Women and The Law: Perspectives From Women Deans of Texas Law Schools

Nelita Collins
Episode Notes

Women play a vital role in the legal profession, and their leadership should be encouraged and supported as we move into the future. State Bar of Texas podcast host Rocky Dhir talks with four deans of Texas law schools, Joan R.M. Bullock, Jennifer Collins, Felecia Epps, and Patricia Roberts, about their perspectives on women and the law. They discuss changing dynamics in work-life balance, overcoming bias, and how unique viewpoints from women in law enrich the legal profession.  

Joan R.M. Bullock is Dean of Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law. 

Jennifer M. Collins is the Judge James Noel Dean and Professor of Law at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.

Felecia Epps is Dean at the University of North Texas College of Law in Dallas. 

Patricia Roberts is Dean of Saint Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio.

 

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Transcript

Intro:  This podcast is brought to you by LawPay.

[Music]

Female Speaker:  Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated content to improve your law practice.  With your host, Rocky Dhir.

Rocky Dhir:  Hi, and welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, if you tune in regularly, first of all, thank you.  Second, you know that I’m a very proud member of the State Bar, and I’m not only proud of the State Bar itself, but also of our Texas Legal Community.  We set the standard, we lead the charge on so many fronts and one of those fronts is the number of women leading our law schools.  Let’s put that into numbers.  So, Texas has ten law schools.  Out of those, four are led by women Deans.  You now have one of two choices.  You can either hit the pause button and break out a calculator or you can take my word for it that amounts to 40% of our law schools being led by women.

The national average is 30-ish percent.  So again, we’re ahead of the curve on yet another metric.  But why is this an important metric?  I mean, who cares whether a Law School Dean is male or female or gender fluid, for that matter?  Why are we still talking about these types of issues in 2022?  March is Women’s History Month and to commemorate that, you will see an article in the March 2022 edition of the Texas Bar Journal in which Britney Harrison, past President of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, moderates a round table discussion with Texas four women Deans to discuss their journeys and the role that women do and should playing the law.  Now, we’re lucky because with us today are all four of those Deans.  And let me introduce them in no particular order.

We have Joan R.M. Bullock of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University.  We have Jennifer Collins of SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas.  We have Felecia Epps of UNT Dallas College of Law, where by the way, I’m an attorney mentor.  So big shout out to my past and current mentees.  I love you guys and finally, last but not least, Patricia Roberts of St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio.  They all have graciously agreed to discuss their perspectives on women and the law on this very, very special episode of the podcast.  So, Deans, thank you all four of you for being here and welcome to the podcast.

Felecia Epps:  Great to be here.

Jennifer Collins:  Thanks for having us.

Patricia Roberts:  Good to be here.

Rocky Dhir:  That’s called Dean surround sound right there.  We love that.  This is great.  This is awesome.  Yeah, I don’t think we’ve ever had four guests at the same time.  So, this is going to be fun.  I think in Southern terms, this is what they call a hoot and nanny.  So, we’re going to have some fun here today.  So, let me just jump right in.  I’m going to jump into what I think are one of the bigger questions when we talk about women in the law, and that is why are we talking about women and the law?  Aren’t there plenty of women lawyers and women in leadership?  Let’s kind of dissect, first of all, why this is an important topic.  And Dean Bullock, let me start with you.

Joan R.M. Bullock:  I think the reason that you’re asking the question answers why it’s important that we have women leadership in the law.  There needs to be an encouragement of different perspectives, and women are providing that.

Rocky Dhir:  Okay.  So, how so?  What do you think is the perspective difference between women and men as lawyers and as leaders?  How would you maybe characterize that?

Joan R.M. Bullock:  It’s about lived experiences.  It’s not that one experience is better than the other.  It’s about lived experiences and the whole aspect of the importance of law is allowing for a consistency in how we engage with each other in an organized society and by having an opportunity to explicitly discuss and to visibly see how their different perspectives are involved in society.  It helps that we have women Deans who are able to continue that trajectory of thought, and that is something that has not been very visible and not very vocal in the past.  So, I think it’s very important that we have more voices and more diverse voices as to how people are thinking about how they are to live their lives.  How are they going to be living in a society where we are to welcome each other, to support each other, and to ensure that each one of us live a productive life.

