Judge talks on females in law

By Joelle McGinnis

Illinois Circuit Court Judge Carole Bellows said in a lecture Friday she is pleased with the increasing number of females entering the law profession.

Speaking to a group of about 25 students, Bellows said about 40 to 50 percent of the law school population is female and 15 percent of the profession is female.

Bellows said that makes her happy because female law students passing the bar in her mother’s time, 1932, and in her time, 1960, were a rarity. But for her daughter, who passed the bar last year, there still are difficulties in the profession.

Bellows said, “There are special problems for women coming into the legal profession in juggling all the roles that women have to juggle.”

Amy Rich, NIU Women’s Law Caucus president, said, “For a female law student, (Bellows) is an inspiration, especially because of the fact that she comes from a three-generation family of women lawyers. It’s almost unheard of.”

Bellows said persuing a career as a wife, mother and a professional woman is a “very tough road.” Although the type of problems women face today might have changed, the number has not.

Bellows said it is easier today for a woman to ask for the things she needs in her career, whether it be maternity leave or personal help, but “I come from a time when people would tell me, ‘You’re not going to be a lawyer,'” she said.

Practicing law for 26 years before taking the bench, Bellows said women’s problems in law today are not only confined to the professional side of law. Women are facing problems on the other side of the bench with family law.

Changes occuring through the 1970s and 1980s introduced genderless, no-fault divorce laws where economic consequences sprung from need, not ability to pay. These caused the standard of living for women and children within the first year of divorce to decrease by 73 percent. The non-custodial parent, ususally the husband, had his standard of living increase 42 percent, Bellows said.

The new laws came about because whole generations of women were not programmed to compete on an economic basis the same way as their male counterparts but were treated as if they could compete, she said.

“The courts have had the ability to even it up a bit, but the reality has not quite caught up with the theory yet,” she said.

Illinois courts have tried to help even out the situation with rehabilitative maintenance which Bellows said “gives the homemaker, lover, whatever enough maintenance to let her get retrained and back into the job market.”

Bellows said she enjoys being a judge more than being a lawyer because she is able to put “much more input into the results. It’s like going to the movies … Kramer vs. Kramer every day. It’s just incredible what happens.”