I recently found myself attending an arraignment for a client in a local town court. This is unusual for me because, as a rule, I don't practice criminal law. It was a one-time favor for an established client, and although I don't see a future for myself in criminal law, I am so grateful that I took this one case on, because it gave me a real glimpse into how truly fantastic the women lawyers who are in the trenches practicing criminal law are.
As a background, you have to imagine a jam-packed town court - standing room only, with a line of locals out the door waiting to be heard on anything from small claims, to evictions to arraignments on criminal matters. At the front of the courtroom, next to the Judge's bench, sit the prisoner transports - unfortunate folks who are currently in custody and have been transported by law enforcement to the Court for arraignment. They wear prison-type jumpsuits and are shackled. Next, there are the attorney tables, with rows of cushy swivel-chairs. After that is the gallery seating, where everyone else is waiting to appear before the Judge.
When I walked in , quite unconsciously, I took stock of the attorneys in the room. Amid a sea of dark-suit-clad male attorneys, there was a cluster of two colorfully clad female attorneys. One sat at the attorneys table, and one right behind her. I spotted a third female attorney, and immediately pegged her for an Assistant District Attorney. A statuesque woman of color, she strode through the chaotic courtroom with the righteous dignity of her office. ADA's and prosecutors always leave me feeling a bit in awe and this was no exception.
I knew no less than three of the eight or so male attorneys in the courtroom, even stopped to say hello to each, but gravitated toward the female attorneys, whom I did not know. There we sat, we three women, in our colorful cluster. We were surrounded by male attorneys who, although polite, mostly sat and worked on their phones. I could tell that the other two women knew each other by their light chatter, and although I did not attempt to join in their conversation, they just naturally turned to me and included me. Because, that's what women do.
I could tell by the conversation that the woman at the Attorney's table was very experienced in assigned counsel work (government-paid representation for criminal defendants who can't afford a lawyer). The one seated next to me was younger, and was peppering the more experienced attorney with logistical questions. Things like: "I can't get this certain DA to give me a plea offer on a case. What do I do?" The more experienced attorney was answering her questions with such grace and humor, never once making the younger one feel inadequate for not knowing something. In my experience, this openness and willingness to help up-and-coming attorneys is a trait that tends to be more prevalent in the women of my profession. Don't get me wrong, there have been incredible men that I have sought out for guidance and advice and have graciously provided both throughout my career. I am eternally grateful to those men for their mentoring and generosity.
But the women. The women that I have encountered in my career have almost always gone out of their way to get to know me, to invite me in as these two did this night, and to make me feel a little less like I am out there floating on the wind alone. There are not so many of us female attorneys who strike out on our own, for so many reasons. Because of that, I find it so comforting to run into other women in the law who are trying to raise kids or are hanging out their own shingle and who genuinely want to connect and support each other.
So, what's my point? My point is that women lawyers rock! Whether we consciously realize it or not, we are slowly changing the landscape of the legal profession, one relationship at a time. I, for one, think that is a very good thing. The pressures of practicing the law can make it a lonely profession. With the prevalence of substance abuse and mental health issues in our profession, we need more inclusive practitioners. The women lawyers that I know are the reason that I don't wince anymore when my eight-year-old daughter declares her desire to take over the family business someday.
So, ladies of my profession, keep doing what you are doing. You are making a bigger impact than you know. I am so very proud to be counted among you.