Over this past winter break I sat bored at home, scrolling through a list of university student organizations as our spring activities fair was quickly approaching. Though I am involved in maybe a few too many clubs already, I cannot help but feel inclined to join causes that excite me. Thus, I started to specifically look for a Women in Law club on this list. Here at Pitt, we are fortunate to have organizations such as Women in Business, Women in Economics, Women in Computer Science and countless others. We even house a social engineering sorority, Phi Sigma Rho. How cool is that? In nearly every field, women at Pitt can find a place to interact with academically-similar peers, uplifting each other and forging their professional paths together. Naturally, I assumed that there would be a club for women like me, who were interested in the legal field, law school and/or being a lawyer. I was, unfortunately, wrong.
In my search, I was only able to come across an organization at Pitt Law School, called Pitt Law Women’s Association. This organization brings together Pitt Law women to discuss gender-based discrimination in the legal field and other legal issues affecting women. PLWA is absolutely incredible; however, it is only able to encompass women who are already law students. What about undergraduate women? In my search to see if there was a version for undergrads and then subsequently not finding one, I realized that such a club could be really important for undergrad women considering law. So I made it myself!
My goal with founding this organization is to help grow a sense of confidence and passion for young women interested in law, from all majors, to successfully pursue their goals and careers. The thought of becoming a female lawyer within the very male-populated legal field is undeniably daunting, even for me who decided I was going to be a lawyer when I was 8 years old. I’ve never considered anything else for my career, but others have not experienced the same. The legal field (like most fields) severely lacks adequate female representation and there are often not many spaces dedicated to bringing together pre-law students, let alone pre-law women. For women who are still contemplating whether or not law is right for them, the fear of falling behind their male counterparts or having to compete with them can be very real, and extremely detrimental. I struggle with imposter syndrome in so many of my academic settings, and I know this phenomenon likely extends to many of my peers studying law and politics. Sometimes I question myself, wondering if I will be able to succeed when the time comes to argue in front of a judge, question a witness or even just keep up in law school. There needs to be a bigger push in pre-professional efforts to encourage women to pursue law. Yes, we do have our own agency to pursue the profession we want, but it makes it a whole lot harder when it feels like no one has your back.
My experience with failing to find an existing forum for women in law at Pitt led me to find out that it is not just my university. This lack appears to be widespread. I wanted to know if other schools had clubs for undergraduate women interested in law, but I could only find 3 to 4 schools with one during my search. An article about the founding of a Women in Law club at Lafayette University in fall 2018 perfectly encapsulates why I decided to start a branch for my university. In this article, the author pulls a quote from one of the founding members, who stated that “when researching this club, we learned about a major disparity in the number of women who are appointed partners in their firms, and how oftentimes the legal field can be seen as a ‘boy’s club.’”
This entire journey of founding my own college club points to a larger issue. Pre-law women are not being supported to the extent that they could and should be. Once again, there is obvious underrepresentation of women in nearly every professional field. But the difference is, there have been much bigger and more widespread efforts recently to help women pursuing things like STEM. There has been a rise of scholarships, internships, clubs and more to support such women. But the same cannot really be said for women in law. According to the American Bar Association, though women make up half of all law students, less than 25% of all partners are women, which is an extremely concerning disparity. What if these numbers were able to even out with a bigger push to boost confidence and resources for women in law in their undergraduate careers itself? This in no way is a proclamation that we should spend less time supporting women in STEM, or business or economics. Instead, this is an outcry that every woman deserves to be uplifted in her professional goals, and women in law need to be given the same level of opportunities as our peers. Support is key, and that is precisely what I hope Women in Law at Pitt will begin to offer.
Along with discussing the lack of female representation in the legal field and legal issues affecting women, WIL at Pitt is lucky to have the opportunity to partner with Pitt Law Women’s Association. We will be starting a mentorship program with the women of PLWA, where their law students will be paired with undergrads in our club for what will hopefully be a meaningful and impactful experience. Mentorship is such a significant aspect in growing to be a strong and confident young professional, especially for women, and especially for women in law as the field still has such gendered, masculine associations. But “boy’s club” no more. Women in Law at Pitt is here to make a difference, no matter how big or small, in the perceptions of the legal field. And with a roster that has already accumulated 70 members within two short weeks, it is evident that this club has been desperately needed at my university, and should be implemented at every university.
On the interest form I sent out, new members had the option to leave a question or comment on the bottom of the Google Form. One student left me a comment that confirmed the need for this club: “Thank you so much.” Through all the stress, planning, emailing and conferencing, this sentiment is what will continue to fuel me in my efforts to help my fellow pre-law women.
And I absolutely cannot wait to get started.