Ross Guberman

Point Made: Eleven Women on Top

Quick: Name ten top female advocates alive today.

When I work with both law students and lawyers, women are no better at answering this question than men.  The most I get is a half-hearted mention of Justices Kagan or Ginsburg.  Rarely do I hear the name of a practicing lawyer.

Does this quasi-silence reflect today’s reality?  It’s true that for a long time, the upper echelons of lawyer-dom were all-male.  How many women were featured in Don Vinson’s America’s Top Trial Lawyers?  Exactly zero.  A more recent book, Emily Couric’s The Trial Lawyers, profiled just one woman. And in the world of white-shoe law firms, James Stewart’s bestselling The Partners was also a land peppered almost exclusively with men.

But things have changed for the better—and I think more female lawyers and students should take note. When I recently tackled a book on how to write like the nation’s most influential advocates, eleven women made it to my list. 

Surely you’re familiar with the barrier-busting careers of Kagan and Ginsburg, both of whom figure in my book.  But have you ever studied the careers—or better yet the work product—of Maureen Mahoney, Pattie Millett, Kathleen Sullivan, and Virginia Seitz on the appellate side?  Or Nancy Abell, Jamie Gorelick, Carolyn Lamm, Nicole Seligman, and Mary Jo White on the trial side?

In specialties ranging from employment law to international arbitration, these women are among the best advocates in the land.  But have you ever read a word of anything they’ve written?

Now we all know that talking about “female” or “male” anything is suspect.  Yet perhaps you’re wondering if there’s a special “female” way of writing a great introduction or crafting a compelling sentence.  Answer: no.  These women are just great writers, not great female writers.

So the next time you face a thorny writing challenge of your own, look for concrete examples from some of your female counterparts—not because they’re great “women” writers, but because they’re great writers period.

The president of Legal Writing Pro and an adjunct professor at GW Law School, Ross Guberman is the author of the new book Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation's Top Advocates.

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