Want to Go to Court?’
An oral history of the good, the bad and the ugly
experiences of the first wave of female attorneys
BY STEVE KNOPPER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DUSTIN SNIPES
The women who graduated from law school in the late 1960s and early 1970s
were not as rare as Sandra Day O’Connor, who was one of only five women in
her Stanford Law graduating class of 1952. They didn’t have to fight to get into
school, as O’Connor did; they didn’t enter a world where it seemed impossible
to become a partner at a major firm; and they didn’t have to deal with judges
who banned women from wearing pants in their courtrooms.
OK, scratch that last one—women in the ’70s did have to contend with that.
They also defused screaming judges, created maternity leave policies, and
explained, always explained, that, no, they weren’t the court reporter.
“There was no smooth sailing for a woman who wanted to be a lawyer,” says
Sherry E. Grant, who graduated from Loyola Law School in 1974. At the same
time, it wasn’t all bad. Some had strong female role models. Others had
supportive male colleagues. But all of them had to be tough.
And they paved the way. The number of female lawyers nationwide jumped
from 4 percent in 1970 to 12. 4 percent in 1980. By 2014, according to the ABA,
34 percent of lawyers were women.
“I recall very clearly in the first week we had mass assembly with the class,” says
Janet I. Levine, a partner with Crowell & Moring in Los Angeles, who graduated
from Loyola Law School in 1980. “And the dean got up and said, ‘This is the first
class we’ve had which is 40 percent women.’ It meant you were not a rarity.”
Here are the stories of the women who took the torch from O’Connor and
passed it on to Levine.