The hashtag, #LadyLawyerDiaries, has been used by women in law for a number of years, and it has led to the creation of a thriving community for women lawyers on Twitter. In this episode of the State Bar of Texas Podcast, host Rocky Dhir and guest host Sally Pretorius talk to Kendyl Hanks and Kristen Vander-Plas, two of the cofounders of @LadyLawyerDiary on Twitter. They discuss how their Twitter account has become a forum for women in the legal industry. It is used for the discussion of issues, for encouragement and support, and for spotlighting women in the legal profession who are doing great things.
State Bar of Texas Podcast
Lady Lawyer Diaries Support for Women in Law
Intro: Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated content to improve your law practice, with your host Rocky Dhir.
Rocky Dhir: Hi there and welcome back to the State Bar of Texas Podcast. This is Rocky Dhir, coming back to you. You know, I was browsing my Twitter feed and I found something kind of interesting, it’s called LadyLawyerDiaries, it’s a hashtag, and then it turns out there’s a Twitter handle called LadyLawyerDiary, singular not plural.
That got me thinking, what’s this about? It looks like it’s a pretty big deal on Twitter, everybody’s talking about it, it’s getting a lot of attention, and it seems to be focused on women lawyers and their issues, but you know what, I’m kind of ill-equipped to talk to any of you guys about that.
So, I’m going to do what any good lawyer would do. I’m going to bring in co-counsel, very qualified, very capable co-counsel because we all know that’s what we do and that’s what we look for. And I think I found just a perfect person and I’ve asked her to come and kind of co-counsel with me here today.
I want to introduce you to Sally Pretorius. Now, I say, “introduce you”, most of you probably already know who she is. Sally is the current President of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, also known as TYLA, and you get to see her messages every month in the ‘Texas Bar Journal’.
She has been a fantastic leader this year and she has spearheaded something that very close to my heart, TYLA has its first podcast called Shero, it’s all about females in the law who are acting as heroes and mentors to other women. Phenomenal, phenomenal leadership initiative there by Sally.
So, Sally, thank you for being here, it’s wonderful to have you and you’re a lawyer in your own right, you do some pretty, pretty amazing work over at KoonsFuller, doing family law. So you got your hands full this year.
Sally Pretorius: Just a little bit, but thank you for having me, yeah — no, it’s great, everything’s great.
Rocky Dhir: It’s been a busy year. You’re probably an expert on time management by now.
Sally Pretorius: Oh goodness, yes, that to say the very least. I’m an expert on time management, sometimes not so great, but always time for a little bit of Twitter feeds in the morning. So —
Rocky Dhir: Well, and hey, we all say it’s professional development, but let’s admit it. Twitter can also be a really nice way to procrastinate. I said that, you didn’t, it’s okay. So, Sally, I wanted to learn a little bit more about LadyLawyerDiaries and I thought with the Shero podcast and with all of your work at TYLA, you might know a little something about it or maybe you have some people you can bring into this conversation to help us learn a little something.
What you got for us?
Sally Pretorius: Yeah, well, I wish I was the expert on this issue, but it seems like there are too way more qualified so we are going to be a group of co-counsel this morning. I have the pleasure of introducing with us, we have Kendyl Hanks, who is here as one of the creators of the Twitter handle @LadyLawyerDiary and I also have Kristen Vander-Plas, who is another one of the creators and they’re both with us here today and they’re going to talk just a little about their story and how this all came to be and all the great things are doing with this amazing Twitter handle.
Rocky Dhir: Now before we welcome them as co-counsel, we need to make sure, do they need to be admitted pro hac vice or are they both Texas lawyers?
Sally Pretorius: They are both Texas lawyers, so Kendyl Hanks is over at Greenberg Traurig and then we have — and Kristen you might have to help me out on this one, you are — where are you at?
Kristen Vander-Plas: So, I’m in Lubbock at the Brad J. Davidson Law Firm.
Rocky Dhir: So, we’ve got a whole panel of Texas lawyers here today talking about @LadyLawyerDiary. This is fantastic, I’m excited. So, yes, Sally, where do we even begin? How do we unpack this amazing movement we’ve got going on? I can’t even define the movement. Can you help me out here? I’m the one calling in for co-counsel help here.
