From the Frontlines: Sexism Persists

When we first started Ms. JD, one of the most powerful realizations was that there were pervasive, persistent currents of gender bias influencing all our law school experiences. Not until we all started sharing our experiences with one another did we realize it. Only after checking in with other women at other law schools did the subtle differential treatment many of us were experiencing seem connected to our gender. Prior to that, the odd look from a professor was just an off moment, the assumption that I was an administrative assistant not a law student at the tax seminar was just an innocent mistake, the professor who always forgot to get around to calling on the woman with her hand up was just unobservant. But when taken together, again and again, a pattern emerges.

You'd think, after that realization, I'd be better at noticing gender bias when it creeps into daily life. But sure enough, I was once again taken by surprise to learn that the annoying behavior of opposing counsel wasn't directed at me because I was his adversary, but because I was his female adversary.

How do I know? This time it was a man who had to point it out to me.

First, the set-up: I'm a litigator. I generally work in two person teams (one senior partner, inevitably male; one associate, me). And I generally have male opposing counsel. Incidentally, for all those who think the numbers of women in the profession are improving I would just say this: I've been in private practice for 3+ years. I've worked on more than 2 dozen matters. I've been to trial 3 times. I have never had a female opposing counsel.

But I digress. 

As I was saying, I'm usually the junior member of a two person litigation team. I'm usually responsible for basic discovery meet and confer: negotiating deadlines, agreeing on the scope of a document collection, and so on. I generally include all opposing counsel on communications - just good to cover my bases. But time after time, I am excluded from their response. 

A classic example unfolded recently: We serve discovery. I email all counsel to confirm a deposition date. Opposing counsel responds by calling or writing just to the senior (male) partner on our side, excluding me. 

I know this sounds deathly dull and inconsequential. It is. And that's how I viewed it too. And then I was complaining to a young male associate about how it happens all the time and I just wish opposing counsel would include me in communications so there weren't these confusions and so on. And he looked at me mouth agape: "Jessie, that has never happened to me. That would never happen to me. This is about you being a woman."

Duh. And ouch.

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