Number of female lawyers, judges increasing

Judge Don Barnes - Contributing Columnist

Judge Don Barnes

Contributing Columnist

According to the American Bar Association, in 2011 there were 1,116,967 lawyers then practicing in the United States, or one for approximately every 300 U.S. citizens.

About 45 percent of them were practicing in the private sector. More than half were employed by businesses, banks, local, state and national government or the judiciary. Demographic statistics show that about 90 percent were Caucasian, 4 percent Black, 3 percent Hispanic, and 2 percent Asian. Forty-eight percent were in solo practice. Most of the rest were in small law firms, with a much smaller percent in very large firms of more than 100 lawyers.

While demographics show that approximately 25 percent of practicing lawyers are female and 75 percent are male, that is certain to change dramatically within another generation. NAWL, an organization of women lawyers, reported in 2011 that women constituted 47 percent of the law school population, up from 44 percent in 2007, and in recent years 45.9 percent of all law graduates are women. However, they tend to leave the practice of law for other pursuits at a somewhat greater rate than men.

An AFL union study shows that in 2009, the female-to-male ratio in other professions were: RNs – 92 percent to 8 percent, physicians – 32 percent to 68 percent, psychologists – 69 percent to 31 percent, civil, electronic and aerospace engineers, about 9 percent to 91 percent.

When the writer of this article completed law school at the University of Missouri in 1960, there were 59 graduates. Only two were women. This year’s freshman class consisted of 45 women and 98 men, a ratio of 41 to 59 percent. The admissions office at the University of Missouri Law School reports that the preliminary admissions for September 2012 are nearing 50 percent women.

While the ABA national ratio figures may show one active lawyer for every 300 people, Pettis County figures are substantially different. Currently there are 34 active resident lawyers which figure includes three prosecuting attorneys, four active judges and one senior judge.

Reducing the total number by the five judges, there are actually 29 lawyers who are fully or part-time engaged in practice, or a ratio of one current resident lawyer for about every 1,350 people living in Pettis County. Of 34 active lawyers and judges, seven are women, a ratio of slightly less than 25 percent.

The first woman lawyer in Pettis County was Judge Hazel Palmer who, while her father, attorney John W. Palmer, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, attended law school at American University in Washington D.C. After her father left Washington D.C., she joined him in his practice of law in Sedalia on Jan. 2, 1933. She later became very prominent as national president of the American Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Republican candidate for U.S. Senator from Missouri in 1957, and was later Associate Circuit Judge in Pettis County.

It was 50 years after Judge Palmer began her practice here when in 1983, a second and third woman in Pettis County entered law practice. They were Jerusha White Wasson and Cynthia Suddath (now Turley). Anne Gardner, now Sedalia City Counselor, entered practice here with her father and brother in 1986.

A book kept in the circuit courtroom in Pettis County since about 1922, which registers resident attorneys as to admission to the Missouri Bar and the beginning of their law practice here, shows 11 more women resident lawyers after Anne Gardner joined the Gardner law firm. They are Eve Dake, Barbara Teeple, Jennifer Dickman, Laurie Ward, Brenda Rahm, Jenevieve Jetmore, Karen Hunt (Edwards), Kimberley Tanner, Carmen Smith, Erin Heimsoth, Tina Luper and Megan Beesley.

Not shown in the book, but women who practiced as resident attorneys, were Suzanna Jones, a Catholic Nun, who was a legal aid attorney even while a member of her Order, and Kathlene Brown, who was for nearly 20 years district director of the public defender’s office, both of whom have left Sedalia, and Judge Deborah Mitchell, Sedalia Municipal Judge.

Others have moved from Sedalia or have retired, leaving seven women as resident active members of the Missouri State Bar. A few other women public defenders have been assigned to the Sedalia District Public Defender’s office from time to time, but usually stayed only a short while.

Judge Don Barnes is senior judge who resides in Sedalia.

Judge Don Barnes is senior judge who resides in Sedalia.

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