Calling All Social Engineers
Jamie Quient, Lawyers Club President 2016-2017
“A lawyer’s either a social engineer or … a parasite on society … A social engineer [is] a highly skilled, perceptive, sensitive lawyer who [understands] the Constitution of the United States and [knows] how to explore its uses in the solving of problems of local communities and in bettering conditions of the underprivileged citizens.” -- Charles Hamilton Houston
The New Year is a time for reflection, self-improvement, and resetting ourselves for the year to come. As we think about our New Years’ resolutions, I submit one more for consideration: as leaders of the San Diego legal community, let us commit to being social engineers in our practices and in our community.
One of Lawyers Club’s greatest strengths is our large and diverse membership. Everyone has a unique role to play in the advancement of women. There are a number of major issues and barriers facing women and impeding the advancement of women lawyers. If every Lawyers Club member picked a single women’s issue they were passionate about and dedicated some time to addressing it, we could have a tremendous impact.
If you are passionate about protecting women’s reproductive rights, we need your help now more than ever. Given the current climate, we will have to work extremely hard to simply maintain the status quo. The Supreme Court established a woman’s right to privacy in decisions about her own body through Roe v. Wade and its progeny. Unfortunately, state legislatures are regularly passing new laws making it harder for many women to access reproductive healthcare. In 2016 alone, 30 new laws were passed in 14 states to make it more challenging for women to get an abortion. As social engineers, we can use the Constitution to protect this Constitutional right from degradation.
If protecting reproductive rights is your issue, join the Lawyers Club Reproductive Justice Committee. This Committee is currently planning the March Reproductive Justice Luncheon and is identifying other ways to engage our members around reproductive justice issues.
As social engineers we also have the ability to address issues of poverty, a critical barrier to the advancement of women. According to the Women’s Law Center, the 2014 United States census data revealed that the rate of women living in poverty was substantially higher than that of men living in poverty. More than one in seven women – nearly 18.4 million – and more than one in five children – more than 15.5 million – lived in poverty in 2014.
As attorneys, we also have the unique power to improve the lives of women and children through pro bono legal services. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, "Lawyers have a license to practice law, a monopoly on certain services. But for that privilege and status, lawyers have an obligation to provide legal services to those without the wherewithal to pay, to respond to needs outside themselves, to help repair tears in their communities."
One of the reasons women are more likely to live in poverty than men is because they make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers and two-thirds of workers in tipped occupations in the United States. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and the federal minimum tipped wage is just $2.13 per hour – and has been for more than twenty years. At these hourly rates, a woman with two children working full-time would live near or below the poverty rate. Even those making California’s minimum wage of $10.00 per hour and working full-time make a mere $20,800 per year, still below the Federal Poverty Level of $24,300. The fact that women are far more likely to be earning wages that are below the poverty level is even more concerning given that four in ten American households with children under age 18 had women as the sole income earner in 2013, according to Pew Research Analysis.
As these and other poverty statistics reveal, anti-poverty policies disproportionately help women and their families. In 2016, California passed a law to raise the minimum wage to a living wage above the poverty line. Under this new law, the state mandated minimum wage will increase slowly from to $10.00 per hour (above the federal minimum wage, but still under the poverty line) to $15.00 per hour by 2022. In June of this year, San Diego voters passed Proposition I, which will increase the minimum wage in San Diego at a rate more quickly than the state until 2019. This new local law also includes five days of annual paid sick leave.
In our role as social engineers we can help advocate for legislative solutions like these to improve the lives of women and families. As lawyers we have a deeper understanding of the law, which helps to give us the credibility needed when advocating. Lawyers Club capitalized on this credibility earlier this year when Lawyers Club Board member and employment attorney Susan Swan testified on behalf of Lawyers Club at several San Diego City Council hearings on the minimum wage enforcement ordinance. Swan was the only speaker to address the impact of the ordinance on women in San Diego. This was an important reminder of our role as a voice for women in our community.
If you want to help with our advocacy efforts, join the Women’s Advocacy Committee. This Committee is currently planning Lawyers Club’s first ever Equal Pay March and Rally, which will take place on April 4, 2017. The Equal Pay March and Rally is aimed at raising community awareness about the fact that women in nearly all professions are still paid less than their male counterparts.
Finally, as social engineers we can work to eliminate workplace discrimination and unequal treatment women experience in the workplace including gender discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying. If you want to help address these issues, join the Equality and Action Committee. This Committee is currently planning a summit on sexual harassment, which will take place this spring.
So as you think about your goals and ambitions for the New Year and beyond, I challenge you to be a social engineer. Use your law degree to improve the lives of women in our community.
Jamie Quient, President of Lawyers Club practices insurance coverage and intellectual property litigation at Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP.