Thursday, April 30, 2020

Book Nook: My Mom, the Lawyer

Michelle Browning Coughlin, partner in a law firm and a mother of two daughters, has written a children’s book, My Mom, the Lawyer, that helps her girls and other children understand and appreciate what their mothers do as lawyers. 
My Mom, the Lawyer describes the many different jobs that lawyers do and is dedicated to the lawyer-moms who work tirelessly as advocates for the rights of others.
Michelle is also the founder of MothersEsquire, a nonprofit whose mission is to achieve gender equity in the legal profession.
I had a chance to interview her about the book.
Why did you write this book?
My first impulse to write the book came while watching a male political candidate thanking his wife for taking care of their kids while he traveled for his campaign. 
I thought that a mom running for office would have gotten negative feedback for that kind of comment and was reminded of the double standard that mothers face when trying to step into leadership positions – the assumption that they should be at home caring for their children and not out on the campaign trail, running a corporation or first-chairing a major trial in another city.  
However, the voices of caregivers is key to help make critical policy decisions about healthcare, education and employment issues as lawyers, politicians, or heads of companies.  
After the initial impulse, the reasons to write the book came flooding in:  to show moms doing all sorts of lawyer jobs; to give parents and kids a story to read that shows a mom who stays late at work or misses a school program, but is still an amazing mom; to give kids pride in their lawyer-moms by emphasizing the problem-solving and helping roles that lawyers often play; and celebrate the diversity of lawyer families of every race, culture and ability.  
The book is told from the perspective of children talking about their moms and the kinds of lawyer jobs they do. Ultimately, I wanted every child to find a page in the book and look at her or his mom and say, “Look, Mommy, that’s just like you and me.” 

Why is it important for kids to see that there are multiple aspects of jobs like being a lawyer? 
Even those of us who practice law can let the TV images of courtroom lawyers condition us to have a particular image of what a “real” lawyer does.  
I wanted kids whose moms do different kinds of lawyer jobs see their moms as important and smart.  
Moms are still often the ones who make choices about working in unique ways in order to manage caregiving responsibilities—although the pandemic is teaching the whole legal profession about this in a very concrete way right now.  
I envisioned kids seeing their moms as being just as important as the lawyer on TV, and understanding that their mom’s contribution to our profession is every bit as important. 
Additionally, in my prior life as a former social worker and school counselor, and as someone who is married to a teacher, I want kids to see all the opportunities in front of them and to understand that there are many ways of being a lawyer.  
I hope that the book will be an opportunity for children of any socioeconomic, cultural, racial, and ability to imagine themselves as lawyers.  
By showing all the ways to be a lawyer, it opens up a world of ideas for children, and shows them that whatever the color of your skin and your gender, you can be a lawyer.  

Why is it important to work for gender equity in the legal profession?
Women represent more than 50% of law student attendees and at least 50% of our worldwide population.  Women are often the primary earner or sole earner.  If we do not seek gender equity in the profession, we continually leave women at an economic and access disadvantage, not only for themselves, but then for their children.  
Mothers in the US and in many other cultures are still looked at as the primary or default caregiver.  We put moms on a pedestal as the saints of motherhood, but we simultaneously punish them economically and professionally through our belief system that women “should” place caregiving above all else.  
But this hurts fathers and children too, who benefit greatly from fathers being caregiving “saints” too.  If we give fathers more permission to engage as caregivers as a culture, we would all benefit, especially children. 
And, in the legal profession itself, the search for solutions and resolution, which is what law at its core is about—overlooking or giving less credibility to more than 50% of the population’s experiences and perspectives and knowledge is a real loss in that endeavor.  
Gender diversity, and every other kind of diversity, has been shown to create stronger teams with better solutions and better outcomes, including more profitability.  In a profession that is (usually) esteemed, we should be constantly pushing for ways to create better outcomes, and diversity in our profession is one of the keys.  

No comments:

Post a Comment