For the first year, I got any sex case that
came through the door. [During] one
of my first incest cases, I talked to the
jurors afterwards, and they actually said:
‘We just don’t believe that dads would
do that to their kids.’ It was a pervasive
attitude. I had a judge in a civil jury trial
say to us—there were two other male
attorneys—’Now, I don’t want any of you
lawyers striking that juror in the front
row; she’s cute and I want something
good to look at.’ No one was being mean.
That was the way it was.
They fought to win in the courtroom
and fought for respect outside of it.
Wilson: I started practicing family law
like it was real law—it wasn’t attorneys
getting together at lunch and writing
a settlement on the back of a napkin.
There had been a lot of old-boy deals
lawyers had made with each other that
weren’t necessarily in the client’s best
interests, like you wanted to stay in a
club and not offend anyone. That never
occurred to me—that I would sell my
client out. I had this reputation as a
tough lawyer. I just beat them. I would
take my legal skill, and they could call
me names, and I would win the case.
Olup: There was no such thing as HR back
then. There were no laws in place about
discrimination. You had to be very strong.
You had to have an inner core that was
Oakes: I got asked to be president of
Minnesota Women Lawyers in ’ 74. Their
main activity had been a tea, with sherry
and cheese. The first one I went to, the
members wore gloves. It was definitely a
social group for them, but they knew times
were changing. We put together a mailing
list, strictly by identifying names that
sounded female, and we got calls from
several wives who were very perturbed [and
insisted] their husbands—named Laverne,
or some such name that was ambiguous—
should be taken off the list immediately.
I never had a call from a guy—only wives,
saying their husbands [must] be taken off.
We got 50 women to show up for lunch,
which quite overwhelmed the restaurant.
We started programming activities, and we
became activists and started working on
Wilson: It was gradual. By the ’90s there
were more women judges, there were
more women lawyers, and that changed
everything. The old boys’ club wasn’t
going to work anymore. It’s not completely
gone. It’s way underground. A judge who
doesn’t understand the dynamics of being
a battered woman, for example, and says
she’s not credible because she doesn’t tell
the story from the very beginning—their
memory is very spotty and the more it
comes out, the more they remember.
There’s still bias. It’s helpful to be aware
that it’s there so you can really over-correct
and try to make your point.
Langevin: One of the reasons for optimism
is that the men and women in the
generations following mine simply have
a different set of expectations for their
professional lives and of each other. Not to
say there aren’t jerks, but for the most part,
I find the lawyers 50-and-under expect
to bear part of—or maybe half—the load
of raising a family, or running a home, or
caring for elderly parents.
Moos: We’ve always tried to focus on
bringing women into the firm and we’ve
had wonderful women here, some of whom
are now on the bench. … I was the first
woman in the firm, the first woman to have
kids while she was a lawyer here. I had to
go on bed rest for three-and-a-half months
of my first pregnancy. The firm arranged
for one of the young associates, who didn’t
live too far from me, to bring my mail every
day. I’d have a little Dictaphone and leave
little tapes in the mailbox for him to pick
up and have transcribed.
Wilson: The younger male attorneys aren’t
nearly as piggish as some of the older
ones. They just aren’t. So that also helps.
Moos: I remember in a pretrial [in the late
’80s], the judge was a woman, the lawyers
on both sides were women, the clients
were men. That was noteworthy to me.
Langevin: What’s the great line? ‘Ginger
Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did,
just backwards and in high heels.’ And
we’re still dancing backwards in high heels.
Maybe a little bit lower heels than they
used to be.
‘If one of the
men in our
firm makes a
pass at you in
the law library,
are you going
to get all huffy and
walk out and make a scene?’”
—REBECCA EGGE MOOS
and there I
and they’re calling me
—M. SUE WILSON
‘We can’t put
you into a
criminal case, you
will hear things you
—MARILYN J. MICHALES