Monday, September 24, 2012

Are you a woman and a lawyer? There may be an app for that

This weekend marked the release of yet another popular Apple product: the iPhone 5. Avid fans waited in lines for days, with some receiving payment for waiting in line. The much sought after iPhone 5 is now sold-out, but it is likely that out of the millions of iPhones sold this weekend, a female lawyer or two picked one up. Soon these women lawyers may be able to download a new app onto their iPhone 5 that could help to boost their careers.

Last spring Forbes featured the development of a new smartphone app targeted at female attorneys. Three law students developed and worked to design the app through LawWithoutWalls, a program created by Michele DeStefano and Michael Bossone at the University of Miami School of Law. LawWithoutWalls facilitates projects that law students from various law schools around the world undertake. The students work in groups to create a solution to a problem in the legal field. The projects are organized thematically and are called Projects of Worth. Typically the projects are a business plan for a product, company, or service. Once the Project of Worth is complete, the students present the finished product to an audience that includes venture capitalists.

One of the themes for the 2012 program was Women in the Law: Is the Glass Ceiling Cracked, Smashed, or Unbreakable? In response to the prompt, three law students, Tao Zu, Lynette Brooks, and Lauren Quattromani, decided to create a smartphone app for female attorneys. The students intended the app to be a "networking assistant" that would provide information on women's legal organizations, access to current news, events, and research and development in the legal field. According to information from the three students that The Girl's Guide to Law School featured, they hoped to create a product that would help "women in climbing the professional ladder and reaching higher levels of leadership in the field of law." To determine what should be included in the app, the students created a survey that was sent to women in the legal profession.

The survey asked what the app should provide. The survey takers had to rank their interest in the app including networking and information by practice areas, chat rooms and forums on gender topics, and women's initiative and change strategy. The survey ended with a question of whether the survey taker believed that women are equal to men in leadership and positions of power in the legal profession. It would be interesting to know what the survey takers felt was most important to have in an app. The results of the survey, however, do not seem to be publicly available.

What features or information should such an app include? The author of the Forbes article, Victoria Pynchon, had some suggestions: "how to negotiate maternity leave, return from leave, origination credit, salary, promotional opportunities, and what to say when asked to head the diversity committee (no!) or the finance committee (yes!)." In addition to networking resources, I would want to see information on how to handle sexism in the office and how to succeed in business development. 

My first thought when I came across the project was, why do women lawyers need a separate app? Does this kind of technological tool reinforce female difference in a negative way? Or should we celebrate the app as a new means to help women create stronger communities in the practice of law? While I am skeptical that an app alone will help women break through the glass ceiling in the legal profession, I do think it could be useful. For those women lawyers who think they do not have time to look up women's legal organizations or discuss gender issues, having easier access to information through an app could make such gender specific information and networking more available to more women. In addition, anything that can help build stronger networks of female attorneys can only help in the progression towards greater equality for women in positions of leadership.

LawWithoutWalls' website suggests that the app's design is complete. Yet, an app search on my Apple device yielded no results. As such, there is no information on whether such an app has been helpful or useful to female attorneys. Maybe by the time the female members of our class of 2013 venture out into the wilderness of the legal field there will be an app made just for us that could help us climb the leadership ladder in the legal profession.  

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