Inside: We’ve Come So Far… Or Have We?

Generally speaking, the only thing that can derail my naturally optimistic outlook on life is uncertainty. Even bad news can beat the uncertainties of “what if?” “when?” and “how long?” While optimism is certainly a part of my DNA, it is also the by-product of starting my own law firm and managing it through a financial crisis and global pandemic, juggling the demands of a 36-year full-tilt law career with those of raising three children, and most recently navigating the delicate shift in roles with an aging parent who has battled cancer not once, but twice. I am inclined to find the positive in most every situation, move past bias, unfairness and inequality, not let adversity get me down, and trust in the decisions I make.

With optimism and gratitude, I accepted the honor of serving as the guest editor of this issue of the magazine, where we explore the status of women’s rights and equality in 2023. From where I sit – at the helm of a successful civil trial firm I started 23 years ago – women’s equality has always been a reality. Yes, I started the firm when I had three children under the age of six and wanted to redefine my vision of what a working mother could be and do, and be compensated fairly for it. Yes, I wanted to create my own legal opportunity free from parochial concepts of what a “normal” workday looked like to male partners. Yes, I set out to align myself with other women and minority-owned firms to help forge a path to greater diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal field. That was in 2000. It is now 2023. Things have surely improved, haven’t they?

The contributors to this issue – thought leaders, disrupters, daughters, mothers and real-life storytellers – remind us that while we have made progress, it is fragile and fragmented. They educate, share and thought provoke with great transparency, honesty, and passion but with cautious optimism. Deborah Jo Sandler provides a deeply personal and delightful tribute to her mother Dr. Bernice “Bunny” Sandler, a non-lawyer known as the Godmother of Title IX, who revolutionized how girls and women were treated in academe and athletics in 1972 with pure grit and determination. Together we can celebrate the great advances that have been made in women’s rights over the last decades as a direct result of Title IX.

Beth Mora, a fierce advocate for women’s rights in the workplace, shares staggering statistics about the continued pay inequity between men and women, including the legal profession. She challenges us as lawyers and business owners to do our part as role models to curb this trend.

The article by Audrey Gee, David Marchiano and Marissa Boyd of Brown, Gee & Wenger, LLP summarizes significant new legislation and laws in 2023 that specifically address equality issues. As leaders in their field, they inform us of the affirmative steps California is taking, steps to protect against pay and other inequities.

Women continue to find themselves burdened with the bulk of domestic responsibilities, even when working full-time and advancing their legal careers. This is especially true for women in the “sandwich generation” – those juggling the needs of children and aging or sick parents. In very personal and touching articles, Jennifer Wallis and Alice Cheng give us a unique glimpse into how the COVID pandemic actually helped them both find new strategies for dealing with the demands of family and work.

Whether you agree or disagree with the Dobbs decision, there can be no mistake that it radically and fundamentally altered women’s reproductive freedom and unleashed legislation that impacts, for better or worse, equal access to medical care depending on the state in which you live. Beth Parker, who has served as General Counsel to three Planned Parenthood affiliates, and John Yoo, the Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law, have vastly different perspectives on the reasoning behind the decision itself but agree on one thing: rather than end the legal debate on abortion, the decision is guaranteed to spark considerably more litigation and, once again, place the courts front and center in the controversy.

I feel uncertain about the future of women’s reproductive and other rights. Raise the issue of women’s equality to a group of 20 women, and you are likely to get 20 different answers, none of which would express confidence or certainty about the future. Something about the Dobbs decision made everything feel less certain, less inalienable. I find myself side-tracked by “what if?” “when?” and “how long?” and despite my usual optimism, I feel the progress we have made over the last 50 years is fragile indeed.