Women and the practice of law

Women and the practice of law

I was reading about the struggle of women in a male dominated legal profession and came across a short collection of quotes I had collected.The struggle of women for equality in this country is not unlikea minority who has been subjected to discrimination by those in control. For example, if you have never read about women’s suffrage in the United States leading to the right to vote in 1920 you would be impressed with the courage and determination of the leaders who were subjected to jail and abuseof every nature, but who never gave up.In our legal profession, it is only in very recent years we have hada recognition of the past discriminatory practices against women lawyers. Historically it has beena very male dominated profession. It is clear that it is still more difficult in many ways for a femalelawyer in our profession then a malejust because of the traditions of the law profession which carry over into today. I think this may be particularlytrue for trial lawyers. Without getting on a soap box, I thought I’d share some random quotesI found in my file just for the fun of it.

  • "Nothing can be more absurd than the practice that prevails in our country of men and women not following the same pursuits with all their strengths and with one mind, for thus, the state instead of being whole is reduced to half." Plato The Laws
  • Several years ago the television program Sixty Minutes dealt with a Florida Judge, Madeline Morfus, they called a "law and order judge" who was tough on criminals and was called "maximum Morfus."In one case, a rape victim was describing how she managed to shoot her attacker right in the genitals and the judge leaned down and said to her in a loud stage whisper: "Nice shot."
  • The Rose Bowl is the only one I’ve seen that I didn’t have to clean" – Erma Bombeck
  • Seize the moment! Remember all those women on the Titanic who passed up the desert tray – Erma Bombeck
  • Behind every great man stands a surprised mother in law
  • "If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth
  • "Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels."
    Faith Whittlesey
  • "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people."
    Cheris Kramare and Paula Treichler
  • "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat."
    Rebecca West
  • "I base most of my fashion sense on what doesn’t itch."
    Gilda Radner
  • Women have got to make the world safe for men since men have made it so darned unsafe for women.
    Lady Nancy Astor
  • I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man I keep his house.
    Zsa Zsa Gabor
  • I’ve been married to one Marxist and one Fascist, and neither one would take the garbage out.
    Lee Grant
  • My husband and I are either going to buy a dog or have a child. We can’t decide to ruin our carpet or ruin our lives. – Rita Rudner
  • If high heels were so wonderful, men would be wearing them.- Sue Grafton
  • I’m not going to vacuum ’til Sears makes one you can ride on. – Roseanne

Addendum:After posting this I read an article,Neither micenor men, by Peggy Klaus (preoccupation@nytimes.com) who coaches executivesand heads corporate training programs. In the "jobs" section of March 7th NY Times, she argues that women must deal with a well entrenched double standard when it comes to gender-acceptable behavior. She says that in the face of that reality women often fall victim to self defeating actions. "They may assume a strident command-and-control approach or else turn passive – by clamming up…" She says that, as one woman put it:

"Even in this day and age, a guy barks out an order and he is treated like someone who is in charge and a leader. But, when a woman communicates in the exact same way, she’s immediately labeled assertive, dominating, aggressive and overbearing."

She goes on to argue that women "make communication adjustments" even though it can be rightfully argued "why should I have to change. It’s not fair." Her response is that so long as the stereotypes remain all-powerful and ar perpetuated by men and women alike, it’s necessary to navigate them. She gives examples and concludes with:

"Let me be clear. I’m not asking you to give up your soul – but rather to exercise new communication muscles so you can b e heard in a variety of situations by a wide range of people. The ultimate goal: for them to get the message without wanting to get back at you."

It seems to me, both male and female trial lawyes often forget there is a jury watching and listening to what they say and do during a trial. I’ve often thought that when atrial lawyer isbefore a jurythe focusshould always be on the jury’s impression of whatis happening before them,rather then the opposing counsel’s bad conduct or a sexist judge’s comments. A female trial lawyer must be aware of the stereotype, fair or unfair, that Klaus talks about,. She, just like her male counterpart, are always on stage in front of the jury who, after all, will make the only decision that counts for the client. Therefore, her reaction, just like his reaction, to what happens should only be judged by what impression it might make on the jury. That is the only factor that ought to determine our reaction. It is not the time for either male or female"to stand up for their rights" if that will create a negative impression on the jurors sitting the in the jury box. That’s not to say issues should notbe frankly discussed in the absence of the jury. But if we aredefending ourselvesas a knee jerk reaction we can lose sight on what impression that makes on the people who will sign the verdict. It is your client’s interests and not your own that you owe an obligation to during a jury trial. Anyway, it was an interesting article by Klaus ongender communication.

One thought on “Women and the practice of law

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