Rocky Dhir:  There’s a lot more we can talk about with that, but I do want to hear from the other Deans as well.  So, Dean Collins, I’m going to turn to you next, and I’m going to act like Steve Harvey from Family Feud.  I’m going to repeat the question, which is why are we talking about women lawyers and women in legal leadership in 2022?  Why do we still have to have this conversation?

Jennifer Collins:  We still have to have the conversation because although we have plenty of women law graduates, about 50% of all graduates for the past 20 years from American law schools have been women.

(00:05:02)

We still do not have enough women in legal leadership positions.  Women are a very small percentage of equity partners at law firms.  They are very few general counsels at Fortune 500 companies.  And as you mentioned, even though Texas is in the lead on this, they’re still only about 30% of law school Deans and I really think we need to think deeply about and interrogate why so many women enter the legal profession, but are not equally represented at the top in proportion to the numbers at which they are graduating.

Rocky Dhir:  Do we have any insights on the factors that might be leading to that?

Jennifer Collins:  I think there are so many factors that are leading to that.  One, I think is certainly the implicit biases that women are confronted with as they rise in the ranks of the legal profession.  Another is that work family balance is very difficult to achieve still in a business model that is primarily driven by the billable hour that can drive some women out of the legal profession.  So, I think there are a whole host of factors that are contributing to women sort of dropping out along the path to leadership.

Rocky Dhir:  Okay, interesting.  Again, just like with Dean Bullock, you’re giving us a lot more to talk about, but I do want to hear from our other guests as well.  So, Dean Epps from UNT Dallas College of Law.  I apologize if I sound like I’m partial to UNT Dallas, but I go there every Friday to mentor the law students and it’s just a wonderful experience with all of them.  So, Dean Epps tell us about women and the law and your perspective on why that’s an important discussion to still be having.

Felecia Epps:  Well, I think I can piggyback off of your experience as a mentor as well as what Dean Collins just said.  Really, mentorship is the key to so much.  And part of the concern with women as they move up the ranks in order to get to be equity partners, to get in other places like that is the lack of mentorship and that is really what we found is the key to so much, which is why we have that extensive mentorship program for all of our first year law students is because mentorship is the key to success in law school or one of them, as well as passing bar exam, as well as making it up your career to wherever it is that you are looking to go.

So, I think that point is very important as well as I think as women Deans, I’m also getting back to something Dean Bullock said.  To lived experience is different.  We have experience.  Well, I will say “I,” but I think I can speak for the other women Deans as well.  Being the only woman in a courtroom where there are all men.  For me, that was in the Marine Corps and in Southwest Georgia when I was there.  And you’re there and you have to represent your client, you have to give that your best in spite of some of the attitudes, you may get a little pushback in that kind of situation.  Well, we bring that lived experience to our roles as Deans, and then our service role models for our women’s students who are — I hate to say, likely to encounter some of those same things as they enter the legal profession.

Rocky Dhir:  We actually talk about that during the mentorship sessions as well, about how that can be a factor.  So, yeah, we do need to come back and touch on that a little bit.  Dean Roberts down in San Antonio, talk to us about your perspective on this topic of why we’re still talking about women in the law in 2022 and women in legal leadership in 2022?

Patricia Roberts:  Well, I think it’s so critical for our students to see women in the leadership positions as they’re entering law school and they’re entering law school in even greater numbers than ever before.  When we look back at St. Mary’s history, we are nearly hundred years old, and in the first 40 years, 100 women graduated.  But in the next 45, we had 4025 women graduating and now we have a majority of women entering our classes in the first year from 2018 on.  Increasingly, I’m seeing leadership positions across the law school being held by women.  All of these things are important so that as our female students, women Deans, women corporate directors, women equity partners, they see that they can aspire towards that.

In our lifetime, Justices O’Connor and Justice Ginsburg could not get employed as lawyers when they graduated from law school.  Looking back in this century, that’s hard to believe and look at what an impact they had on the legal profession and their memories continue to have.  So, it’s very important for us to lead and show how women can be family members.  They can be empathetic and supportive and community servants while still doing the leadership that my colleagues on this call are doing every day at their law schools.

