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Women Lawyers See Roles Beyond the Courtroom and Their Homes: Law as a 'Change Vehicle' of Society

November 30, 1988|MYRNA OLIVER | Times Legal Affairs Writer

A busy Encino environment and land-use lawyer, Janice Kamenir-Reznik, takes half an hour from her practice each day to drive her 5-year-old daughter and a car full of classmates home from the kindergarten across the street from her office.

Kamenir-Reznik, 36, can take time for car pools without checking with her firm's senior partner because she is the senior partner.

She and her husband, Benjamin Reznik, balance a Sherman Oaks law practice, a nearby Encino home and three children.

Just added to the demands of her 18-hour day is the presidency of California Women Lawyers, an organization created nearly 15 years ago when few women achieved such well-blended family and career success.

19,000 Women Lawyers Belong

About 19,000 women lawyers pay up to $60 a year to support the organization. Its purposes, as stated by its founders: "To advance women in the profession of law; to improve the administration of justice; to better the position of women in society, and to eliminate all inequities based upon sex."

The group has written friend-of-the-court briefs advocating affirmative action, abortion rights, parental leave and comparable worth, and criticizing discriminatory clubs. It has also drafted and lobbied for legislation relating to reproductive rights, equal education, spousal support, sexual assault and child care.

Women are rapidly moving into the mainstream of California's legal community: 50% of law school graduates, 25% of the state's 114,200 lawyers and 15% of the state's 1,330 judges are women.

Although neither the women lawyers' Sacramento headquarters nor the State Bar of California could determine how many women lawyers the state had in 1974, two of the group's early members recalled that there were never lines to the ladies' rooms at bar conventions then, as there are now.

When Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal served as founding president of California Women Lawyers, she was a Los Angeles Municipal judge, then one of a mere handful of women on the bench. When she completed law school in 1955, just two of the 90 in her class were women.

'A Lot More Comfortable'

And when Margaret M. Morrow joined the firm of Kadison Pfaelzer Woodward Quinn & Rossi in 1974, two of its then-26 lawyers were women. By comparison, her new firm of Quinn, Kelly & Morrow, which she and other departing Kadison lawyers recently formed, has nine women among its 21 lawyers.

"It is a lot more comfortable feeling today than it was back then," Morrow said. "The numbers of women being graduated out of law school, being hired and being promoted to partner is increasing dramatically, and with that has come the security and the network of colleagues we lacked 10 to 15 years ago."

Despite the significant movement of women into the mainstream of the legal profession, women bar leaders agreed at a recent meeting that the California Women Lawyers organization is still needed to promote women's issues.

Morrow is the second woman president of the nation's largest voluntary bar organization, the 25,000-member Los Angeles County Bar Assn. But acceptance of women by the larger all-purpose bar groups, she said, does not negate the need for California Women Lawyers.

"There is a pattern of successful integration into the general-purpose bar association," she said. "But the general association must take positions that satisfy most of the members some of the time. It is hard for a bar association like that to take a strong active voice on women's issues."

Marjorie L. Carter, a Newport Beach lawyer who is on the California Women Lawyers board of directors, said a separate group is needed to focus on women's issues. "We are definitely oriented toward the family, toward women's problems."

Kamenir-Reznik brings to her new job as chief advocate for the women's group a lifelong interest in social and public interest issues. Brought up in West Los Angeles and the Pacific Palisades, she earned a bachelor's degree in psychology at UCLA in 1973 and a joint master's degree in social work from USC and in Jewish communal studies from Hebrew Union College in 1975.

More interested in lobbying and working for civil rights than in one-on-one counseling, she became director of the Commission on Soviet Jewry for the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles.

She married just after their college graduation, then watched with interest as her husband completed law school and set up a solo practice in zoning and land-use law, with emphasis on pro bono cases--representing litigants without fee.

"I had never thought of law as being the change vehicle in the way I thought of social work," she said. "But watching Ben alerted me that we were doing the same things."

So she enrolled in UCLA Law School and graduated in 1982, just before giving birth to their oldest son, Yoni, 6.

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