Noha

SuperWomen JDs and What You Can Learn From Them: Featuring Susan Court of Washington, D.C.

Bio for this week’s superwoman JD Susan Court: Susan J. Court was appointed by Chairman Joseph Kelliher in November 2005 to serve as Director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Office of Enforcement. Joining the Commission as an attorney-advisor in 1982, Ms. Court has worked in every area of its jurisdiction (natural gas, electric, oil, and hydropower). She served as a commissioner's assistant and executive assistant to the chairman before becoming a senior agency manager in 1986, when she was appointed Associate General Counsel for Gas and Oil, leading the Commission's legal staff responsible for developing and implementing the agency's natural gas open access program. Ms. Court subsequently served as Deputy Solicitor, Associate General Counsel for General and Administrative Law, Designated Agency Ethics Official, and Chief of Staff. Immediately before her appointment as OE Director, she was on assignment in the European Union.

1. How has being a woman affected your career or legal education?

Being a woman has had no discernable effect on my career or legal education.  Put another way, men whom I’ve encountered at school or during my career were seemingly given opportunities that were also available to me.  Of course, I worked very hard – not to compete with men – but because I set high standards for myself.   It is how I was reared. 

2. What advice do you wish someone had given you when you first started practicing law?

None that comes to mind.  I was fortunate when I graduated from law school as I was offered two clerkships, one with a U.S. District Judge and one with a State Supreme Court Justice.  I chose the latter, which was very fortunate, as it turned out, because I had the privilege of working for one of the finest jurist in my state, the Hon. Robert Lukowsky, a man who was a wonderful mentor to me and others – men and women – who clerked for him in other years.  I had a similar experience earlier in law school, when I had the honor of clerking for a former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Hon. Arthur Goldberg, a visiting professor at my school.  He too was an incredible mentor.  And my being a woman was irrelevant to these extraordinary men. 

3. What do you think the legal profession can do to increase the number of senior level females?

I don’t think the legal profession should do anything to increase the number of senior level females.  Qualified female lawyers will rise to senior levels if they are capable of doing the job.  That is definitely true of being a lawyer for the government, which is blind to gender when the main issue is, who will get the job done.  I believe the same is true in most law firms, because the issue is the same, who will get the job done. 

4. Being a first year attorney anywhere is tough.  How do you think young female attorneys can really hone their skills in their first few years? 

Young female attorneys should do what young male attorneys should do to hone their skills.  There is, and should not be, any difference.  What that entails, of course, depends on the type of practice in which the young attorney is engaged. 

5. Our profession is male dominated.  How can young women balance being feminine and professional at the same time?  I meet many women that simply act like one of the boys; I do not think that is the solution.  Do you have any advice for handling social situations, outings with clients, etc.?

I don’t agree that our profession is male dominated, especially if your question is premised on there being more men in the profession.  If law school statistics are any indication, there are as many women as men at least studying to be lawyers.  In the government, your premise is definitely wrong.  Female lawyers are prominent at every agency and department.  Just look at FERC – the GC is a woman, the Associate General Counsels for the two major legal divisions are women, and the Enforcement Director is a woman.  Assuming your question, however, is informed by the perception that men “socialize” better with male clients than women do in the private sector, I agree that male lawyers might have an advantage with certain male clients, especially on the golf course.  Apparently, a lot of business is transacted on the links, and men tend to be golfers more than women.  But, so what?  Clients still want the job done.  Women can figure out how to accomplish that, even in a social setting, without compromising their femininity or their moral standards.    

6. What advice do you have for young female attorneys looking for a mentor?  Do you feel that there is added value in finding a female mentor?  What should they be looking for in a mentor, and what can they do to make themselves someone you would want to mentor? 

