Full Time Practice

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why Women in the Law?

Is WIL Anachronistic? Is WIL "Affirmative Action"? What is WIL?

International JRCLS WIL vice-chair Nan Barker offers her perspective.

Recently I had a discussion with someone who wondered if having Women in Law (WIL) sections within JRCLS chapters was worth the effort. Without hesitation I responded, “YES!”

Why were my feelings so strong? It’s a simple answer, actually. It’s because WIL has changed my life. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true. WIL has helped and strengthened me and made me feel good about the decisions I’ve made.

When we decided to start a WIL section in Phoenix we came up with the following goals: provide opportunities as far as support, camaraderie, and opening our eyes to various paths to be taken; be part of a group that shares many things in common; help women opt back into the practice if they so desire; receive strength and support in overcoming obstacles which are unique to women; and build a sense of unity and community.

We also decided at that meeting that we wanted to include "all women trained in the law to whom faith matters" that lived in Arizona. That phrase, "women trained in the law to whom faith matters" is intended to include women of any religious faith that have been to law school. In other words, legally trained women of faith that were (1) practicing law full time, (2) practicing law part time, (3) not practicing law with an intention to re-enter the practice, and (4) those not practicing law and with no intention of ever returning to the practice.

We realized the interests and needs of those various groups of women were diverse. However, we also realized that those various groups had insights and dimensions that would benefit us all.

We wanted to create a place where "all women trained in the law to whom faith matters" can feel accepted, supported, safe, and not judged. As women trained in the law, we so often believe others are judging us for the decisions we’ve made or are making. If we decide not to work we feel like those women working think we’ve wasted our training. If we decide to work we feel like women who have decided not to work are judging us for being away from home. I think women, particularly LDS women, are always feeling like they are being judged for their decisions.

WIL has provided a place for me not to feel that judgment. I have been accepted simply as a woman trained in the law to whom faith matters. My choices have been respected even though they may be different from others. I have felt and continue to feel safe in WIL. That is rare. I am truly grateful for it.

The following quote by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin has been our mantra in the Phoenix WIL section:

[Some] feel they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different. . . . They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.

“Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.”

WIL recognizes that each of us “has [our] own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.”

Are WIL sections worth the effort? Once again I say YES. I know what WIL has done for me. I hope this organization will do the same for each one of you.


  1. I believe that there is value in organizing, gathering and talking as women. WIL is only anachronistic if Relief Society is anachronistic, which I don't believe is the case. The specific talents and feedback we have to share with eachother is valuable. Especially in such a male-centric profession (amplified by the fact that in a patriarchal culture like Mormonism, not many women go into Law).

    Because Mormon women attorneys are few, WIL is a great way to gather strength and solidarity from other women.

  2. Great article Nan! I share your enthusiasm and love for the mission of WIL. It is a wonderful organization with women of diverse lives and circumstances. WIL offers acceptance, support and opportunities that we "women trained in the law to whom faith matters" are blessed to have!

  3. Thanks for this, Nan! I remember that first Arizona WIL meeting we had when we came up with these goals and you shared that wonderful quote from Elder Wirthlin. I second the sentiment. WIL is worth the effort.