LATEST POST: The American Dream is Human Rights

The following is an article by Fayezeh Haji Hassan which was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette February 5, 2017.
Ms. Hassan graduated from Duquesne University School of Law in June 2017.

The American Dream is human rights

I have lived in chaos where there is no rule of law. Please, Americans, do not turn us away

I am a woman, a Muslim and an Iranian immigrant living in Pittsburgh. My family was forced to flee to Afghanistan and live under the Taliban because of the constant death threats my father received from the Iranian government for defending religious minority groups.

The Taliban forbade women from going to school; this was the most traumatic experience of my life because all I wanted to do was to study. I escaped the death threats of one dictator regime in Iran to endure the death of my dreams under another one in Afghanistan. But it did not stop me. I opened a home school in our neighborhood and taught younger girls.

This is my last year of law school at Duquesne University, and I know I have answered my life’s call. I have lived in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt. I am in America studying law because of the human rights violations I have experienced. I came here to equip myself with the best tools to help people at home. When I say home, I do not mean Iran. I mean any place —  I love every country that I have lived in — that needs my help and any child who is experiencing what I have experienced.

I learned early on that rights are not always given; sometimes rights must be taken. Now I am shifting gears. When I came here seven years ago, I did not believe my human-rights education would be needed in the United States. Now, I am planning to stay, to defend what is mine, and what is ours.

The new immigration ban on Muslim-majority countries has generated worldwide anxiety and stress. It has compelled me to understand the culture, values and mindset of my new home. Therefore, I subscribed to President Donald Trump’s Facebook page and have spent hours reading the comments to understand why people support this immigration ban. Here is what I have observed:

• This is a political game for many people, but it is not for those of us affected. I have not seen my family for seven years. I have gone through the long process of immigration, and I still do not even have my green card. I feel that most people who support this ban lack empathy. Some may feel that this is “their country” and that security should be a priority, but what is going on now has resulted in the reverse. I am not a religious person, but I cherish my Muslim identity more today than I ever have in my life.

• Some Americans are scared; it is an irrational phobia and not a valid fear. The New York Times recently published a list describing the long years and daunting security clearances that refugees must go through to get into the United States. It is extreme vetting. A similar process is in place to get a visa. The promise of the Trump campaign was to eliminate illegal immigration, but now the legal process has been targeted. Why? Perhaps because it is easy; supporters of the immigration ban want some kind of action, and they are getting some. They do not care whether it is right or wrong, effective or ineffective.

• Some people point out that, so far, this is a temporary ban. The lack of empathy behind such words makes my heart ache. If these people have an airline flight delayed, even once, they will make a big fuss. Refugees and immigrants have complied with endless procedures, paid their fees and waited with bated breath on every legal step. When they are on the edge of being granted admission to the United States, they are turned away by the stroke of a pen. The effect of this, I promise, is not temporary.

• The United States is my utopia. I came here to learn, to live and to prosper. I am not going to let anyone ruin it for me, so I will stay to fight to make sure we keep this country the way the U.S. Constitution defines it: a beacon of hope and dedicated to the rule of law. I have seen the worst chaos from the absence of the rule of law, and I will try my best to prevent it from happening here.

• The American Dream is human rights. This is a bold statement, but it is the brand that has been sold to the rest of the world, and it is the responsibility of the United States to uphold it. It is the American Dream that gives the United States the power to invade, to sanction, to lead and to draw talent from all around the world. America is the land of immigrants, and we, today’s immigrants, are not giving up on our human rights.

Muslim immigrants are a bridge between the United States and much of the world. And it is not an easy place to be. Do not embarrass us, please. I hate the fact that, when I defend America, I often hear, “You defend the country that discriminates against you for your religion and your country of birth!” Anyone can possess the American Dream, but not every dreamer is brave enough to follow it through.

It takes courage to leave your country, your family, your friends, and to go to a new country where the language is foreign, to start from zero, to work hard, and harder and harder, to see your dreams come true.

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Legacy Lawyer: Jessie L. Smith

Contributor Jessie L. Smith, Esq. Harrisburg, PA, Co-Chair Pennsylvania Bar Association Women in the Profession Commission

Bio
Jessie L. Smith is a recently retired government and private practice trial attorney. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at Dickinson Law, as a Dauphin County Court Arbitrator, and in many local and state bar association roles focusing on leadership, Continuing Education programs and diversity and inclusion initiatives. She is currently the Co-Chair of the PBA Women in the Profession Commission and Chair of its Agricultural Law Committee. She trained as a mediator, and established the first Certified State Mediation Program for PA. Ms. Smith is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and the Pennsylvania State University.

Who I Am
I was one of the first women trial lawyers in many of the rural courts in which I practiced. I mentor, am committed to diversity, and am very active in state and local bar associations. I have a wide circle of professional acquaintances and spend time networking, referring, and getting and sharing information.

This I Believe
I believe in kindness. I believe in finding win-win situations, getting to yes, persistence and never giving up; integrity and trying new and challenging things.

What I Love about Practicing Law
Working with smart people, learning, insight into your community, uncovering motivations, wearing the white hat, writing and speaking, being able to converse with anyone, solving problems, accomplishing something complex and difficult, and being an advocate.