Sally Pretorius: Yeah, no, no, no. So I did a little bit of research on this and I’m going to turn it over to Kendyl and Kristen and ask them a question on it, but it looks like that their Twitter account is this amazing resource, where they have highlight and they connect women on a huge regarding women in the law and the issues affecting women out there in the legal profession.
And so it looks like a really great community where they encourage women and share issues and they do all this great stuff. So, my understanding is that it didn’t always start off as a Twitter handle but rather it started off as a hashtag. So maybe I could tap in Kendyl or Kristen to talk to us a little bit about how the Twitter handle started.
Kendyl Hanks: Sure, this is Kendyl. Thank you for having us, and Sally, I’m so impressed with everything that you’re doing, I was involved with TYLA when I was a much younger lawyer.
And the Internet is really — in these podcasts that you’re doing it’s really brought a lot of young lawyers together and it’s just a real — it’s a wonderful thing to see. So @LadyLawyerDiaries, the hashtag was coined by a UNC law professor named Rachel Gurvich, who is a friend of ours and a real advocate for women on Twitter and certainly your law school.
And it kind of took on an organic — I don’t know it became a real popular hashtag and women were sharing a lot of stories and coming together into a community. And so we set up this, I’m not sure, exactly when we got the handle but we started tweeting in January of 2018, and there’s a group of us who came together including Kristen and some lawyers and professors from around the country with different practices but common experiences.
And we used the hashtag to basically create a forum for women to talk to each other, talk about their experiences, to promote each other, to create a forum with confidentiality, and anonymity if they need it, some of the more sensitive issues. And it’s become sort of a real labor of love in many ways, something that has been a huge value to me personally as well as in my career.
It’s something that I do in my personal capacity, it’s not something that I do for my law firm although, the firm is certainly very supportive of the activity. And I find I do get a lot — it’s created a community of women, I’ve become very close to including Kristen, I’ve never would have met otherwise, I don’t think.
Rocky Dhir: So, can I ask a question real quick just to — I’m kind of an — I’m an old fogy, so I need to know the difference between a Twitter handle and a hashtag. So, Kristen, can you maybe walk us through that distinction.
Kristen Vander-Plas: Sure. So, usually on Twitter, a Twitter handle is typically one person or company, they’re the person who tweets out information, who sends out messages, and then a hashtag is a slogan or some type of word that can be put into those messages, and with Twitter, it’s accessible, you can click on hashtags and it’ll bring up every single message that includes that hashtag.
And so, it’s a way really of categorizing your messages if you want to see what people are talking about. This is used in ad campaigns and the like. So, our user handle is a little bit different and that several of us have access to it sort of the administrators of the user handle we can go in and post out messages and one night it might be Kendyl and one night it might be me, several times a night might be all three of us of tweeting out stories that we think are important or supportive stories or as Kendyl said, dealing maybe with a confidential question that one of our followers has brought to our attention and we tweeted out for them anonymously so that we can start a conversation.
The hashtag can be used by anyone, the actual username @LadyLawyerDiary can be followed by other people but there’s just a core group of us who have access and can actually post things under that handle.
Rocky Dhir: So, if you wouldn’t mind, either one of you, Kendyl or Kristen, I want to know the kinds of things that women are talking about using either the hashtag or the Twitter handle; is it issues of sexual harassment, is it sexual assault, is it balancing work and life. I mean, can you kind of give us a sense of the topics that are being discussed?
Kristen Vander-Plas: Sure, it’s all of the above. It’s an every issue facing women lawyers and really we try not to define it just as women lawyers. We have a lot of very active women in the community who are in the legal profession in some respect. We have court staff, we have clerks, and we even interact a great deal with women doctors, women in the medical profession, who share experiences, so really what it’s become about in that hashtag, which is really great. And they’ve started their own handle as well is called #Girlmedtwitter. And so, really in terms of topic if it’s something that women experience, share in common, struggle with, need advice about, mentor about, it’s something we talk about.