(00:10:03)

Rocky Dhir:  Each of you has brought up a series of very important topics, and I doubt we’ll be able to get to all of them during the course of this podcast.  What was interesting, though, was hearing a number of you talk about this issue of work life balance and how that’s a factor, particularly for women.  What I want to ask and kind of get your perspectives on is do men or do you think increasingly as time goes on, men will face the same challenge?  Let me tell you where I’m coming from with that.  I have a young child as well at home, and I find that as a father, people don’t often think that I have to be home to take care of my child or do something.  They expect me to be available, right?  We’re having a meeting.  We’re doing this it’s in the evening.  They expect me to be available because I may be getting bias from the other side, which is they think as a guy, I can just get up and leave the house anytime I want.

So, this issue of work life balance is going to be interesting moving forward.  I wonder, do you think it’s changed generationally?  Do you think maybe our generation of lawyers faced a different type of work life balance challenge than those that might be coming through your law schools now and what they’ll face throughout the course of their career?  So, Dean Epps, let’s start with you this time.

Felecia Epps:  Well, I’ll share what came to my mind, honestly thinking again of lived experience.  I navigated most of my career as a single parent, and I think we see more and more of our students, women and men coming in as single parents, which creates another layer to that whole balancing act where you have to take care of a child and you have an important, busy career.  In my own experience, things have changed over the years, and at least in one aspect I’ve heard definitely I was in the Marine Corps for 10 years and lived part of that as a single parent and actually left the Marine Corps, in part because I couldn’t do all the balancing that was needed.  The military has become more supportive of those roles now.  So, I think that’s kind of a sign that society.

If the Marine Corps changing, has to be changing with regards to that. I think everybody will experience the same kind of a challenge because there are, of course, relationships are changing where people are more coparenting, really, as husband and wife, even than having the total responsibility be on the woman necessarily to do everything.  I think that that is changing as well as that means everything.  I think back into my childhood when mom worked all day, came home, was expected to cook dinner, take care of the kids, do all of that while the father’s role was different.  I think our society is changing.  We have more dads such as you, who have all of those responsibilities or are chipping in and sharing that responsibility.

Rocky Dhir:  I didn’t say I’m chipping in well.  I just said I’m at the table.  And Dean Epps, before I forget, thank you for your military service.  And remind me never to get into a push up contest with you because I’m going to lose, no question.

Felecia Epps:  You might come close these days all right.

Rocky Dhir:  I highly doubt that.  Dean Roberts, let’s hear from you on this topic of work life balance and whether you think that equation is changing with the increased role of men taking on parental roles as well.

Patricia Roberts:  I think it is changing, and I think for the better.  I can remember during my early years in legal education 20 some years ago, where the women who were working with me and my mentor in particular, I can think of when she was vice Dean every afternoon she would call her son, make sure he got home from school okay and that was on her mind in the context of a busy job, to say the least.  But there were many men who would leave from faculty meetings, for instance, because they had to get home for their child.  And I just remember thinking how odd it was because the women I saw not leaving and they made other plans.  And I think it was because early in my career 20 years ago, women had to work harder to show that they could do it all.  And skipping some of those home activities was a way that women often had to cope in order to show that they could be as competitive.

The current generation, I think, feels much differently. I think there’s a lot more awareness of the role of both parents or family members with parents and siblings as well that they might have to care for.  And there’s more compassion and empathy in this generation, I think not only from the employees who are demanding it, but also from the employers who are recognizing that’s very a very big part of your employee wellness and happiness.

(00:15:04)

And just to give you another anecdote that surprised me.  I have a colleague who was talking about how she took some time off to see her son swim in his semi-finals, and he did really well and the next day she said, my mom is going to go tomorrow because I can’t take a second day off.  And I said, of course you can.  Why wouldn’t you?  And she was so surprised and delighted and she did.  But what surprised me the most was she posted it on LinkedIn because she said, this is what work life balance should be.  We should be able to take time off for the good things that happen, not just the bad things that happen.  And there was such a huge outpour from people who were saying, yes, that’s exactly the kinds of way we should approach things.  So, it is changing. I hope it continues to change.  It’s for everyone’s good.

Rocky Dhir:  Well, that’s great.  If you’re hiring, I’ll hang up right now.  I’ll drive to San Antonio, because that sounds good.

