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Learning from ‘Rosie the Lawyer’

The presence of women in the nation’s courtrooms has come a long way since 1972, when a scant 9.4 percent of those enrolled in Juris Doctor degree programs were female — in 2010, that number was 47.2 percent, according to the American Bar Association.

Some of the women from Wright, Constable & Skeen who are part of the ‘Rosie the Lawyer’ program (left to right): Wendy Geist, marketing coordinator; Allison Brill, associate; Meighan Burton, associate; and Mary Alice Smolarek, partner.

Still, women have some catching up to do to even out the numbers. To help encourage young women who are interested in law as a profession, a new program spearheaded by Wright, Constable & Skeen LLP in Baltimore is offering high school girls the opportunity to talk with practicing attorneys to educate them about traditionally male-dominated areas of the law, like construction and maritime law, said Wendy Geist, marketing coordinator at the law firm.

Eleven high school girls participated last month in the first program, dubbed “Rosie the Lawyer,” and asked questions about what it is like to practice law, the challenges of being a woman in the field and whether attorneys ever get to take vacations.

“We are here to create resources and contacts they would not otherwise have had,” Geist said. “For some, this might be the first time they have been in a building like this or this is the first time they’ve met an attorney.”

Michele Harrison, 16, of Western High School said she wants to be a defense attorney one day.

“I want to learn about what lawyers do, the different types of law and how to help people through being a lawyer,” she said.

Kaela Harle, 15, of National Academy Foundation High said she became interested in law after being in a mock trial club at her high school.

“I love arguing,” Harle said. “I love getting my point across.”

Marlicia Palmer, 16, of Western High School, said she is interested in learning what it would be like to defend someone.

“I want to hear different perspective on people being lawyers,” she said. “It will help me figure out what I want to do in life and where it would take me.”

The program aims to show the girls that other areas of law exist besides being a trial attorney, which is what they see in movies and on TV.

“I think it’s just a good opportunity to learn there is more out there than Perry Mason law,” said Mavis Jackson, a program director at the CollegeBound Foundation, which partnered with the law firm on the project.

The idea for the program began in June, when Geist joined the firm and the partners were looking to start an outreach program. Geist said it struck her when she started how there were a number of female attorneys in areas of the law traditionally practiced by men.

Geist then got in touch with CollegeBound, a nonprofit that helps students in Baltimore find education opportunities after high school. The group advertised the program and sent out an application.

Girls from seven different high schools in Baltimore were selected.

“The girls definitely went out on a limb to experience different careers than what they see as a lawyer on TV,” Jackson said.

Last month, the girls heard attorneys from tax, estates and trusts, labor and employment, construction and maritime law speak not only about their practices, but also their life paths and careers. Alicia Lynn Wilson, an associate at Gordon Feinblatt LLC, and Bambi Stevens, chief solicitor in the Baltimore City Law Department, were among the speakers.

“It’s good for them to know that not all aspects of the law are so combative,” said Beth Furlong, development director at CollegeBound.

The program continues throughout the year. This month, the group will have a formal luncheon at the Women’s Industrial Kitchen while learning about dining etiquette and afterward will hear a lecture from the Etiquette School of Maryland on basic business etiquette. In November, the girls will hear from Baltimore City Circuit Judge Audrey J.S. Carrion. In December, they will attend an information session with representatives from University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, University of Baltimore School of Law and scholarship programs.