Sally Pretorius: One of the things that I thought was pretty cool and Rocky and I were talking about this a little bit offline, but I was just so impressed I think that now a lot of the issues that women face are very much like seeking that mentorship and encouraging women and there’s that thing that’s like, a true friend doesn’t — by supporting another woman, you fix your friend’s tiara, you don’t tell everybody that you fixed her tiara.
And so like all of those kind of quotes and on your — just looking at the feed, you guys do so much supporting of other women and I thought that that was just so impressive. You have some law students who are up here just saying, just got out of my first exam, this was hard and just to see the support, the outpouring of support on here I think is just amazing, because that might not be available to some of these women in their own personal life.
So did you guys kind of see that coming from this or was this just something that sort of naturally progressed from sharing issues.
Kristen Vander-Plas: I think this is something that it’s gotten a lot bigger than I expected it to. I think those of us who knew each other personally and had sort of formed a friendship just among the few of us, we had tried to be very supportive and obviously be mentoring and speaking as a young lawyer. Kendyl and Rachel and some of the others got a lot of questions from me for advice.
But seeing it really take off in a way that, like you said Sally is encouraging the profession as a whole, encouraging people and really trying to shine a spotlight on women in really any profession, but in particular the legal profession who are doing great things and how encouraging that is.
But also on the flip side of that sometimes it’s actually encouraging to realize that you have connected with someone who is having the same struggles that you are and that kind of imposter syndrome, feeling alone in whatever it is that you are dealing with and realizing, not only other people willing to have your back and support you, but there are people going through that exact same thing.
And Twitter and social media as a whole, it can have such a negative effect, but in things like this it can connect me and Kendyl and people who live in DC and San Francisco and UNC professors and realize oh, we can all talk and we can all support each other in that way and it’s just been really exciting to see it explode, and at least hopefully people getting the same thing out of it that we did with our core group, but just magnified on a completely different level.
Rocky Dhir: So Kendyl, Kristen, you guys have both alluded to the fact that you had a relationship for a number of years and I guess Lady Lawyer Diaries has kind of helped that blossom even further, but have any of these interactions either through the hashtag or via the Twitter handle, have they turned into — in other words, has #LadyLawyerDiaries, the hashtag and/or the Twitter handle, have those spawned offline friendships that kind of go beyond social media for some of these women?
Kendyl Hanks: Absolutely. And I laugh because I should clarify I met Kristen through Twitter. We were both here in Austin at the time and I am a practicing appellate attorney, she was clerking at the Texas Supreme Court and Lady Lawyer Diaries, Rachel Gurvich was — all of us were in some ways sort of connected to another hashtag called #AppellateTwitter, which is also very popular in Texas. It’s a hashtag that folks talk about appellate practice and cases and grammar and all of that stuff. And Kristen and I intersected in that community before Lady Lawyer Diaries really blew up. And so this is maybe a year-and-a-half ago or so.
And Kristen is so wonderful about bringing people together and she loves to take selfies with lawyers from around the country and so when I argued a case at the Texas Supreme Court, as I was leaving the courthouse, she came running down the steps, she is like no way you are leaving without a selfie. And so that was actually the first time I met Kristen and I wouldn’t have known her had it not been for this community that was already growing on the Internet.
And for personal friendships, I mean all of us consider each other personal friends and have given and needed support from each other in more ways than I could ever describe.
I just took a road trip once with a friend who is also here in Austin, who is one of the women we do this with and she and I wouldn’t have met, we met through this as well and she and I took a road trip up to Taos and we stopped in Lubbock to see Kristen, who had just had surgery. So yeah, absolutely, it’s led to some really incredible friendships.
Rocky Dhir: And as a little matter of maybe aside, as a trivia, Kristen, when you were clerking at the Texas Supreme Court, you were clerking for Justice Don Willett?
Kristen Vander-Plas: I was, yes.
Rocky Dhir: So Judge Willett was actually on a previous podcast talking about his work as the Twitter Laureate of Texas. So it’s cool, we have kind of — we brought two Willetts together on the same podcast, this is great, so he would be very proud, no doubt.