Felecia Epps:  Well, I also demand a lot.  And do have responsibilities here, just don’t forget that about that mentorship.

Patricia Roberts:  We do have virtual mentors.  I may just poach him.  You could be a mentor at both schools.

Felecia Epps:  I’ll share that’s fair.

Rocky Dhir:  I have never been in demand, forever, for anything.  This is new for me.  I’m going to have to mark the date.  So, Dean Collins, let’s get your perspective on work life balance and how whether you think it is or isn’t changing between the gender roles.

Jennifer Collins:  I think it is changing and here I have to give a huge shout out to my husband, also a lawyer who truly has been a co parent with me.  But I think I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that our society is not really structured to support households still where both partners are working.  Why in the world do elementary schools get out at three o’clock in the afternoon.  I know it’s a challenge for every working family across the country.  We have not prioritized universal, high-quality daycare where we pay a living wage to these people that we are entrusting with our children.

And my children are all in college now, but the worst thing that could happen when they were younger was to have our nanny call in sick for the day.  And it was a huge daily scramble about who had a more important meeting and was going to have to stay home.  So, I do think there is so much that society needs to evolve on to really support working families, and it just, frankly, has not been a priority in this country.  We assume that one parent, which still typically is most often a female parent, is going to stay home and provide that sort of after school or early childhood care.  And that puts working parents in a very difficult and challenging position.

Rocky Dhir:  Do you think maybe that expectation changing, though?  Do you think we’re getting to a point where now it’s more acceptable for the father to say, “hey, I’m the primary caregiver, I got to leave at 3:30 to go pick up the little one?

Jennifer Collins:  I think that absolutely more common, but why in the world does anyone have to leave at 3:30 to pick up the little one?  If schools just would go until 5:15, it would make life much more manageable for families in which both partners work.

Rocky Dhir:  Dean Bullock, how about your perspective on the issue of work life balance and the gender roles that are implicit in that?  Do you think that’s been changing in any way?

Joan R.M. Bullock:  I have to agree with everything that has been said so far.  One thing to add on to what Dean Collins mentioned about having to leave really at two, to get there at three, to be in the (00:18:55) line and so forth.  I remember those days very differently.  But I think now that we’re operating remotely, in many cases, we can stop work at two and still pick up later on and still have that flexibility.  And I think that’s key, but going back to your question, this work life balance, I believe that men are experiencing the challenges of work life balances, maybe not to the fullest extent as women are, but they’re experiencing it more and more.  And it has a lot to do with the cultural norms because on one hand, we expect our men to man up and be responsible for our children and so forth.  And women, as we are seeing as women are men and women are both in the workforce, women are having more of a voice and the cultural norms are changing such that they are supportive of women in requiring the men to take some responsibility as well for their children.  If I tell my husband, you can’t babysit your own children, so he has primary responsibility for our children, as I do.

(00:20:02)

And I think the culture is changing such that that is supporting women more and that men now see that they have to step up when it comes to taking care of their children and also be in the workforce.  With that being said, men, similar to women, are having the challenges of the culture.  Women, we have the mommy track, and once you’re put on that mommy track, that’s the death knell of your career of trajectory.  Men are expected to be men, and on one hand, they have more freedom to take off for taking care of their children.  However, there’s a penalty attached.  It may not be called mommy track.  Maybe it’s the Daddy track or whatever it is there is you’re not as committed or you’re not as manly if you have to step in and take the responsibility, that should be your wife and your significant other.

So, is that challenge those men are facing.  I think going back to your first question as to why we need women logging and women in leadership is that as women in leadership, we can have the empathy as well as the knowledge and understanding the context such that we can be supportive of an environment that would be allowing for men to feel not only comfortable but safe in being able to take care of their children the way he and that wife or the significant other want to take care of their children without feeling that they would be penalized in a work environment that they demonstrate that commitment to their children as well as that commitment to the work.

Rocky Dhir:  Again, a lot of interesting things that we need to unpack.  What I do need to do is take a quick ad break so we can hear from our very important sponsors, and then we’re going to come back and we’re going to talk about each of these topics just a little bit more.  So, Deans, stay with me and you on the other end please hang on while we hear from the folks that make this podcast possible.

