of the Employment Bar
Betsy Plevan’s career has been based on finding the right fit:
for her, for her clients and for a generation of female lawyers
BY TIMOTH Y HARPER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LUIGI CIUFFETELLI
IT WAS 1974 AND BETTINA PLEVAN, ALL OF 27 AND A
young mother not long out of law school, had landed an
interview at Proskauer Rose Goetz & Mendelsohn. Since
1875, the firm had been known for its high-quality work, but
it wasn’t a “white shoe firm” dependent on Wall Street and
banks; it was known, she says, as a “Jewish firm” because
of the diversity of its lawyers, clients and practice. It was so
progressive it already had several women associates and
even a woman partner.
During the interview, senior partner George Gallantz
reviewed Plevan’s experience, including her four years
as an associate for a prestigious Seattle firm, and then
asked, out of the blue, “Do you like basketball?”
Plevan is barely 5-foot-1 but grew up scrappy and
quick, playing hoops and baseball on Long Island with
the boys. She thought to herself, “This firm might be a
good fit for me.”
A good fit has always been important to Plevan.
BETTINA “BETSY” BARASCH’S YOUNG LIFE centered on
her family’s department store in middle-class Freeport,
Long Island, which opened its doors in 1902. Her father
and uncle ran the store when she was a kid, and she
and her older brother Stephen, now an accountant in
Wisconsin, grew up working there, helping others find the
right fit. It was valuable training.
“That was a service mentality, and I am in a service
profession,” she says. “The mindset was dealing with
people in a positive way. I think there’s a little bit of an
analogy in client relationships—having the experience
and ability to deal effectively with people.”
Her father, Bill Barasch, encouraged her to play
sports with the boys, including sandlot baseball. He died
suddenly when she was 13. That’s when her mother, Tina,
who had always been active in Democratic politics and
local civic issues, began working full time at the store.
“That influenced me about having a career, and how that
was a good thing for a woman to do,” Plevan says.
In high school, her uncle died without a will, and a
girlfriend claimed she had been his common-law wife.
Betsy watched closely as lawyers negotiated a settlement.
“I found it fascinating,” she recalls.
She majored in history at Wellesley—Diane Sawyer was
a classmate, and Hillary Rodham was two years behind—