Membership lunch a "sell-out" By Katherine E. Stout Hopes remain high after last month's ACBA membership luncheon concerning gender inequality in the Allegheny County legal community. On October 19, the ACBA hosted its third membership luncheon in the Pennsylvania Ballroom of the Omni William Penn Hotel. Bar membership luncheons are held twice a year, with one being held in the spring and one held in the fall. The topic of this fall's membership luncheon concerned the results of a survey conducted by the ACBA's Women in the Law Division regarding gender equality in the legal community. Two hundred thirty-five bar members attended. The results of the September 2005 survey were startling as well as disappointing. Despite the discouraging information contained in the survey's results, however, ACBA leaders remain hopeful in confronting this disparity head on. "The ACBA has taken a leadership role in bringing these issues to the attention of the membership," said Gary Hunt, managing shareholder at Tucker Arensberg, and co-chair of the ACBA's Gender Equality Task Force, a group of bar members discussing and analyzing the results of the survey. "The luncheon presented the perfect opportunity to explain, in an admittedly very summary fashion, the results of the survey." Co-Chairs of the Task Force, Hunt, and U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Lisa Lenihan, addressed bar members at the luncheon. "The survey clearly shows that sometime between first employment and mid-career, a disparity arises between the income of men and women," Hunt said. "The survey also reveals significant changes in the areas of practice and employment settings of men and women as their careers develop." Hunt further stated that the causes of the income disparity and the practice area changes are not clear but suspects that they are many. "To the extent we identify causes that are within the control of the legal profession, we must address those causes," Hunt said. "As the advocate for equal treatment for all members of our society, the legal profession has an obligation to ensure equal treatment for everyone, regardless of gender." Lenihan is confident that the Allegheny County legal community will pull together and respond appropriately to the results of the survey. "The support of the bar and the Allegheny County law firms for this luncheon in particular, with the advertised topic, was an indication to me that our bar is not afraid of this issue," Lenihan said, adding that it is even more important that the bar association, along with local firms, is willing to work hard to move forward in a positive way. President-elect of the ACBA, Ken Gormley, moderated the question and answer session following the Task Force's presentation and was very encouraged by the amount of interest shown by those members who were present. "People understood that this is a very serious situation we are facing and they asked a lot of good questions," Gormley said, adding that the number of male lawyers present was about equal to the number of female lawyers attending the luncheon. Gormley admits that he thinks the legal community should be more advanced than what it is in the area of gender equality. However, he remains hopeful for the future and has faith in what the Task Force is trying to accomplish. "The Task Force subcommittees will aggressively tackle this issue and create a blueprint for how to implement better practices," Gormley said. The Task Force is comprised of four subcommittees-Work Life Balance and Compensation; Job Satisfaction and Retention; Perceptions and Attitudes; and Best Practices. Gormley is Co-Chair of the Best Practices subcommittee. While Gormley is encouraged by the amount of support the ACBA is receiving regarding this issue, he feels that more work still needs to be done. "Many firms have been trying to implement good practices," Gormley said. "We need to figure out what firms and legal employers have been doing and figure out a way to harness that and move it into high gear." ACBA Executive Director David Blaner agrees that more questions need to be answered. "We were asked if we had surveyed the compensation departments of law firms and we hadn't," Blaner said. "We didn't have all the answers so more work needs to be done." Lenihan explained that the Task Force subcommittees will, in fact, be doing more work. "The committees will evaluate assigned segments of the survey and develop proposed action plans to promote heightened awareness and to explore the reasons behind the disparities and dissatisfaction," Lenihan said. "The committees will also develop best practices and develop tool kits." Lenihan also added that the Task Force intends to do further educational seminars and publications as well as develop a best practices manual to be distributed throughout the bar. Lenihan encouraged all members of the bar to look at the entire survey at the ACBA web site. "I also think the firms should not be afraid to talk with their female associates about the issues," Lenihan said. "Even if they are reticent, to be entirely forthright, it will help just to send a message that the firms are interested in their well-being." Calling the luncheon a "sell-out," ACBA President and Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Kim Berkeley Clark was encouraged by the number of members attending the luncheon. "The dialogue will continue," Clark said. "The four subcommittees will each put together an action plan. Then, in December, the Task Force will meet again." "We have firm deadlines," Clark said. "We should have our action plan in place by the end of the year and it should be announced by the beginning of next year." n