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Okay.  We are back with the four women law school Deans in Texas.  We’ve got Dean Bullock of Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Dean Collins of SMU Dedman School of Law, Dean Epps of UNT Dallas College of Law, and Dean Roberts of St. Mary’s University School of Law.  I apologize, I don’t remember which one of you used the term implicit bias in answer to the first question, was that you Dean Collins?

Jennifer Collins:  It was me.

Rocky Dhir:  Okay, so I think what we’re talking about here leads us well into this issue of implicit bias, not only when it comes to work life balance and the, “traditional gender roles as we have defined them at home,” but really about what implicit bias also means at work.  This term implicit bias, has been used for at least 10 years now.  We’ve been hearing about it in the law and HR circles.  The question is, is that issue evolving?  And one question and maybe Dean Collins will start with you since you said the magic words implicit bias, Congratulations, you got to go first.  So, the question then becomes that do you think implicit bias is only coming from the way men treat women in the workplace or could women be guilty of the implicit bias against women as well?  Are women sometimes roadblocks to other women?  And I know that’s a controversial question.  This is hard hitting investigative journalism.  I’m kidding.  But we’re trying to the — re’s no use in this unless we tackle the harder questions.  So, I want to get your thoughts on the evolving role of implicit bias and whether you think women Might also be guilty of implicit bias visa via other women.

Jennifer Collins:  Oh, I think we all hold implicit biases, and I think they can hold everyone back.  I want to echo the incredibly powerful comments that Dean Bullock made those men who are very invested in their families can sometimes be viewed as less committed to their work, and that’s definitely a way implicit bias adversely impacts men.  One of my colleagues gave a wonderful example of how women how we as women can hold implicit bias, which she says she still does a little jump in her seat on an airplane every time the pilot comes on and the voice is a woman, she just expects it still to be a man piloting the plane.

(00:25:04)

But I do think certainly even though implicit bias can negatively impact all of us, it does impact women in the workplace.  And one example I like to give is I think as women, we still have to walk an incredibly narrow tightrope in the workplace, on the one hand, coming across as knowledgeable and competent and decisive, but on the other side, being labeled as bossy and overpowering.  In other words, I won’t use on a podcast.  So, I think I like to talk about trying to create a workplace where everyone can bring their whole cells to the table.  Their lived experiences, as so many of my wonderful colleagues on this call have talked about the challenges and opportunities they’ve encountered along the way.  And although I think we have made great progress in that we are not completely there yet.  I think it is unhelpful to cast it as a male versus female issue.  I think it’s much more helpful to recognize that we all come with implicit biases.  There is all work that we can do in ensuring that our workplaces are ones that are truly inclusive and equitable and promote a sense of belonging for each and every member and that dividing into different camps is not a constructive way to move the conversation forward.  We all have work to do on these issues.

Joan R.M. Bullock:  I think I push back to not only is it do I think it’s not a male to male or female to female issue for implicit bias.  I think going back to we’re talking about different roles that each gender plays in home life.  I think there’s a lot of implicit bias between men.  If a man says, I’m going to stay at home while my wife works or I have to leave because I have to go pick up the children, I think people would wonder, is he as committed as everyone else, but I agree with my colleague Dean Collins, that it’s not helpful.  At the end of the day, what we need to do is lift one another up.  And, we only know the surface of what people are dealing with outside of their work life.  And if you don’t walk in their shoes, I think it’s a difficult position to — an impossible position to opine how someone should approach their work or not.  And I think the pandemic is going to help us in getting to a place where it’s more about the work outcomes and less about how you choose to do it.  If the father who stays home with the kids, then does his job from eight to midnight, then good for him.  He gets it done and he’s productive and the same goes for women.

Joan R.M. Bullock:  If I can add?

Rocky Dhir:  Yes, Dean Bullock, please, go ahead.

Joan R.M. Bullock:  We have to acknowledge the influence of law and systems on implicit bias.  For example, wasn’t that long ago, even during my lifetime, where the man goes to work, the woman stays home, and there are laws and systems and things in place that would encourage that and even in terms of rages, where men would get raises because they have to take care of a family.  But if a woman is working and she’s a single parent, well, what about her?  She doesn’t get a rage.  Shame on her for whatever her circumstance, which would have her having a child without the benefit of a man taking care of her and the family.  So, there’s a lot of systems in place that influence our implicit biases.  And to the extent that we are moving forward and we are becoming much more progressive in our thinking, we cannot dismiss the fact that those cultural norms still exist in the form of even if it impacts us in terms of how we view men who take off from work.

