1989 Article Reveals Little Change for Women in Private Practice, yet Prosecutor as a Women-Friendly Role

by Angela N. Johnson

According to Raggi’s 1989 article, women lawyers are not achieving positions of professional prominence in the private sector “in nearly the percentages that their numbers and class rank would indicate” (Raggi 1989, 975).  The current inequality of women lawyers in the private sector is similar to Raggi’s article, written back in 1989.  It is discouraging to realize not much has changed for women lawyers in the private sector.  However, Raggi reports in 1989 that women were well-represented as the best and brightest prosecuting attorneys in New York.  Women achieve equality in prosecuting? This is astonishing when taken into account the need for prosecutors to be among the toughest and most aggressive lawyers who must prove themselves to their “clients,” (the government investigators and police).  Though Raggi’s article is mostly anecdotal (and written 22 years ago) it provides a great snapshot of at least one woman’s experience as a prosecutor. For example, Raggi notes that when she left the prosecutor’s office in 1986, every unit in her office had been, at one time or another, headed by a woman Id. at 976.  Additionally, during her years as a prosecutor, she “encountered virtually no gender discrimination” Id. at 975. Why might this be?  Raggi credits the fact the employer is the government and required to enforce a wide variety of laws enacted to ensure equal opportunity for women.  Many women lawyers turn to prosecuting to avoid the less-than-welcoming environments in other areas of practice.

Why is prosecuting a less hostile environment for women lawyers?  Raggi notes that prosecutor’s offices tend to be inhabited by relatively young lawyers who are often more comfortable with men and women in positions of equal importance.  Additionally, the low pay in these positions necessarily means many of its members are two-income families; men are more likely to have wives who are talented professional women.  But Raggi says the most influential factors is likely the very nature of prosecutorial work which values talent and dedication above all else.  For example, “a young assistant district attorney or United States Attorney will find herself on trial, with primary responsibility for a case, within a very short time of walking in the door . . . proving herself quickly and repeatedly.  Talent, regardless of gender, thus is soon discovered not only by unit chiefs with supervisory responsibilities, but by judges, court personnel and the defense bar, all of whom spread the word effectively” Id. at 977. One group, according to Raggi, that is less accepting to women prosecutors is criminal defendants, who feel “to have been prosecuted by a woman was the ultimate insult” Id. at 978. Despite this, the primary criteria for success remains ability and diligence – gender appears to be a non-issue for women prosecutors. 

Raggi includes in her footnotes some statistics on women’s proportionality of prosecutor’s offices.  For example, in August of 1988, the majority of new assistant district attorneys in both Kings County and New York County were women, and in all areas in that year, women represented 55 percent of all new hires.

Source Citation: Raggi, Reena. “Prosecutors’ Offices: Where Gender is Irrelevant.” Fordham Law Review, 1989: 975-977.

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