I will remember always the pride I felt the day I was sworn in as a member of the bar.
I was the first woman in my family to go to college, to get an advanced degree, and now, to become a lawyer. It was an important achievement for me and for my whole family.
It meant a great deal, this formal commitment to the courts and to the law that courts serve — to become a member of a profession dedicated to principles so lofty that when you speak their names out loud, you can hear the capital letters ring out:
Justice. Liberty. Equality. Rights.
Such is the romanticism of youth.
A week or so after the ceremony, something unexpected happened to crush my youthful idealism.
I can no longer remember what mission the partner who was supervising me had sent me on, but for the first time I walked into a courtroom as a lawyer. I wore a brand-new suit and carried a leather briefcase (also new). I walked past the gleaming wood rail that marked the area where the general public waited, entered the lawyers’ bullpen, and proudly sat down.
A few minutes later, two attorneys, men in their late sixties, approached my row, caught sight of me, and then glared at me. They stood for a moment, and I had the impression that they were about to ask me to move. Instead, they glanced meaningfully at each other and then sat down directly behind me.
They began whispering to each other, just loudly enough that I could hear every word. “It’s an outrage what’s happened to the legal profession. People these days evidently don’t know their place,” said one. “Looks like anyone can be a lawyer these days,” said the other, “they’ve certainly lowered the bar.” There was more along those lines.
Nothing in my law school career had prepared me for that. I had no idea what to do. I could feel my face burning. I felt sick to my stomach. And really, really angry. The attorney sitting next to me rolled his eyes in disgust. “Ignore it,” he whispered, “and don’t let it get to you. Dinosaurs like that are on their way out.”
As it turns out, his prediction was wrong.
Sexism is alive and well and living in the comments section of an article in the ABA Journal’s Law News Now about a woman who contacts an advice columnist to get some help with a toxic workplace — specifically, the law firm that employs her.
Go see for yourself that dinosaurs still walk the earth.