There are some women who are very supportive of the men who are now taking on this responsibility that women have.  And then there are also women who say, “Well, how dare he, it’s on both.”  And you see the same thing with women who are not necessarily supportive of other women who are able to be committed to work because they have a supportive male person in the family who is helping to take care of the family.  Some women bristle at that and say, how is it that you have a man?  Why isn’t he working and you’re not going home taking care of your children?  Why aren’t you going to the PTA meeting?  Why is he going what’s wrong with you?  So, we have it on both sides, but bottom line is about we’re living within a system.  We’re living within a culture and this culture is such that it has been set up to have defined roles and where we are in society right now is an interesting time because people are pushing against those defined roles.

(00:29:57)

And what does that portend for where we are as a country, as we are looking at these defined roles and how we’re going to operate as an organized society and that’s the real question.

Rocky Dhir:  There’s some interesting issues you brought up, Dean Bullock.  But before we get to those, I wanted to hear from Dean Epps and give her a chance to chime in on this question of implicit bias.

Felecia Epps:  Well, just enjoying the discussion.  I really love what Dean Collins said about bringing our whole self, whatever that is, to whatever it is and having that being accepted.  Because part of what is in my mind is that not only is there’s implicit bias, but we’re unconscious about it that there’s just ways it’s so much part of life.  This is the way that it is, we’re unconscious about it.  And so, one of the first kind of struggles is to make sure that we recognize it’s there, because then we can begin to address what to do about that.  Of course, part of my background is not dealing with implicit but explicit bias in the US Marine Corps believe it or not, gender issues abound still today, I’m sure, and some roles that are explicitly, at least when I was on active duty, not for women.

So, there was that whole system that set up the bias.  And I think coming out of that background, two things jumped into my mind.  Number one, sometimes I’m not as conscious of these kind of things as because it’s been part of my lived experience in the Marine Corps.  I look at them as these are obstacles and things that have to someone else’s impression of what I can or cannot do is something I have to overcome by guess what, performing and doing it.  When I was thinking this through tie, and also my experience as an African American woman, which I think there’s another level of implicit bias with regard to that as well that we have to deal with.  So, again, all obstacles and maybe this is the Marine Corps thinking of me as well.  All obstacles presented that we have to overcome and achieve and pass on to our students.  Yes, these things are out there be conscious of them, but none of them should be an obstacle to you getting to be that equity partner or I don’t know, you want to be the first woman Marine general in charge of the Judge Advocate Corps.  Whatever it is that you want to do, those shouldn’t be obstacles to it.

Rocky Dhir:  But then let’s look at this maybe from the flip side.  So, we’ve talked about supporting men and women who are taking on domestic activities at home and are taking those on their shoulders.  But then what does this mean for men or women who decide, “you know what, I don’t want a home life. I’m going to stay single or I’m going to have no kids and the most I’ll be is maybe a dog parent or a cat parent, and I’m going to be fully committed, putting all of my time and effort into my law practice, into work and with that, I expect that I’m going to get faster promotions.  I’m going to get the bigger raises.  I’m going to be billing more hours.”

What do you say to that person when they turn around and say, “Well, I’ve sacrificed a lot to get to this?  I shouldn’t be punished or I should be rewarded for putting in the time and effort and the sacrifice.”  Whereas my other colleagues, men and women, have decided to create work life balance at home, I’ve decided to just make my entire life about work.  What do you say to that person when they kind of push back against this idea of maybe being more empathetic towards those who have home issues?  So, I wanted to kind of maybe throw that into the mix and maybe Dean Roberts, let’s start with you this time.  And again, I’m asking this largely because as female Deans, I’m sure you have thought more about this and having had to overcome those gender roles in your own careers, you probably have to think a lot about this.

