You’ve come a long way, baby, but there is still a way to go!

March 24th, 2024 By Catherine Hanna

A few weeks back, I journeyed to Baton Rouge alongside my partner Sheila Tan for an appellate argument before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. (Although typically held in New Orleans, this particular panel convened at the LSU Law School, offering law students a firsthand glimpse into the proceedings—a departure from the customary New Orleans escapades, albeit an enlightening one.) From there, I made my way to Tucson to participate in a panel discussion at the ABA Insurance Coverage Litigation Committee CLE event, joined by three other accomplished women and one lone male representative. Surrounded by brilliant and successful women at the pinnacle of their careers, it was undeniably a moment encapsulating the progress we’ve made.

As I embarked on my journey as a new associate in BigLaw back in 1988, I was assigned to collaborate with a senior associate I hadn’t yet met. When I inquired about this associate, a fellow newbie lawyer remarked, “Oh, yeah, Roni, she’s the one who wears pants.” Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from the era when a female attorney wearing pants was seen as an anomaly. It’s almost inconceivable today that someone would respond to my aspirations of becoming a lawyer, as my high school Sunday School teacher did in 1980, with the suggestion, “Why don’t you just marry one?”

I count myself privileged to work alongside numerous women in various capacities—be it as colleagues, clients, opposing counsel, or judges. In the realm of insurance coverage litigation, it’s now uncommon for a case to lack representation by women attorneys. The statistics affirm this observation. According to the State Bar of Texas, the number of active women attorneys registered with the State Bar of Texas surged by 38% from 29,613 in 2011 to 40,932 in 2021. Nonetheless, there remains much ground to cover. Women remain underrepresented in leadership roles within private law firms, and women of color are underrepresented across all levels.

At Hanna & Plaut, I am fortunate to be part of a diverse group of women and men. Yet, ensuring a sustained presence of diverse, talented, and committed attorneys remains an ongoing challenge. Female attorneys, on average, still earn less than their male counterparts. Moreover, they often shoulder a disproportionate burden of unpaid labor on the home front, serving as caregivers for children and aging parents. It is incumbent upon all of us to redouble our efforts in not only attracting women to the legal profession but also in supporting, retaining, and propelling them forward once they join our ranks.

P.S. The Fifth Circuit opinion is already out. We won!