As a female attorney who has practiced business litigation and real estate law for 30+ years, I have observed that there are some pretty clear cut differences in the way men and women attorneys go about practicing their profession. Starting back when I was in law school, about 1/3 of the students in my class were women and 2/3’s were men. I never thought much about it because I have four brothers, two of whom are lawyers. I always thought we were the same. After graduation, I went to work in law firms and had a lot of fun breaking into this exciting and challenging profession. Eventually, I saw a lot of differences between how men and women practice law.
Times have changed in the workplace over the past 30 years. Many of the issues that I encountered, both during the interview process for jobs and also while working as a young female lawyer, no longer exist due to today’s human resource and employment law practices. But back in the day, if you were an attractive woman wanting to practice law, then you were a possible target for older and more powerful men who might enjoy making “racy” and sexually inappropriate comments. This also applied in the courtroom and even in judges’ chambers. In reflecting back on the times when I was learning my craft, men simply didn’t think twice about letting a woman know they appreciated a woman’s appearance and femininity. I cannot imagine that a male associate had to go through this. They were being groomed to become the future senior partners running law firms. Women were never taught these skills or given these type of advantages.
Appearance-wise, the standard dress code for a woman lawyer in the late ‘70s was a jacket and skirt or a dresses with pantyhose and high heels. After that came pant suits, and much later, panty hose became optional.
Today, court attire is eclectic but appropriate. Women lawyers have the added job of having to make sure their hair is well coiffed and, if they wear makeup, it has to last all day. In addition, their nails have to be well manicured and handbags must be fashionable to highlight their legal talent. There’s just so much more time and effort required for women lawyers to create a professional look. This can be very stressful when you have to make sure it’s all done before 8:30 a.m. when you walk into the courtroom. Men, on the other hand, only need to have good hygiene, a stylish haircut and wear a well-tailored suit.
As for all of the other differences between the sexes who work as lawyers, women generally seek a resolution that is practical, efficient and unlikely to be ego – driven; even with litigators, it is just our nature. On the other hand, men are great at creating complex litigation strategies to run up costs for the other side, confuse and obfuscate in evidence gathering, and then express constant indignant outrage when their opposing counsel reciprocate in kind. This may be part of the tactics they learned early on from more senior lawyers who came up during a time of unlimited money for the courts.
Men still use tactics that resemble a battleground on critical case issues primarily using emails rather than going into the courtroom and expressing their unhappiness to the judge. Women, on the other hand, are much more collaborative from the start, responding with resolution – driven emails and then suggesting a global sit down settlement meeting.
What is working well is the recognition that you must mediate or perish in our state’s courts or you are not going to get anywhere with a judge. “Perry Mason” moments, where the defendant breaks out into a sweaty tearful confession after repeated and prolonged cross examination, is no longer practical. The daily parade of lawyers in California are now more often working toward mediation and arbitration instead of trying to bully their opponents into submission. So the men and women of law have changed in their attire, behavior and style a lot. Despite our differences, what we both share in common is that we all want to settle our cases or win them at trial.
Laurie Butler is the principal of The Butler Law Firm, a downtown Los Angeles law firm providing expertise to businesses and individuals to resolve business conflicts or disputes through litigation, arbitration or mediation (with settlement conferences). With a proven track record in all three areas of law, The Butler Law Firm is able to proactively initiate the best possible approach for each situation based on the clients’ needs.
In addition to providing legal representation for partnership disputes, real estate & construction law suits, trust & will disputes, and business advisory services, Attorney Butler acts as a FINRA arbitrator in representing those who file a claim against a broker or brokerage company regarding investments.