Embrace Your Strength as a Woman, Don’t Mask it!
Posted by Jessica Wolfe on Apr 16, 2019
By Isabel A. M. Cole
Originally published in the February 2019 issue of Trial News, the monthly newspaper of the Washington State Association for Justice.
Having been in three different careers that were dominated by men, I was interested to read this book to find out if it would tell me anything that I didn’t think I already knew. And when I was reading the very beginning of the book, I was thinking, “Nope, I already know this stuff.” But after the basic introductory information (which a lot of women who didn’t live through the sixties and seventies might find new and different) I was drawn in. I began to see bits of myself in the recitation of the mistakes that we make as young lawyers. One of the things that really resonated with me was them talking about the tendency to ask every question in the book in a deposition or during testimony, just so we wouldn’t miss anything because we’re not really certain, at that point, about what’s important and what isn’t. Guilty as charged. And I thought I was the only person who was doing that. And therein lies the beauty of this book.
How I wish I’d had this book in the year and a half between graduating law school and getting my first lawyer job. I incorporated my firm, but I never actually did anything under that name because I had no idea what to do. In Trial by Woman these veterans of the gender wars lay it out in straightforward directions. First of all, embrace what makes a woman different than a man; don’t try to change it. Many of us in trying to fit into a male-dominated field such as the law, try to change ourselves to fit the mold, rather than being who we are and trying to create a firm that fits us. This is so true on so many levels. And maybe the women who first had to fit in didn’t feel like they had that luxury. But the world is changing. And Ms. Rowley and Ms. Hatch show you just how to embrace that change and shape your firm to fit yourself, rather than the other way around. I refer to them by their last names out of respect, however, throughout the book they refer to themselves by their given names and recount so many personal experiences that you can’t help but get to feel that you know them.
And that IS our strength as women. We connect, we talk, we empathize, we feel things, and understand things, and create bonds, sometimes almost effortlessly. There is great power in that ability when you need to connect with a jury; when you need to get the jury to understand just how your plaintiff’s life has changed, how they have been forever altered by the event that the jury is now being asked to render judgment upon. What these women explain should be common sense, that our connection is a powerful tool. But many of us have to relearn that because we have been tamping that part down for a long time in order to fit into the legal world that existed up until it recently, slowly, started to change as more and more women came into the field. So, when I read it in the book, that we should embrace our strength, it was like a light bulb going on. Not one that was completely out, but one that had shorted out for a while and suddenly came on blazing again.
If Courtney and Theresa had stopped there (okay, yes now I’m calling them by their first names because as I talk more about this I am feeling that connection that makes using their first names seem appropriate rather than impertinent), then the book would be an interesting reflection on what it is to be a female in a field that has been traditionally male-dominated. But this book is so much more than that. They go into detail about the how-to of actually being a lawyer. They give instructions on how to do the things that all of us struggle with as young lawyers. What’s important in a direct examination? How do you get the most out of a cross-examination? How to breathe properly so you don’t sound nervous. How to take command of a situation. How to shut down inappropriate behavior from others. What things you need to do when you first open your own firm.
The advice doesn’t stop at tips and tricks for doing a good job as a lawyer. They also talk about putting your health and wellbeing front and center. This is something that I, along with a lot of other lawyers I’m sure, struggle with. I end up chained to the desk for hours on end. I never move despite my Fitbit screaming at me. They talk about how important it is to nourish ourselves, not just our bodies but our souls, while citing the statistics on abuse of alcohol and suicide in the legal field. They also talk frankly about having children and trying to meld being a mother with being a lawyer.
Despite the fact that much of this book can be used by men or women who are entering the law, the beginning of Part Six is directed at women. Although I think it would be helpful for men to read it as well, to know just how many everyday things men do, without a second thought, that women roll over and over in their minds trying to figure out if it will help or hinder their performance. They know they are being held to a different standard. The second part of Part Six asks men to join women in making the world a different place, not just in the law, but in everyday life.
But there is so much to this book, and it is broken down in segments where you can take what will help you and leave the rest. There are even forms such as a sample fee sharing agreement, a motion to request adequate time for voir dire, and a juror questionnaire. I’m sure later when I need the information, I will skip to parts as they become helpful in what I’m doing at the current moment. But I would recommend that you read the entire thing through, as it will possibly show you a world that you never knew existed. Or it might remind you to use the gifts that you’d forgotten you had after so many years of doubting their value. Definitely worth the read.