Patricia Roberts:  Well, I think nobody has the magic formula about what should be an appropriate home life percentage and what should be an appropriate work life.  And there are some who choose to have 100% focus on work as long as they can maintain good health and good practice at work.  I think that should be their decision.  If they are resentful in any way of those who are given a little bit of grace because they have made different choices, I would just turn around and say “both sides should be accepting of the other.  We need all kinds of people with all kinds of contributions and nobody should be penalized.”  I’d encourage both sides to just consider the alternatives that your colleagues are dealing with.  So, if you can help the child or the parent who has to leave because their child is sick, then maybe you will have that same person return the favor in a way when you want to go to a particular conference or you need some help with a work matter.

(00:35:00)

So, I think it’s just about supporting everyone’s own choices.  We also don’t know when it’s a choice.  So, if someone pours themselves completely into work, maybe it’s because they couldn’t have children or they don’t have a significant other or they’re allergic to dogs, they can’t be a dog parent.  So, we just don’t know other people’s circumstances.  And I’ll say this, we have to run our own race, and that should be the one we’re concerned about running our own race, helping those who are running alongside of us, but being focused on our own goals.  And when it comes to women, one of the things that I’d like to say to those who are listening, who may be women lawyers or women or students, is this, “don’t count yourself out.  Don’t be the person who decides you’re not going to be the Dean of a law school, because you decide not to apply, because you don’t think you’ll be selected.”  That happens more often than not.

I remember talking to a managing partner at a big law firm.  She said it’s really something when we say there’s a 3.8 minimum GPA.  There are lots of men who apply when they have less than that, but have a lot of other things going on, but the women don’t.  And that’s one of the reasons they’re following the rules and they don’t think they could do it or they think the competition should be too tough.  Don’t count yourself out.  Go ahead and go for what you want.  Then let’s help everybody around us reach the goals they have personally and professionally.

Rocky Dhir:  It sounds like maybe also the description of minimum 3.8 GPA needs to be revisited because –

Patricia Roberts:  well, that’s a whole other podcast.

Rocky Dhir:  Yeah, we’ll need to do that on part two.  No, please, Dean Epps, go ahead.  I was going to call you next anyway, so I get to call on law school Deans, this is like Socratic (00:36:39) stairway.

Felecia Epps:  Don’t get used to that all right.

Rocky Dhir:  This is amazing.  Okay.

Felecia Epps:  Well, I have to say, and we’re having fun here as well.  But the first thing when you ask that question, I said, well, first thing I’d say to the person is get a life.  Life is about more than work.  And when you get to your deathbed, you’re not going to say, “well, maybe this person would.”  I didn’t have enough time to work.  What about travel?  What about all these other things?  But it’s based on the idea that there’s only so much pie to go around, so to speak, that you can’t reward both people and appropriately for the contributions that they’re making.  I put on my page performance with a couple of exclamation points next to it because what came to my mind, well, is the person who’s working all day and all night and trying to do all of this stuff is their performance better than the person who has the family and a more balanced life?  Are they producing more for my organization, because at least my approach here in terms of leadership of the law school is I’m interested in you doing your job in an excellent way?

Now, if that means that you can get your job done in eight hours or whatever, four hours here, four hours elsewhere, working at home, I’m fine with that.  So, I would wonder whether the scenario assumes I’m thinking that this person working day and night is more productive, doing more for the organization.  I would wonder if that would be really true.  So, I think each should be awarded according to what they are contributing.

Rocky Dhir:  Sounds like a law school hypothetical.  So, we can go all kinds of directions in this class.  Dean Bullock, what’s your take on this issue?

Joan R.M. Bullock:  I would say that reward to one should not mean penalty to the other.  It could be reward to both or penalty to both.  The other thing is when we look at businesses and law firms and legal departments and so forth, there are businesses that deliver legal services.  And the bottom line is being able to contribute positively to that organization.  And if someone is working all the time and they want to be single and so forth.  My hat goes off to them.  That’s the life that they’ve chosen for themselves.  And as Dean Epps has said, it’s all about performance.  It’s not just about putting in the time, it’s their performance, but also when it comes to those who prioritize family along with work, they are developing some skills that are very much needed in the business.

Many businesses now are talking about the soft skills, and I can talk to all of the deeds here.  I’m sure can appreciate this because we’ve all been there in terms of the financial management, the time management and the soft skills needed to inspire those in the family to do what’s needed in order to get things done.  All those skills are transferable into the business place.  And so, to say that people who are spending time with their families are not contributing as well as someone who is working 24/7 in a business is a flawed assumption, because those transferable skills to a certain extent may be more important than the time element and many of the law firms and other businesses are now saying those soft skills which cannot be taught, they have to be experienced, they have to be lived.

