Often we reach out to gather just enough information to confirm our biases and move on from there.”
Annamarie Daley: “As lawyers we are out to get information, and we should bring that drive to everyday life.”
The class was very informative and a good way to meet lawyers. Before I started law school, a 3L told me to attend CLE classes.
I thought the 3L was a crank, but now I realize that lawyers who would normally not talk to 1L’s are perfectly willing to chat when forced into the same “class.”
It was amusing how the audience of lawyers resembled law students during special lectures: a blackberry solitaire game here, the discrete reading of briefs there. But thankfully the panel was interesting enough that most people paid attention.5
My first CLE experience was well worth postponing The Awful off for two hours. I just hope every CLE is this interesting.6
1 I think it was mostly trial testimony.
2 By behavior, I think the context is “sexual advances.”
3 Yes, I was expecting that.
4 One of the attorneys said, “litigation can someones be like junior high locker room.” This is definitely true for law school…
5 People paid attention despite the fact that there was no interaction with the audience, but I think there was some discussion through the webcast. At one point Jensen asked a question that was submitted online.
6 I suspect normal CLE courses are taught in classrooms by Ben Stein impersonators.