Women Lawyers Discuss Their Role in 1987

by Angela N. Johnson

ABA Journal May 1987

I enjoyed this 1987 edition of the ABA Journal which included articles on “senior lawyers shaking their heads about those young lawyers” and “how computers made us better lawyers – what the new technology can do for you.”  Most useful was the article, “Superwoman is Alive and Well” in which Yates and Benson Goldberg interview five women who discuss the joys and jolts of practicing law.  This article is useful despite being rather dated because it is written at a turning point in the legal profession when women are becoming widely accepted but harassment, discrimination, and inequality are still commonly feared.

Diane Geraghty, an associate professor of law at Loyola University feels fortunate to have graduated law school in the ‘70’s.  Geraghty states, “If you talk to people who graduated 10 years before we did, they knew what real discrimination was” (Yates and Goldberg 18).  She thanks the civil rights movement and a critical mass of women who pushed to open up the profession to include women.  Miriam Miquelon a business litigator, “It’s changed, but in the beginning you had to make sure you didn’t come off as a hysterical female and that you could be as businesslike as everyone else.  And once you were recognized as competent, the client could get past the sexuality issue, and accept you as his counsel” (Yates and Goldberg 18).  For Patricia Bobb, a graduate of Notre Dame Law School and a former Cook County prosecuting attorney, she decided “Early on that I would develop a tough exterior and a good sense of humor” (Yates and Goldberg 18).  She recalls working with “probably the most macho group of men in the world – not just the state’s attorneys but the cops” and how her humor fit nicely with her personality in such a way she never had problems with harassment.  However, Candace Fabri, who worked for the U.S. Attorney’s office, found greater resistance.  “For my first month on the job, there was a parade of agents from my office to my supervisor’s office: ‘Can’t we have a man prosecutor?’ . . . Over the years I got a lot of satisfaction out of seeing the agents come to prefer women prosecutors.  They would come to me when I was a supervisor and say ‘We find that the women take these cases so much more seriously.  They’re willing to work much harder and longer and they don’t pooh-pooh a case as not being significant’” (Yates and Goldberg 18).

Miquelon recounts a feeling of women being less supportive than some male colleagues, “I don’t think that other women have been supportive of me.  Except for the women sitting at this table, I would prefer to deal with a man in the profession any day of the week . . . I think you can see a sort of jealousy that’s developed between women who have made it and women who are having a hell of a time making it.  And those who aren’t making it have this chip on their shoulder” (Yates and Goldberg 19).  Bobb, who once taught trial practice course recalls, “Everybody was real anxious to have the token woman on the faculty because they were so unusual.  Lots of women would say: ‘How am I supposed to behave in a courtroom?’  You didn’t know if you were supposed to stomp around the courtroom like a man.  And you wanted to be real careful that you didn’t break down and cry. I think things have changed a lot” (Yates and Goldberg 19).

As for flexibility and whether it is possible to balance raising children, supporting a family, and fostering a career, most agreed that being able to work part-time would be ideal but rarely acceptable.  According to Miquelon, “I work six days a week like any man because otherwise people notice when you don’t.  The truth is that litigation does not accommodate a part-time lawyer.  Either you’re there all the time or you’re not.  You’re really forced into a choice – go into wills and trusts, or go into teaching” (Yates and Goldberg 20).  Bobb agrees, “I went back to work three weeks after I had my baby.  Because I have my own firm, I didn’t have a maternity leave.  I took a deposition the day I had my child and 20 depositions in two weeks beforehand, because I had to.  But there are other options – you can teach, you can be a judge” (Yates and Goldberg 20).  Miquelon adds, “I have friends in large law firms who took maternity leave and one ultimately got fired when she came back because they said, ‘you’re not as flexible now that you have a child,’ although she felt she was completely flexible.  Another friend of mine told me, ‘Well, I’m lucky I made my partnership before I had the baby because it’s clear to me that otherwise I would never have become a partner in this law firm.’  The perception of you changes even when you get married.  It’s like you’re not stable anymore.  You’ve done this female thing” (Yates and Goldberg 20).  Miquelon further adds, “You find yourself still putting in 50 hours a week so you can prove to everybody what a great lawyer you are.  And then you go home and you have to prove to everyone outside the job that you’re a great mother” (Yates and Goldberg 21).

Source Citation: Yates, Robert and Stephanie Benson Goldberg. “Superwoman Is Alive and Well.” ABA Journal (1987): 18-21.  Accessed via Google Books on 12/28/10

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