Posts tagged ‘Advocacy’

April 22, 2011

Where are all the women SCOTUS litigants?

by Angela N. Johnson

At the time Tammy Sarver, Erin Kaheny, and John Szmer wrote The Attorney Gender Gap in U.S. Supreme Court Litigation, women occupied less than a quarter of the US. district court and courts of appeals seats, just one woman sat on the Supreme Court, and only 20 percent of law school deans were women (Sarver, Kaheny and Szmer 2008). Thankfully, the current statistics reflect some improvement, with women comprising roughly 1/3 of all judgeships (including 3/9 on the U.S. Supreme Court).  However, the number of women attorneys arguing in the United States Supreme Court continues to lag and the “leaky pipeline” seems to be at fault. While one may hastily conclude that the problem plagues only those women who have an interest in litigating in the highest court of the land, a closer look reveals that this disparity impacts all women (even nonlawyers, too!)  According to the authors, “Because the Supreme Court makes policies that affect the entire nation, and the attorneys that participate in litigation before the Court, in turn, influence the justices’ decisions, the makeup of the Supreme Court Bar is of paramount importance” Id. at 239.  To investigate the gender gap, the authors collected data on all attorneys participating before the Court over the 1993-2001 terms. Moreover, the authors explore some of the possible explanations for their findings.

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April 15, 2011

An Experiment on Jurors’ Perceptions of Women Advocates

by Angela N. Johnson

Cartoon by Stu's Views

This article reports on an experiment conducted at a program sponsored by the ABA’s Woman Advocate Committee entitled “He Said/She Said: Jurors’ Perceptions of Women Advocates.” The program was designed to test the reactions of male and female mock jurors during two 10 minute closing arguments, both made by women attorneys using contrasting presentation styles (one aggressive, the other more fact specific).  The results were analyzed based on the jurors deliberations and careful post-experiment questioning.

Interestingly, the survey revealed that male jurors liked the aggressive approach.  Some of the women, on the other hand, viewed the aggressive approach as “scary.” Women jurors also commented on the clothing worn by the presenters, stating they found a mid-calf length skirt with a side slit slightly above the knee and a silk blazer with a high sheen “distracting” (Mahoney 1999).

After the experiment, jury trial experts spoke on establishing credibility.  While the statements given did not seem empirically tested, they are worth considering.  For example, one panelist said that jurors typically view male attorneys as more competent but that a female litigator who demonstrates her competence is viewed as having more credibility.  One way women litigators can establish credibility is to demonstrate command of the facts, law, and if appropriate, technology.  Their first “speaking roles” can demonstrate competence by making well placed objections, responding convincingly to objections or question from the Court (Mahoney 1999).  Another panelist noted that jurors take their cues from the manner in which the judge and male co-counsel treat women litigators.  This means that using a woman litigator as a “bag carrier” is risky because a juror may view the behavior as sexist and hold that against the client when weighing the evidence (Mahoney 1999). In sum, the program demonstrated that female litigators still have an initial hurdle to overcome at trial but “once jurors determine a female litigator is competent, they are more likely to accord her and her client greater credibility than an equally competent male litigator” (Mahoney 1999).


Source Citation: Mahoney, Kathleen M. “He Said/She Said: Jurors’ Perceptions of Women Advocates.” The Woman Advocate (American Bar Association Section of Litigation), 1999: 4-6.

April 5, 2011

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.

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March 30, 2011

Surprising Research on Women Lawyers’ Likeability v. Competence

by Angela N. Johnson

The authors open their article arguing that although women in politics “seem to face a choice of being seen as likeable or as competent, but not as both . . . [women] lawyers do not seem plagued by this same double bind . . . there is no difference between how female and male lawyers are perceived” (Schneider, et al. 2010).  The authors reflect on the 2008 “Palin v. Clinton” “Likeable v. Competent” model as an example of the struggles women politicians have in balancing competent but “hard” and unlikeable with not competent, but good looking and likeable (they can’t have it both ways, the authors argue).  Part of the problem stems from socially constructed (and maintained) steretypes of what is feminine.  According to the authors, this handicaps women who engage in assertive behaviors.  This continues despite women comprising 49.8% of the U.S. Workforce  (Schneider, et al. 2010, 367).  According to the National Association for Legal Career Professionals (NALP), the 2008 statistics show that while women make up 45.3% of associates, they only make up 18.7% of partners Id. at 368.

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