As indicated in an earlier response, I benefitted greatly from being “mentored” by two phenomenal jurists for whom I had the privilege of working.  At the time, none of us, men or women, thought in terms of finding a “mentor,” i.e., someone to seek out proactively to help navigate us through the challenges of our new profession.  But everyone understood that one can learn from a more experienced person in the profession.  The concept of “apprenticeship” goes back to the Middle Ages.  Against this backdrop, my advice to a young female attorney is the same as my advice to a young male attorney.  Do the best job you can, and listen to your supervisor.  Usually, legal organizations – government, law firms, and company legal departments -- pick supervisors who are natural mentors.  The quintessential supervisor is at bottom a teacher.  To be sure, not every supervisor is a good teacher or mentor, but my advice is to give the supervisor a chance at least.  If that fails, it is possible to “adopt” a supervisor, an approach I took early in my career.  I recognized that my immediate supervisor did not have either the time or the inclination to teach me what I knew I needed to know, so I sought out someone who had both the time and the inclination.  I had to do that very carefully, however, so as not to offend my immediate supervisor.  As a separate matter, I have not found mentoring programs, at least in the government, to be worthwhile.  My experience is that many of the people who sign up to be mentors in those programs are ill suited for the task, usually because they are not good teachers or do not have the relevant skills or experience.  Sometimes, and this is a worst case scenario, they are just looking for an excuse not to do their own jobs.  

7. We all have to make sacrifices for our careers, what sacrifices have you made and which would you make again?

The major sacrifice that I made for my career – a sacrifice that women in other professions have made as well – is not spending more time with my children.  That I would change if I could do it over again.   

8. Every female lawyer has a story, a moment when she felt that things in this profession had to change.  Can you tell me about your moment?  How has it shaped your actions since?

I have no idea to whom you have been talking.  “Every” female lawyer has a story?  We all have stories but we all do not have stories like the ones on which your question is based. 

9. Men still get paid more and get promoted faster.  What advice do you have for young women to help them accelerate their careers?

I think by now you could figure out what my answer will be.  Work hard, do your job, pay attention to your supervisor, meet your deadlines.  I would also add, avoid gossiping and undercutting your colleagues.  President Reagan had a slogan that has inspired me throughout my career.  I can’t remember the exact wording, so I’ll paraphrase.  There is no limit to how far a man or woman can go if he or she does not care who gets the credit. 

10. What are your interests/hobbies outside of the legal practice?  How important do you think those interests/hobbies have been in maintaining some work life balance?

As a younger attorney, my interests/hobbies were my family.  I had little time for anything else.  (My husband and I have five children in a combined family, and we have been married for 29 years so the children grew up together.) That, of course, was fine, because I loved both my family and my job.  Who could ask for anything more?  All five children are now out of the house.  Two are lawyers.  Three are married.  One has a baby boy (first grandchild).  All are gainfully employed and own their own homes so they’re not coming back to live with us.  Accordingly, for the past ten years, my husband and I have been able to do what we both love, traveling, and we have been fortunate to have taken some wonderful trips.  I also love genealogy, and have combined research into my family history with the overseas trips.  We also travel to visit our children, four of whom live outside the D.C. area, in nice warm climates. 

 

A Message from the Author:

 

This column is a Q&A with senior level female attorneys offering advice and mentorship to young female lawyers.  The questions below were sent to the interviewees and responses have not been edited for content.  The advice, experiences, personalities, and approaches of these women are extremely diverse and more importantly very useful to future generations of female attorneys.  I hope this column will offer helpful advice, and inspire healthy discussions.  I have an exciting lineup of female leaders in the profession, but if you have someone you would like to nominate, or you yourself would like to be interviewed, feel free to email me at superwomenjds@gmail.com.

 

Bio for the author of the column:

 

Noha Sidhom is a proud graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Law.  Before attending law school, Noha interned on Capitol Hill for the Honorable Charles Timothy Hagel and went on to campaign for Senate candidate Peter Ricketts.  During law school, she clerked at Husch Blackwell Sanders, formerly Blackwell Sanders.  She also did an internship at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Enforcement and an internship at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where she is now an attorney in the Office of General Counsel.  Noha is licensed in New York and New Jersey, and currently resides with her husband in Washington, D.C.

  

2 Comments

curvygirly8

Wow- it seems like she’s not really paying attention to the status of women in the legal profession and, well, anywhere!!

Peg

Wow, indeed. It is apparent that she is unaware at least about the gender issues that many see as prevalent in the legal profession. Still, though it is refreshing to hear from a successful government attorney and  hear that she doesn’t see gender as an issue in her career at all!  I had the same experience when I worked for the federal government.  From a non-govt perspective, her responses seem almost naive and her situation too good to be true.  However, I believe that it is completely accurate.  The government is almost a gender-neutral utopia—meritocracy at its best.

Write a comment

Please login to comment

Remember Me

Become a Member

FREE online community for women in the legal profession.

CREATE AN ACCOUNT

Newsletter

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

Connect with us

Follow or subscribe