So there is a question I guess and maybe this might seem a little ignorant, so forgive me, but I want to get my arms around this movement. So it’s really a two-part question. The first is, are there any men involved in the Lady Lawyer Diaries movement? And then the second question might be a little bit more serious in a sense, but when we are talking about the issues women face in the workplace and the challenges that they face, I think when you read it in the media it sounds like it’s mostly at the hands of men, but have there been women involved in perpetrating some of these issues that women face as well?
So are men involved in the movement and to what extent are some of these challenges almost emanating from behavior of women lawyers in the past? Can you guys maybe comment on those two issues?
Kristen Vander-Plas: Sure. We definitely do have male colleagues who have been very supportive and will use the hashtag on occasion. I think probably when it becomes the most evident is if there turns into an issue where we have had to address it on Twitter because someone has posted something perhaps very sexist or misogynistic and we have really seen over the last few months, if someone starts getting attacked from our group or perhaps has had very negative things posted about them, whether on Twitter or not, we have really seen a real influx of our male colleagues coming in and really taking responsibility and stopping it.
And that’s very heartening to have support and maybe it shouldn’t be this way, but often when a male colleague steps into the conversation, it can help end it for better or worse. It can show that there is more than just what is often dubbed emotional women getting upset about something.
And so if a man steps in, I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but that can be helpful and we do have a lot of male colleagues that are incredibly supportive, a lot of them are, as Kendyl said, from that Appellate Twitter community originally and have been real supportive and some of them are just great male colleagues who see what we are doing and have stepped in.
As for the second question, I do think that anyone can be harassing, anyone can be negative, that’s true in a professional sense and a personal sense. Certainly there have been times where there has been a female lawyer or a female leader in some profession who has been less than helpful or has been downright harassing as you said, and it’s certainly not exclusive to man on woman harassing. And so we hope that we call out any type of harassing or negative behavior regardless of who it is that’s perpetrating it.
Rocky Dhir: What if a man felt that he was being harassed in some way, would #LadyLawyerDiaries be a good forum in which to post that or are there other communities on Twitter that would be more appropriate for them?
Kendyl Hanks: I think it’s — that’s an interesting question and it’s one that I am very sensitive to, I think we are all very sensitive to. We certainly have had men who have chimed in occasionally, even confidentially, like some of the women contributors about their own stories of sexual assault. One out of six men have experienced some sort of sexual assault shockingly and there is a lot of stigma attached to that as well, frankly. And we absolutely support men who want to contribute to that conversation.
It’s a difficult — it’s sort of a fraught area though, so a lot of times they will be sensitive conversations about women’s experiences and it is largely women. I mean it’s a pretty rare instance where we hear something about a woman harassing, usually it’s more like we hear stories about difficult behavior, something that could be considered abusive, but not sexual harassment in the way that we usually talk about in the gendered way, which is not to say that it doesn’t happen, but that’s just not — those aren’t stories we are hearing.
And it is important, men who have those experiences, I think it’s part of the #MeToo movement more broadly, which in some respects we do feel associated with, I think that they are feeling encouraged to come out and share those experiences. And I think that’s important for all people, particularly women, because taking away the stigma of particularly sexual assault is a huge part of what we are trying to do or trying to create a forum for that. So absolutely, men who experience that are absolutely welcome to share that and be part of this conversation always.
We also just don’t want it to be — one of the situations we see all the time, particularly in forums, community, open public community forums like Lady Lawyer Diaries and Twitter, where comments can sometimes be made to denigrate the validity or the extensiveness of women’s experiences.
And so it’s a line that we try to walk pretty carefully in monitoring the communications. And if something does get a little out of hand, we will try to carefully monitor that and if necessary, take steps, but it really hasn’t been a problem.
Rocky Dhir: Well, and the reason I ask these questions is because there’s been a lot of discussion around the fact that these issues that Lady Lawyer Diaries are bringing up, these are not just female issues, they’re issues that men need to be involved in and be aware of. And so, I kind of wanted us to talk a little bit about that. So I appreciate you guys sharing that perspective.
One question I kind of wanted, maybe Sally, if you could jump in, the TYLA podcast Shero, to what extent do you think that that relates back or is in some way working in tandem with movements like Lady Lawyer Diaries?
