This weekly feature offers questions answered by newsworthy business leaders. Louise Michaux Gonzales has been elected the first female president of Maryland State Bar Association in it's 95-year history.
Q. With a membership of 15,000 attorneys, why did it take the Maryland State Bar Association so long to elect a woman as president? What does your election indicate about the status of women lawyers in Maryland and elsewhere?
A. Let me start with why did it take so long. For most of the time, there simply were not women lawyers. I remember when I graduated, which would have been in 1976, about 15 to 20 percent of the people in my class were women. After 1976 there was a very dramatic increase in the number of women applying to law school and becoming lawyers. Now the statistics for graduating classes are about 50 percent. Once you become a lawyer, there are certain professional developments that must take place. And, certainly before you become the leader in the Maryland State Bar Association, you have to develop as a lawyer in your practice and also develop in leadership positions. . . .
L Q. How long have you been involved with the bar association?
A. My involvement with the state bar association really began in 1980.
Q. Isn't it still true that very few women head law practices or are partners in major law firms in the state?
A. Yes, there seems to be a fewer number of women who have made partners in law firms, but not just in the large law firms. Everyone tends to focus on the large firms, but most employment in the legal field is in medium and small firms and the solo practitioner. There are fewer women attorneys who have attained partnership status in those organizations as compared to the number of women of an experienced age and level of expertise in practice. The reasons for that, I think, are numerous. One, I think fewer people period are making partner in the last several years. There are more attorneys than there are the need for legal services, at least paid legal services. There was great growth in the 1980s and now everyone is cutting back and so that's going to be a continuing problem. There is not quite the accommodation for the needs of many women attorneys. Many women attorneys try to balance family with work and some law firms try to make that accommodation and make adjustments for women on a partnership track, and others do not.
Q. Has that been a problem in your case?
A. As I mentioned to you, I started this firm with Bill Hylton in 1980 so I have been a partner since 1980. Also in my firm women are not discriminated against.
Q. Do you have an agenda for the year? What do you hope to accomplish during your term as president?
A. I have a number of goals, or at least aspirations. The first is the broader inclusion of women and minorities in both the state bar itself and in the legal profession as a whole.
Q. How do you intend to do that?
A. Well, there are a number of things that can be done. For instance, within the state bar one of the privileges the president has is to appoint committees and committee chairs to see that various projects either get done or are initiated. I've been careful in my appointments to make sure that women and minorities are included in those appointments. The more women and minorities are involved in the committees, the more that they'll become familiar with the work of that committee and advance through merit to the chair. And, they can advance through the hierarchy into leadership positions. I think that kind of visibility is important, because I think other lawyers, the more they see women lawyers acting as lawyers and acting in leadership positions either within the bar association or in the community or in a host of other activities, the more their acceptance grows, the more their respect grows.
Q. What are some of your other goals?