“A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman.” —Melinda Gates
“This is certainly true of female attorneys yet, chances are, their voices may not be heard in litigation. Many studies and task forces throughout the years have focused on the participation of female attorneys in the courtroom. A recent New York Times Op-Ed by retired New York Federal District judge, Shira Sheindin, once again highlights the disparity in female attorneys playing a prominent role in the courtroom. Whether the proceeding involves substantive motion or trial, there are myriad examples of female attorneys queuing up the case or argument only to have a male counterpart bask in the glory of making the presentation in court.
Certainly the skill set and competence of the female attorney are not in question, as the firm and client relied upon her to research and draft the motion and prepare the case for trial. However, advancement in the legal profession and progress as a trial lawyer is dependent on developing competencies in the courtroom. Firms have invested their resources to train and mold their female attorneys to structure strong written arguments and effectively prepare the case for trial only to strangle that growth by preventing the next step of presentation in court. With drastically shrinking opportunities to try cases, it has become even more important for female attorneys to have an opportunity to take an active role in court or they may never gain the necessary experience in this valuable skill set. Oftentimes the female attorney sits as second chair, relegating her as the person to organize and keep track of documents, rather than the one presenting evidence and examining witnesses. Not only does this affect the female attorney’s ability to further her career, but it may also serve to promulgate a jury’s gender bias that female attorneys aren’t as powerful or as competent in presenting the case. The truth is, female attorneys can communicate just as powerfully and effectively, they just need more opportunity.”
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