Oakes: When I graduated, I could count
the number of women practicing in the
Twin Cities on both hands. Some of
them worked in their husbands’ offices.
One was a prosecutor. I think one was
working in the Minnesota Revisor’s
office. There were three in larger firms.
I knew who got hired, and there was
only one distinguishing factor: I was a
girl and they were boys. I went to one
of my professors and said, ‘I think I’m
going to have to sue.’ The professor said,
‘No, you’ll never get a job, let me talk
to another professor.’ [That professor]
said, ‘It took me five calls to the attorney
general to get you a second interview.’
I still remember the opening [interview]
line: ‘You know, we hired a woman once,
and she got pregnant.’
Moos: I do remember, once, arguing a
motion down in Hennepin County—it
was back in the day when motions
were [at] what was called a cattle call,
maybe 40 lawyers would argue various
matters. It was fun and interesting and
stressful. I made an argument on my
case. Leaving the courtroom, the senior
lawyer I’d known from other matters
followed me out and said, ‘Hey, Becky, I
just wanted you to know, you have a run
in your nylons.’ I said, ‘I thought you’d be
listening to my argument, not looking at
Olup: [The firm] wanted a woman in
their group because they figured it would
look good for their clients. I was told to
develop the family law department, which
is what my specialty became. None of the
male attorneys got flowers on Secretaries’
Day, but I did.
Oakes: At some point, it became
politically advantageous for the attorney
general to show that he was a Democrat
and he was politically liberal, so he
promoted me and hired another woman.
So then there were two of us on the staff.
Wilson: My 41st anniversary of being
sworn in was last Friday. We all raised
our hands and said ‘I do,’ and he said,
‘Congratulations, gentlemen.’ That
was my first moment as a lawyer:
‘Congratulations, gentlemen.’ If I ever
write a book about my life, that’ll be the
name of it: Congratulations, Gentlemen.
We were that kind of invisible.
Their early cases were unforgettable
for all sorts of reasons.
Lach: I’ll never forget the woman I
represented—a waitress, fired because
she was pregnant. Their defense was
‘She was pregnant.’ That was their
defense! It was like, ‘That’s not a defense.
It’s the exact opposite—an admission!’
It gives you a flavor of what life was like
Wilson: I’ve had about 6,700 cases.
Early on, I represented a woman [in a
divorce case] who was married to the
ne’er-do-well son of a big manufacturing
[I was told,]
come to law
school was to get
a husband and the only reason
a married woman would come to
law school was to fool around.’”
she was pregnant.
Their defense was
‘She was pregnant.’”
—SUSAN M. LACH
company [family] in this town. The
husband was vice president in charge
of marketing. The case he was trying to
make was that nothing he did increased
the value of this company—there was
never any marital value to it. I brought it
up in a deposition: ‘The tax returns filed
by the company say he’s vice president of
marketing and he’s receiving $300,000 a
year. Obviously, if he isn’t working for the
company, he can’t be getting $300,000
a year.’ I get this letter from the lawyers
for the company that said I was claiming
that their client had filed false tax
returns. They were just trying to beat up
on me. I wrote back saying, ‘No, actually,
I’m saying the tax returns are correct—
you’re saying they’re false.’
Olup: In the early ’80s, men were not
allowed in the delivery rooms. People forget
that. To me, feminism is men and women
having equal opportunities. So I was very
active in giving fathers rights as parents.
Langevin: As employment law took off
in Minnesota, I was there. In my own firm
and in the Twin Cities legal community,
I was immediately perceived to be a
spokesperson for gender equality [in the
’80s]. So [men] would say something
sexually explicit, and then turn to me and
go, ‘Oh, whoops, you’re here!’ Boy, that
Michales: When I was hired in the
Dakota County Attorney’s Office, I was
the first and only female attorney. There
was an emphasis on prosecuting sexual
abuse, sexual assault—anything to
do with sex. Funds were available for
special programs. They had money for
a victim-witness program that was new.
Many attorneys used the
glass ceiling as motivation.
Wilson: For the first 10 or 15 years,
there were a lot of names called behind
my back that were kind of demeaning.
‘Lawyerette’ was one that I’ll never
forget. These were people from some
podunk law school and there I am
graduating from Stanford and they’re
calling me lawyerette.
Marilyn J. Michales, Marilyn J.
Michales Family Law, William Mitchell
College of Law 1976: When I was hired
in 1972 to clerk in Hennepin County,
[men] would say to us, ‘No, we can’t
put you into a courtroom, clerking for a
judge—if there’s a criminal case, you will
hear things you shouldn’t hear.’