(00:40:06)

This is what those family members, those who are prioritizing and balancing their lives, are bringing to the table.  They are constantly challenged.  They are constantly dealing with the perspectives of other people, the we ones in the family, as well as the not so we want in the family and being able to navigate into all those various issues bringing that into the business.  It is something that businesses should value.  And along with people who are going beyond nine to five and staying at work 24/7 in a business.

Rocky Dhir:  Sounds like it would be especially true in discovery, disputes and litigation.  Soft skills and knowing how to wield the sword when necessary.  Dean Collins, let’s hear your perspective on the issue of worklife balance.

Jennifer Collins:  Well, I have so appreciated all the comments of my fellow Dean.  They just have been so insightful.  I agree that I love the idea of running your own race, and I think we need to support the notion that here are many different ways to run the race.  And what we’re really looking at is outcomes and performance and are you helping the organization achieve its goals?  And this is one way I think Texas should be so proud of its law schools that all of us are really excelling in trying to impart some of the soft skills the client centered skills that Dean Bullock was highlighting.  Another wonderful subject for podcast could be the incredible experiential learning opportunities that all of our different law schools are providing, whether it’s a clinic or an externship program.  We really all are taking the time in a much more creative and innovative way than when I went to law school a few decades ago to get students working with real clients, to get them understanding the importance of being part of a team, being innovative, being collaborative, being culturally competent.

And I just think the graduates that all of our schools are producing are so terrific.  And if I could make one plug for employers, it would be to remove that arbitrary 3.8 GPA cut off.  I know it takes more time, but to really look at an applicant as a whole person, not just as a GPA, and to think about how they can contribute to your law firm or company would just be a wonderful way to get increasingly interesting and diverse talent into your organization.  So, if there’s one takeaway, I hope it’s that remove the 3.8 GPA cut off.

Rocky Dhir:  I came out of law school with chronic shoulder pain because I was holding the entire upper half of the class on my shoulders.  And so, I know what you are.

Patricia Roiberts:  Well done.

Rocky Dhir:  I’m with you.  Yes.  They owe me something.  I was carrying them, but it looks like Deans, I’m looking at the time, and we are out of time. I could keep talking to you guys because this is fascinating.  You all bring different perspectives, and there’s just so much more we could talk about.  But we are at that time.  I’d like to thank all of you for taking the time, for joining us and for sharing your collective insights.  This has been so phenomenal.  Thank you, all of you.

Patricia Roiberts:  It’s been fun.  Thank you.

Felecia Epps:  It’s been fun.  Yes, Thank you.

Jennifer Collins:  Thank for having us.

Rocky Dhir:  Absolutely.  I’ve always wanted to do this with a set of Deans.  I’m going to give you A’s hey.  All right.

Patricia Roiberts:  No, I want an A plus.  I’m sorry.  And I demand an A plus on behalf of my colleagues.

Rocky Dhir:  You can visit me during office hours and we can discuss further.  And to all of you listening in, I want to, of course thank you for tuning in and encourage you to stay safe.  Continue to be well.  And you can read more about these amazing Deans in the March 2022 issue of the Texas Bar Journal.  You’re going to see the round table.  That article goes a little bit more into their individual journeys and what brought them to becoming Deans and their perspectives on how being a woman has both enlightened them and presented them with challenges.  So, I encourage you to read that episode.  If you like what you heard today, please rate and review us in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast app.  Until next time, remember, life’s a journey, folks.  I’m Rocky Dhir signing off.

[Music]

Female Speaker:  If you’d like more information about today’s show, please visit legaltalknetwork.com go to texasbar.com/podcast subscribe via Apple Podcast and RSS.  Find both the State Bar of Texas and Legal Talk Network on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn or download the free app from Legal Talk Network in Google Play and iTunes.  

The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of nor are they endorsed by the State Bar of Texas, Legal Talk Network or their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders or subsidiaries.  None of the content should be considered legal advice as always consult a lawyer.

Women and The Law: Perspectives From Women Deans of Texas Law Schools

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