Because we are NITA, and because we enroll nearly comparable numbers of men and women across our live programs for trial skills and depositions, we know several things:
Marshalling the strength of this half of trial bar remains an unfulfilled imperative. Brilliance shines. But competition for first chair favors the incumbents. Bringing the balance, variety, talent, and credibility of a woman trial lawyer to the jury and judge requires that each of us stop. We read and learn where the career obstacles are. We coach the woman and champion for her, to overcome the obstacles. For the women you know, right there in your practice, do it personally. Whatever your gender.
1974. The vice-president for sales of a very large public company learns I am embarking on law school. “A woman! What do you want to do,” he says at the picnic. “Be a litigator? That is nearly impossible for a woman – grinding, long hours, tough world.” I believe him to be urging me by misdirection to follow that plan. If not, it doesn’t matter: I take the red alert to heart. (And from it, am indeed spurred on.)
1982. The three women partners at our DC firm of 90 lawyers gather the 15 women associates (we are a progressive firm) in the building lobby for lunch out. The elevators bring cab after cab of partners down, elbowing their way through our small throng. Glancing up to wonder about this crowd, this expression crosses their lips – or their faces. “Oh! Ooooohhh.” (Point made.)
1994. We six women partners in a prominent boutique firm of 90 lawyers gather our 25 women associates for a chat in the gorgeous windowed conference room: 250⁰ river views, and beers in a bucket. “Let’s think about how we can get together regularly, support each other and champion each other.” There is little interest. Why? They do not see a reason. Rather, the risk of labelling themselves as unique amid their male associates warns them off. (“Oh. Oooooohhh.” Our turn, different angle.)
2005. Across the country, the broad culture around women in law remains silent, symptomatic of the 1995 days. The playful urges, the purposeful championing of women – it has gone away, perhaps thought unnecessary, likely unpopular. And, thus, certainly risky.
So, in 2006, we at the WBA in DC convened 220 lawyers to talk engage in finding solutions. For 16 hours over 4 monthly sessions, managing partners and bar leaders eagerly exchanged the frustrations and the ideas around elevating the talent and success of women lawyers. The WBA’s published report covered Women in Law Firms (Creating Pathways to Success, May 2006). Silence ended. Continuing reports covered Women of Color (Creating Pathways to Success for All Women, May 2008), and Women Corporate Counsel (Navigating the Corporate Matrix, May 2010)
Focusing on women trial lawyers, is it better now? An important new research report was just released by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. First Chairs at Trial – More Women Need Seats at the Table (ABA Commission on Women, June 2015).
This report, an empirical study of cases filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, displays the substantial disparity of women as lead counsel as against women in the profession. It depicts types of cases in which women are more present, and less. Best practices are laid out for law firms, clients, judges, law schools, and women lawyers themselves.
In 2005, DRI also convened a task force to address women at trial. [A Career in the Courtroom: A Different Model of Success of Women Who Try Cases (DRI Women’s Committee, trial lawyer study (Defense Research Institute Task Force on Women Who Try Cases, 2005)]
These reports – and others like them from the Utah Women’s Bar and elsewhere, integrate the puzzles of the practice environment, the pressures that women face, the systems and structures of the practice, and the importance of fixing the imbalance of women in trials. Those are the starting points for understanding the factors at play, rather than relying on personal opinion. I commend them for reading.
And I advocate that we all pursue excellent trials by opening the access to first chair for the best trial lawyers – without leaving behind the women, lawyers of color, and lawyers in other groups that deal with culturally maintained stereotypes. Indeed, bringing forward that talent requires positive action.
Karen M. Lockwood, Esq.
President and Executive Director
National Institute for Trial Advocacy