By Nick Wooldridge • August 30, 2017•Issues, Women and Law in the Media
Women lawyers who specialize in exclusively defending people caught driving under the influence aren't plentiful. They're scarce. A Google search on "women lawyers who defend DUI only" turns up reams of lawyers talking about how to successfully defend cases where a lady received a DUI, but nothing about female lawyers.
Most women attorneys practice as public defenders. The ones that do defend clients' against DUI charges are primarily criminal defense lawyers.
Clara Shortride Foltz was the first female attorney on America's West Coast. It was Ms. Foltz who first presented the idea of the public defender. Foltz was the first female admitted to the California bar and practiced in San Francisco and San Diego. In 1896 she moved to New York City and worked as a DUI attorney.
Foltz's radical idea of providing assistance to indigent criminal defendnats is now standard throughout America. The legal battles Foltz fought sometimes continue.
So how is a lady lawyer affected by the (almost) constant stream of criminal defendants?
One answer can be found in a new book by Cynthia Siemsen.
"Justice is just that: ‘just us.'"
Many of the lawyers interviewed for Cynthia Siemsen's book, "Emotional Trials" echoed those words. The book reviews how women lawyers deal with the emotional stress that can arise during many hours of represented defendants.
Siemsen's book begs the question: "What is the emotional toll paid by women lawyers?" and her interest came naturally and grew from an experience in her law firm.
One of the firm’s lawyers was representing a dad who had shoved his child's hands into boiling water. The ER physician who treated the burns was called to testify. The doctor sent a letter to the defense attorney asking how she could represent "such a monster." Siemsen wrote the response.
"I told the doctor the duty of defense lawyers is to defend even the "monsters" among us and let the physician understand the work of a defense lawyer is as sacred as the healing of the child's hands.
When Siemsen became a mom, dealing with some cases involving children became difficult. Eventually, Siemsen left the job and got her doctorate in sociology. The book grew from the seed of her thesis.
Leslie Smith posted a great question on Facebook. Smith, a defense lawyer, asked, "Does anyone know why there aren't that many of us?" Despite numerous female lawyers employed as prosecutors and public defenders, there are few woman defense lawyers in private practice.
The discussion took off and posed possible answers:
Perception by defendants that older male lawyers are more competent,
The idea that more defendants are male and thus prefer male lawyers,
Fewer female lawyers interested in defense work, and on it went.
Women still have a distance to go to achieve 100% parity with men. That is reflected in legal practice Most female attorneys can share — more than one — story of frustrating encounters. Abigail Green tells the story of a salesman who came to her office and commented on the strength of her handshake — and that was after he mistook her for one of the office managers.
For the most part, female attorneys work in male dominated spaces. Centuries of tradition will eventually be overcome, but change may take a while.