Sally Pretorius: Yeah — no, I’m just sitting here browsing their Twitter just to get one more glance at it. This is so great like I’m just in awe of all the amazing things that are on here and I do have a question for Kendyl and Kristen. Kendyl and Kristen, I see that you guys kind of have your cover photo up here of Justice Ginsburg’s famous quote.
Do you guys have any Sheros of your own? I mean, obviously you guys are now one of my Sheros and I’m just launching this sort of forum, it’s great. I’d love to hear from you guys on who you guys really look up to in the legal profession or just people that have helped pave the way for both of you.
Rocky Dhir: I’m going to take notes on this one.
Sally Pretorius: I know.
Kristen Vander-Plas: I’m going to go first and get to say, Kendyl, that way I don’t sound like I’m just saying, yeah, ditto. Kendyl has been someone very much who I can call at 3 o’clock in the morning, and yes, have called at 3 o’clock in the morning to get help before, so that’s been a really special.
But probably more so this week just because of the news that came out, I’ve always really admired and looked up to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, not just for what she does for our profession and means to that history but as she stated in her letter yesterday, what she’s done to ensure that generations like mine and those that come after us are so interested and understanding of how important it is to be involved in your community and understanding civics.
And then of course, just to see what she’s done as a lady lawyer and the kind of lady lawyer that I can only hope to be a fraction of and accomplish some of the things that she did always really looked up to her, and of course, that maybe even a little bit more meaningful this week, but —
Sally Pretorius: It’s such a classy letter, yeah and just the way she just saying to them and go out of the private view. It was also very — yeah — no, I echo your sentiments 100%. I think she’s great and that’s great. It sounds like maybe we need to get Kendyl and Kristen in for a Shero podcast.
Rocky Dhir: I was going to say.
Sally Pretorius: This one is like you guys interview each other and talk to us, you guys sound like perfect candidate for us.
Rocky Dhir: This might be a sequel, a natural sequel, Season 2 so —
Sally Pretorius: And Kendyl, what about you?
Kendyl Hanks: It’s funny. One of the things that’s so remarkable about this group is Kristen has done exactly the same thing for me. I mean, I’ve been practicing much longer than she has and in many ways, Kristen and I could not be more different. Let’s just say that we come to certain questions from opposite sides of the aisle.
But, what we share in common despite the differences in our age and our viewpoints sometimes has really brought us together in such a way that I’ve learned a lot from Kristen too about grace, about things that I didn’t know when I was a young lawyer, starting out and didn’t have a community like this that I could reach out to and talk to.
And I’ve called Kristen late at night too about things, like this is not a one-sided relationship at all, and so I put Kristen on that list too. And it’s funny when she as soon as she mentioned Sandra Day O’Connor, which I 100% agree with, of course, my answer is also Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The documentary that came out about her recently and there’s another movie coming out. I mean, these women what they accomplished in a field that is still dominated by men and lacks diversity in a lot of ways, despite great strides is really nothing short of incredible and it’s a reminder to us that there are lessons to be learned from the women who came before us.
And those of us who are coming to the profession now and those like Kristen who are leaders in their own right, right out of law school and right out of clerkships, and who are making such great contributions to the profession for their peers, and particularly for women, that makes me so hopeful.
And so, all the frustration that I have of about there really not being much change in the numbers between when I graduated from law school in 2001 and now, I see young lawyers like Kristen and I think to myself, alright, maybe this time is for real, and my mom of course, I have to say that role.
Kristen Vander-Plas: Yeah, my mom’s on my mind too. So one thing that I did notice and when you guys were talking about — and you guys aren’t even that far apart, you guys are, I mean, may be what 5-6 years off in law school from graduation most probably.
Sally Pretorius: I think that one of the things that your Twitter account really helps deal with and what — well, I would encourage all the men listening to this podcast to sort of follow and really read some of the tweets that come out is there’s always the concept of unconscious bias, and so, I know that’s been talked a lot about the race spectrum but it hasn’t been as much talked about.
I think people are starting to 26:11 see that it actually just with regards to gender as well right and so people are starting to stand up and listen when it comes to, hey, you guys may not realize you’re doing this, but you know, you guys might be treating a male associate different or calling what — if a female is a little bit more asserted you might call her bossy, whereas the guys called assertive.
