Book Review: In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate by Nancy Gertner

One of my favorite spoken word poets once recited a line that has stuck with me. “I’ve seen too much injustice,” he shouted “to believe in chance.” This could have been the subtitle to Gertner’s book. A seasoned advocate, not believing in chance could be her motto. In 246 pages Gertner writes about her experience of institutionalized inequities as well as the value of old fashioned hard work. In Defense of Women details Gertner’s dedication to her work as an advocate on behalf of women as well has her commitment to the practice of law. Based on the tales in this autobiography, it sounds like her passion was matched only by her work ethic.

In Defense of Women is an autobiography detailing Gertner’s journey from a 29 year old “lapsed radical” and defender of accused cop killer Susan Saxe to Federal District Judge.  As a young woman still somewhat disenchanted by law school, I found Gertner’s book refreshing. Someone who had made it! More importantly, someone who had made it without buying into all the unwritten rules of the male dominated legal profession. Woman lawyer! Red suits! Militant lesbian clients! Take that gender norms of 1975.

In addition to the inspirational nature of the story, I enjoyed how Gertner intertwined her personal life into this career-focused book. Attorney’s personal and professional lives are inseparable. Your experiences outside the office effect your perception of the events that happen at work: what cases you take, the way you choose to interact with clients, even the expectations you have of your office mates. The reverse is also true, few of us can leave work at the office. Gertner writes about how being a mom to sons changed her views as well as how much she appreciates the mutual support she and her husband were able to offer each other. Her admission that she is, indeed, a whole person is refreshing.

I will admit that the last few chapters felt a little rushed, but this is still a must read for any feminist attorneys. Readers will find Gertner’s honesty, humor, and bravery refreshing. 

Write a comment

Please login to comment

Remember Me

Become a Member

FREE online community for women in the legal profession.



Subscribe to receive regular updates, news, and events from Ms. JD.

Connect with us

Follow or subscribe