By Erin Wiley • November 18, 2007•First Women
O’Connor: Today if a woman has a good record in law school and has demonstrated some capacity to write well and perform well, she will be able to get a job in a law firm, or in public service, or in any place she wants. Doors have been opened - not only in the legal profession but in other professions as well. Getting a job is no longer the challenge. What has remained the challenge is how to combine professional work with having a family – it’s not easy.
O’Connor: Well, whatever it is, it sure isn’t easy, and some women have made a choice not to have a family, some women have made a choice to get established in their work or profession first before having a family. I decided early on that I would like to have children and I got married at a fairly early age. We were twenty-two when we got married, and I have never regretted the choice to have children, to have a family, but it was not easy. I have never had time for my own private pursuits because every moment of every day was taken up either with my work or my family. I wouldn’t change it but it’s not easy and not everyone is going to tolerate so much to do as that. It’s like having two full time jobs. Some women can do that, others find it too stressful. I don’t think time and distance has made that a lot easier but it can be done and at the end of the day I thought it was worthwhile.
“If society does not recognize the fact that only women can bear children, then “equal treatment” ends up being unequal.” – Justice O’Connor, The Majesty of the Law, p. 166.
O’Connor: I had no strategy when I went to law school. I just wanted to try to do well and get decent grades. If there were any type of strategy it would have been to try to understand what the professor was trying to teach, to take adequate notes, and to study hard for the exams. I had no strategy for participation in class. The professors wanted every student to contribute and they would call on every student. If you didn’t volunteer you were apt to be called on anyway. We had to be ready to respond and that meant that you had to do the reading and work in preparation for that class because you never knew when you would be asked to contribute something. I suppose preparation is the best strategy.
O’Connor: It’s entirely up to the President of the
The self-perception of women is informed by such examples [of women on the bench and in other positions of prominence], and by the belief of women that they, too, can achieve professional success at the highest levels.” – Justice O’Connor, The Majesty of the Law, p. 189.
O’Connor: I don’t think that I grew up having what you call a role model. I didn’t hear that term until long after I became a lawyer, perhaps a judge. I didn’t know any lawyers, much less women lawyers, I didn’t know any judges. I didn’t have someone whose life I was trying to follow. So I really am the last person to answer that question.
“For both men and women, the first step in getting power is to become visible to others— and then to put on an impressive show. The acquisition of power requires that one aspire to power, that one believe power is possible. As women then achieve power and exercise it well, the barriers fall.” – Justice O’Connor, The Majesty of the Law, p. 200-201.
O’Connor: I would tell them what I would tell a young man - that is that you have to learn to write well and to read fast. If you can do those two things, if you’re bright and competent, you will do very well. I do not see young lawyers write well as often as I would like to see, or as often as I think we should be seeing. I think it’s more challenging to a professor to teach writing. It takes a great deal more time to labor over a student’s paper of any length and to tell them how to improve it. You know, if you can get students to do a true false test, it’s pretty easy to grade, or a test with just a few objective answers. But to teach writing is very challenging, and I think we have a need for improvement in that area. Much of what you do as a lawyer is done by writing, and so I think that’s key.
Every job that I have ever had has had an incredible amount of reading. If you’re going to learn a lot, you’ve got to read a lot. So, you have to learn to read fast. I took speed-reading and I highly recommend it, because the more you read the more you’ll know. And the more you know the better you’ll do. That’s what I recommend.
“This should be our aspiration: that, whatever our gender or background, we all may become wise—wise through our different struggles and different victories, wise through work and play, wise through profession and family.” – Justice O’Connor, The Majesty of the Law, p. 193.
O’Connor: Well, you are very welcome.
*Photograph by Dane Penland, Smithsonian Institution, Courtesy of the Supreme Court of the United States*