Full Time Practice

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Jeff Shields: A Proponent of Women in the Law

In 2004, Jeff Shields was the chair elect of the Orange County Chapter of the Law Society and noticed something odd. Although the chapter was relatively small – around 150 on the books with fewer attending -- there were only two women who routinely came to Law Society functions, Donna Bashaw, an elder law practioner, and Elizabeth Shaw Smith, who practiced business law and estate planning. Just as disturbing, Jeff recognized there were no women on the board of the chapter. He also noticed small behaviors among the male attendees that he believed must have been off-putting to the women, such as announcements to members “to bring their wives to the next function” or addressing the chapter members as “brothers.” To Jeff, it felt less than the inclusive forum for all attorneys that it should have been, and he was sensitive that this situation must have felt like a “boys club” to Donna and Elizabeth. 
The lack of women attendees also seemed out of balance with the numbers of women attorneys Jeff knew resided in Orange County. As chair elect, he decided it was his duty to rectify this situation by inviting women to join the chapter. Jeff reached out to one female attorney he knew who was practicing law but who was not involved in JRCLS and asked why she did not join the Orange County chapter. She said it was because it did not appear to be an organization for women.
Jeff’s first act toward remedying this problem was to invite Donna and Elizabeth to be on the board of the Orange County Chapter as membership chairs, which they readily agreed to do. He believed that it was necessary to change the face of the chapter before inviting other women to join.
Jeff Shields on the left at a JRCLS Orange County function in 2015
Next Jeff called the 16 stake presidents in Orange County and asked permission to contact the bishops of each ward to ask for names of all female attorneys who were practicing law or who had law degrees. Every president granted permission where upon Jeff began the months-long process of calling each one; Jeff believed this was the only way to garner results. From this enormous effort, he was able to recruit 40-50 women to join the Orange County chapter. His efforts also had the advantage of encouraging each bishop to make a list of all attorneys in his ward thereby having a cumulative and ready resource from which all members in Orange County could draw.

The next step Jeff took was to formalize the group of women into a committee within the Orange County chapter and appoint Elizabeth Shaw Smith as its first committee chair. She coined the title of the group, “Women in the Law Committee” (WIL) as her first order of business. As one of her first tasks, she organized the first WIL conference in the Orange County chapter which established a template for subsequent regional conferences. Once he could see that the WIL committee would be a successful venture, Jeff pitched the idea of an international WIL committee to the then international chair, Joe Bentley, who jumped on the idea. Joe appointed Annette Jarvis as its first chair in 2007 at its inception. Much of the early history of WIL involving her able leadership can be found on the JRCLS website under the WIL committee’s history.
Elizabeth Shaw Smith, chair of
the first WIL chapter committee
The international WIL committee is flourishing nearly fifteen years after the Orange County WIL committee was first formed. We are much indebted to Jeff’s vision, Elizabeth’s strong leadership, and Joe’s enthusiasm in their efforts which resulted in initiating the international WIL committee. It has now blossomed into a beacon for all Law Society women worldwide. 

(Written by Kathryn Latour, member of the JRCLS WIL and Media Committees)

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