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Bar News - March 9, 2007

2007 Midyear Meeting: Gender Equality Breakfast Reviews Past 20 Years



Honey C. Hastings, a Wilton attorney with a family law practice, received the 2007 Hollman Award for her dedication to “promoting respect and fair treatment toward all members of the judicial system…and educating others about  gender equality issues.” The award was presented to her during the annual Midyear Meeting’s Gender Equality Breakfast, held at the Radisson/Center of NH in Manchester on Feb.16, 2007. It is named for Judge Philip S. Hollman to honor his advocacy of gender equality in the legal system.


Joni Esperian, Gender Equality committee member, presented the Hollman Award to Hastings. “She is not afraid to take the initiative,” said Esperian. “And she has been especially outstanding in the use of gender-neutral language, both spoken and written.”


Hastings, who came to law as a second career, said that in the early days of her legal life only the male attorneys were allowed to use the term “esquire” after their names. That eventually changed, but it was one indication of the biases that existed then.


Recognized for her pioneering work in divorce mediation, Hastings said, “I went down this ‘road less traveled’ because of a conversation with Judge Hollman. He said he thought the future of divorce work lay in mediation.”


Hastings went on to say that litigation is an exhausting experience for everyone involved. “Collaborative law is so much better. If we can get the attorneys from both sides to work on a settlement without going into court, it saves both parties a lot of time and money, as well as heartache,” she said.


The breakfast also featured a brief review of the progress made since the 1988 study by the Task Force on Women in the Bar and began with a video presentation that focused on members of the Task Force and their comments at the time.


Hollman, Supreme Court Justice Linda Dalianis (then Superior Court justice), and Attorney Stephen L. Tober spoke in the video presentation on their observations and their hopes for the future. Then these same members—and Attorney Barbara Keshen, now of the NH Civil Liberties Union, who was also on the 1988 Task Force—took part in a panel discussion about the state of gender equality in the present day. The panel was chaired by Hollman and open to comments from the breakfast attendees.


Although positive trends were noted, some members felt that there was still a long way to go. In fact, the review at the end of the first 10 years following the initial study seemed to find more progress had been made than did the review of the second 10 years. Also, some members felt that perhaps gender bias had taken a more subtle form in more recent times.


Hollman said that changes for the better had taken place in the attitudes of court personnel. “Bailiffs, for instance, are not quite so paternalistic towards women lawyers today,” he said.


In addition, 20 or 30 years ago, a pregnant woman attorney might have drawn remarks for appearing before the court. However, since the time Dalianis was sworn in as a superior court justice when she was eight months pregnant, there has been very little comment on pregnancy. When Dalianis was sworn in, maternity leave was almost unheard-of. Now maternity/family leave is often offered to both parents.


There was considerable talk during the event about a woman as primary caregiver for children and what that meant for her career and for her health. Although men have become more involved in child rearing, in most instances, women still bear most of the burden. What this means in the legal world is a limitation on women’s participation and their opportunities for advancement.


Keshen, the 2006 recipient of the Marilla Ricker Award (named for the woman who convinced the NH Supreme Court to allow women to practice law in New Hampshire) remarked: “In the present economy both partners must often work to make ends meet; and I think it will be even harder economically in the future.”


Lively discussion followed the conclusion of the meeting, with many feeling that the subject of gender bias and women in law needed more time and further discussion.



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