Just sort of the little nuances that go on and so I really appreciate the job Twitter account really addresses, is that something that you guys sought out to address with your Twitter account?
Kendyl Hanks: I’ll answer that and because — and I would certainly love to hear Kristen’s thoughts as well. From my perspective, absolutely, for a number of reasons; I was heavily involved with the American Bar Association when I was still practicing in New York before I moved back to Texas. I was on the Board of Governors and before I joined Greenberg Traurig, I got to know Hilarie Bass who recently left the firm to start a foundation to address literally these issues.
And the ABA Commission on Women did really incredible work at Hilarie Bass’ initiative, studying unconscious bias, doing a report about women in the profession and why women leave, and you’re absolutely right that unconscious bias, I mean — and I want to make sure it’s clear.
We don’t think of unconscious bias is something that is just experienced by women, everyone has unconscious biases about everyone. And the critical thing about it is to talk about what they mean and how people — how those unconscious biases play out in interactions.
And so from my perspective particularly someone who’s a little bit more set in their ways has been practicing for a long time, I do try to think about that a lot and I do try to make sure that that’s part of the discussion. And we’ve definitely shared a lot of the information the ABA Commission on Women has found and tried to share lessons that they are trying to impart from that.
Rocky Dhir: Well, ladies, let me just jump in real quick and say, we are unfortunately, very unfortunately running a little short on time. I think we could probably talk about this for hours maybe even days because it is a huge topic, and I want to tell you how at least for me personally and I think for every listener out there, I want to thank you for bringing not only this issue but also this Twitter handle, this hashtag to everybody’s attention.
And what I’ve come away from this with, you guys all being my co-counsels on this issue that I had very little background in is, this isn’t just Lady Lawyer Diaries, this is Lady Lawyer Leadership which you guys have been talking about is a whole new way of approaching.
Merit and how people are promoted, I mean, there’s just so many things we could go into, and I hope we can maybe get you guys back for a future podcast, where we can delve into this a little bit more deeply. Would you guys be open to that?
Kendyl Hanks: I’d love that.
Kristen Vander-Plas: Of course.
Rocky Dhir: So, for anybody that wants to reach out to you and maybe learn a little bit more, let’s get contact information. So, Kendyl, let’s start with you, what’s the best way to reach you?
Kendyl Hanks: Well, if it’s pertaining to Lady Lawyer Diaries, how I would recommend is to DM us, to direct message us to the Twitter account, just because we try to keep that all in one place, it gets a little bit more difficult if folks are reaching out separately. But, I’m easy to find because of the Greenberg Traurig in Austin.
Rocky Dhir: Go to the website, right.
Kendyl Hanks: Yeah.
Rocky Dhir: And how about you, Kristen?
Kristen Vander-Plas: So, like I said earlier, I’m here in Lubbock but you can reach us through the @LadyLawyerDiary handle or you can get me directly on Twitter @KVPTexas and I have it on my phone, so I try — try to be good to not procrastinate quite too much while I’m working, but generally speaking, if you send me a message on Twitter or if you tag me in a tweet and ask for something, you’ll get an answer back from me probably quicker than you should.
Rocky Dhir: Well, no, we appreciate that. And Sally, you have been a rockstar lead counsel on this whole initiative. Thank you for co-hosting and for bringing Kendyl and Kristen to the table. What’s the best way for folks to reach you? I know you’re busy, you’ve got TYLA, you’re overseeing the Shero podcast, and you’ve got your plate full, but how do people get a hold of you?
Sally Pretorius: No, I’m always happy to respond to email or take a phone call. My email is [email protected].
Rocky Dhir: Okay, wonderful. Well, again, I want to thank all of you wonderful co-counsels for helping me understand this issue. I certainly am going to spend a little bit more time studying Lady Lawyer Diaries, the hashtag, and seeing the Twitter handle and what you guys are into. I’m going to follow that Twitter handle today.
So, I encourage all of you out there who are listening, do the same, get involved and understand these issues.
Well, that is our show for today. Thank you for joining us. We hope to see you next time. Remember, life is a journey. Thanks for tuning in.
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