I have practiced law for close to 30 years. I’ve enjoyed singing in a band, painting with oils, acting, serving as an adjunct or visiting professor at many educational institutions (Stetson, Emory, Barry, UCF, etc.) – all things I still enjoy today! One reason I chose the law was because I love the legal profession and having the opportunity to help make someone’s life better. I was drawn to family law early on and this was the right path for me. 

Law School & Gender Equity

As I navigated my way through law school and began my legal career, gender equity in my chosen profession had a long way to go. In male-dominated law firms, there is periodic structural discrimination. Although I’ve had many male allies who encouraged us to use our voices, watching the differences between how male and female lawyers were treated was sometimes hard to comprehend. I’m proud I was the first Team Leader and mother at a large law firm and strived and thrived in that role.

After graduation, passing the bar, and joining a large law firm, it became apparent that if I wanted to succeed, I should not be “too.” “Too confident” would make me look arrogant; “Too pretty,” I would not be taken seriously; “Too smart,” because a woman could not be that intelligent; or “too emotional” because showing emotion would decrease my professional influence. All of these human qualities seemed to be polarizing for women watching others reacting in an unpredictable way; this was not in the best interest of the client.

Family & Law Career

As my career evolved, my family of two grew to three and then four. Back then, there was no extended maternity leave. Going on leave meant working from home while caring for newborn children. Packages would arrive from my firm in the morning with work I needed to complete. In the evenings, my work would be picked up by a courier. Once the children got older, I was one of the first attorneys to bring my children and even my parents to attorney retreats so I could spend time with them and still keep pace with my male counterparts. I’m happy to say things like this are so much more acceptable and even welcomed.

With the help of my education, experience, and support system, my career started to take shape, and I was receiving higher-profile clients. As I developed and became a clear rainmaker in the firm, my position and compensation grew, but not as much as my male counterparts. My status in my firm, however, did not make me immune to being referred to as the court reporter or administrative staff member, both of which are honorable positions, just not one I held. 

Advancements in Gender Inequity in the Legal Profession

The systemic gender inequity of the legal profession made a surprising advancement in 1996, not 1956, when The American Bar Association (ABA) amended the professional code of conduct for bar lawyers to address the undermining, and blatant disrespect, of female lawyers by calling them demeaning names such as darling, sweetheart, and honey during the court proceeding; though they may have called us things even worse outside of the courtroom. 

Sexism can be found across our culture and the legal profession. Occasionally, I wonder what my career would have looked like if I were a man. But then I think about how proud I am that I figured out how to make the profession that I love work for me and how to inspire conversations in committees and board rooms to help other women lawyers adapt and succeed. Now, with my own practice and firm, I strive to hire talented, strong, and capable women and men and use my platforms, such as the past president of the Central Florida Women Lawyers Association, serving as an office of the board of the Orange County Bar Association to promote young mothers at each opportunity. 

What I do is not defined by my gender; it has to do with the fact that I love the law and want to provide legal representation in divorce, child custody, and mediation that matters – and if that is “too much,” for some…too bad! I am happy to say things have sincerely improved for female lawyers over the last 30 years. The profession now affords more respect, more equal pay, and sitting “at the table” with men and women alike in leadership roles while supporting one another. We’ve come a long way!

About Rebecca

Rebecca L. Palmer, Esq. is a Family & Marital Law attorney practicing in Orlando, FL. She is the Managing Partner of the Rebecca L. Palmer Law Group, and can be reached at rebecca@rlplawgroup.com.