Lawyer mom: Losing ground

By Patricia G. Barnes



Salon Staff
September 5, 2000 11:18PM (UTC)

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"Losing Ground" by Patricia Barnes about her losing struggle to get waived into the Indiana bar struck me as a vengeful and mean-spirited self-pity exercise. She did not qualify for a waiver because she didn't work in a law firm full time. So she goes on a tirade about discrimination and brings up dubious statistics about women suffering in the workplace.

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As a Montana lawyer, I'm afraid I can offer no sympathy. Montana was faced with the problem of rich snooty lawyers buying up summer vacation homes and then practicing "summertime" law through a set of liberal waiver requirements. A seasonal lawyer presents obvious problems, so the solution was that everybody must now take the bar exam. No more waivers. If you're going to practice law in this state you had better be serious about it.

A waiver is a privilege that a state can offer. It is not a right. The alternative to a waiver process that results in Barnes' conspiracy-against-women ranting is no waiver at all. Taking the bar exam is not "cowardice" in the face of discrimination. It is an honest display of a person's intention to take their role as a lawyer in that particular state seriously.

-- Alex Roots

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The author should quit pulling her hair out and take the bar. States that would be a desirable place to live often don't allow ANYONE to waive the exam -- e.g. Hawaii, where I passed my third bar exam. She should buy the readily available audio tape lectures on subjects covered, and listen to them while she strolls her kid around. This worked wonderfully for me and I'm nobody's expert lecturer on anything. She can fume later over the bar exam requirement, which is a monumental pain in the ass of a restraint on the mobility of many attorneys, not just mothers -- the time from registration to results is generally at least six months. All her hyperventilating at this stage just sounds symptomatic of the terror established attorneys often exhibit when faced with having to take a test.

-- John Mackey

Sorry, Patricia, but the feminists who told you you could "have it all" were lying to you. Keep up the good work getting Indiana to change their stupid law -- it IS ridiculous to think that only legal work done inside a corporate office is valid -- but quit whining about how unfaaaaaair it is that aren't getting all the perks of people who actually put in the 60-hour week. You should have thought of this before you had the baby.

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-- Nicole Chardenet

In reality it is simply symptomatic of the anti-competitive behavior of state bars nationwide which are protecting their own turf with a series of restrictive requirements. The real victims of this system are young lawyers of both sexes who need the flexibility to move to markets where their skills can be most efficiently put to use. Sadly, young lawyers get locked into the unhappy dilemma after they have been admitted in one state of not being able to find jobs in a different state without being admitted to that state's bar. Of course, few wish to go through the trauma and expense of taking another state's bar without having a job waiting for them so you end up with a classic Catch-22 situation.

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Barnes is right to complain about her predicament, but to ascribe it to discrimination against women is far too narrow and will not ultimately be an effective argument for her.

I am presently practicing in Frankfurt, Germany. Oddly, it was far easier for me to come here and practice than it would have been to set up a practice in Illinois.

-- Cal Harris
An Indiana lawyer in exile

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