Lessons Learned

  1. There is a time to leave a job –a success peak or if you have an enemy there –and you should leave then so that you preserve your reputation, and avoid spending time in Machiavellian strategizing to outmaneuver your enemy.
  2. Try to learn everything you can from a workplace, factual and legal info, even if it’s not what you’re doing there.
  3. If you hate doing something, find a way to not do it, and don’t pretend you enjoy it, as you’ll just get more of it to do.

Personal & Professional Habits

  1. I have three large dogs, have always had dogs, and they entertain me as well as provide me with personal safety, home security, exercise, problem solving opportunities, and the discipline of caring for them daily.
  2. I do things at home to relax and think about something totally different –for me that’s cooking and “home economics” –care of an old house, arts events, and reading outside the law.
  3. I’ve been on several nonprofit boards and learned a lot from this.
  4. I read the Unity Daily Word, a booklet with a short daily ecumenical  message about positive thinking and practices and helping others.
  5. I go out to lunch at least once a week, with various people not just work-related, and to different places.
  6. I am not an early person so I schedule important things later in the day if at all possible –push yourself but don’t fight yourself.

Welcome to the Practice of Law

  1. Don’t complain to your peers –complain to someone who can solve the problem.
  2. Keep up you network of non-lawyer friends and contacts.
  3. If you aspire to some position (judge, legislator), get to know one well so you know what is actually involved and can go to that person as a mentor and sounding board.
  4. Learn the power and structure of your workplace –becoming close to someone who is negatively perceived or powerless, especially if they have been there a while, can actually be harmful to your reputation there, and their advice will be unhelpful.
  5. Do things to meet other lawyers in social settings.
  6. Fight for what you want, don’t acquiesce, compromise only for something better –with as much diplomacy as you can bring to the situation without weakening your message.
  7. Learn from the sales field –keep notes in your Outlook Contacts of the people you meet –where you met them, common ground, personal interest –you will NOT remember this stuff unless you do. This makes every conversation easier and shows your genuine interest in that person.

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Lawline’s 2016 Top Women Faculty

Posted by Editor Kristi Heidel

The following is an excerpt from Sigalle Barness, Lawline’s Top 20 Women Faculty of 2016, Lawline.com (Apr. 18, 2017).

Lawline’s content team dug deep into 2016 data, including the top courses and our most successful faculty. In particular, the team focused on identifying the top women faculty who, through their powerful CLE programs, influenced and inspired thousands of attorneys across the country.

We focused on the top-rated, most viewed and thoughtfully reviewed 2016 courses taught by a woman. This allowed us to not only gauge the impact of these individual women but also recognize the reach they had on the legal community. We congratulate these women on their accomplishments and the excellent work they do—both inside and outside of the Lawline studio.

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Women’s Satisfaction with the Law

Posted by Editor Kristi Heidel

The following is an excerpt from Rachel Marx Boufford, Why Are Women Lawyers Unhappy? Vault Law Firm Diversity Database (March 21, 2013).

Both men and women rate their satisfaction levels highest during their first year at the firm, and both men and women experience a significant drop in satisfaction between years one and two (Toto, we’re not in law school anymore!). Satisfaction continues to drop gradually until after the fifth year, when for men, satisfaction rises quite a bit throughout the sixth and seventh years, while women remain stagnant at their fifth-year low point. The only time when satisfaction levels match up for men and women is during the eighth year.

So what does all this mean, and why is it happening?

First, many female associates feel that it is impossible to have a family and make partner—and so they take themselves off the partnership track, even before they have children (in other words, they’re the poster children for not “leaning in”). Here’s what a few sixth-year female associates had to say in our survey:

  • “There is certainly a belief among women associates that you can either have a family, or be a partner—not both.”
  • “A disproportionate number of the female partners are childless. It seems extremely difficult to be a female with a child and make partner. The male partners almost all have children.”
  • “It is a friendly, welcoming atmosphere for people of different races, ethnicities and sexual orientations but I feel as a woman attorney that I should not even try for partnership because it won’t be possible with a child.”

Second, female associates complain that their male counterparts have different—and better—opportunities for business development, important assignments and mentorship (again, all these quotes come from 6th-year female associates):

  • “I do not feel that work gets distributed fairly among associates (particularly between men and women associates), from case to case or within each team.”
  • “Much of the focus [of the firm’s women’s initiative] is on work/life balance and alternative hours arrangements which is most meaningful if you have kids (which many women at the firm do not). I wish they would address issues that apply to all women, like communication strategies, selling work in what is still often a man’s world (at the client level), building a network, etc.”
  • “If there were more women here then we’d likely have more female partners and I would have more women to look up to as mentors.”

Finally, a common complaint among senior women associates is that their potential for making partnership is not clear enough:

  • “I enjoy what I do, and I really like the people I work with. However, I am very unsure and concerned about my long term career potential at this firm.”
  • “Partnership requirements seem to be changing, but nobody will actually admit that anything has changed, nor will anybody tell us what the actual expectations are.”
  • “There is almost no hope of making partner here, and that influences my satisfaction and long-term goals.”

Perhaps women need to do a better job of claiming a seat at the table and pursuing their goals, as Sheryl Sandberg argues. Maybe, as Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote, firms need to do a better job of creating “better models and possibilities of fitting work and life together.” Or—most likely—both are right. What’s less debatable, however, are the numbers: the most recent Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey found that women represent approximately 45% of associates, but only 20% of partners. Moreover, only 32.5% of partners promoted in 2011 were women (granted, this is an increase from 2010, when 29.71% of partners promoted were women).

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