‘Women need to see other women lead,” says Michelle Suskauer.
Making her first visit to a Jacksonville voluntary Bar association since being sworn into office, The Florida Bar President Michelle Suskauer addressed the meeting of the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association on Wednesday at The River Club.
A criminal defense attorney and partner with Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein in West Palm Beach, Suskauer is the 70th president of the organization and the sixth woman to serve as president.
Speaking to about 150 attorneys, judges and guests, Suskauer outlined some of the initiatives on the agenda for her year leading the 106,000-member statewide organization.
She said although the ratio of women to men graduating from law schools in the past several years is nearly equal, the statewide membership remains about 38 percent women and 62 percent men.
About 25 percent are young lawyers – under the age of 35 or in practice for less than five years. Thirty-five percent are solo practitioners and 65 percent work in firms with five or fewer attorneys.
She encouraged the audience to join the Bar’s many practice area sections.
“It’s a way to be more involved, get CLEs, network and find out what’s on the cutting edge of your practice area,” Suskauer said.
The Bar is convening its inaugural Criminal Justice Summit Oct. 16-17 in conjunction with the organization’s fall meeting in Tampa.
It will combine the expertise of judges, elected state attorneys, public defenders and criminal defense attorneys.
The intent is to build consensus on issues such as sentencing reform, specialty courts and juvenile justice.
“We have a lot more in common than we do apart when it comes to criminal justice reform,” Suskauer said.
Addressing gender inequality in the legal profession, she said far fewer women than men are equity partners in law firms.
Women over 50 years of age represent only 20 percent of lawyers because they become frustrated with the lack of advancement and the gap in the compensation system that is controlled by male partners at most firms, Suskauer said.
“Women are abandoning the law when they should be at the height of their careers,” she said.
Ways to change that trend include women lawyers mentoring each other and looking out for their peers when it comes to the business side of practice.
“It could be one conversation that changes your life, or it could be a lifetime relationship. And women need to send each other work and help each other,” said Suskauer.
Assuming leadership roles on the local and state levels was another suggestion. Suskauer encouraged seeking election to Bar association boards.
“Women need to see other women lead. It’s inspiring,” she said.
The JWLA’s next meeting is scheduled for 11:40 a.m. Nov. 8 at The River Club. Nonmembers are welcome to attend.