Not only was there tremendous pressure to stay quiet in order to protect my clients, but when I decided that I needed to come forward, there was no one listening.
I am a trial attorney who has been with a public defenders’ office for 23 years. I was downright gleeful when Lara Bazelon recounted her red-faced, angry, sarcastic, aggressive, and ultimately winning arguments before a judge. Her article was both therapeutic and provocative. I continue to yearn for a justice system where it will be almost a little boring and ho-hum to observe a racially, socially, and experientially diverse group of magistrates, judges, justices, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and civil litigators walking the back hallways of courthouses across the country.
Santa Ana, Calif.
I’m sure Lara Bazelon is correct that female attorneys have to alter their speech, dress, and mannerisms to be successful in the courtroom, but that’s nothing compared with what people of color—male and female—are required to do on a daily basis. As a black man who is not slight of stature, I am aware that displays of emotion that might be construed as passion or overlooked altogether coming from my white counterparts may easily be interpreted as threatening coming from me, or get me branded as an “angry black man.” Black women, including Michelle Obama, have been called angry when they dare project a temperament other than sweetness and sunshine. Race is at least as important as gender in business communications if you are not a white male.
Lara Bazelon’s recent article relies on false premises to reach mistaken conclusions that, if accepted, might lead a reader to believe that female lawyers cannot be as effective in the courtroom as male lawyers are. Ms. Bazelon states as a fact that juries “will be more willing to listen to and be convinced by a traditionally feminine woman.” This is an astonishingly broad statement that is belied by my own experience and that of many other female trial lawyers.
I became a criminal defense lawyer in 1979. Since then, I have been lead counsel on many high-profile cases all over the United States, taught trial practice at Berkeley Law, and lectured nationally on the subject of cross-examination. In 2010, I was inducted into the California Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. I know what I’m talking about when it comes to litigating in a courtroom and conducting a trial.
Of course, I have encountered plenty of sexist attitudes during my career. I have heard many irritating comments about what I should wear and how I should act. Depending on the situation, I have either directly confronted the people expressing those ideas or I have shrugged them off and moved on. There is no doubt that it is unfair that I and other women have the extra burden of confronting those sexist attitudes—but one thing I have never done is capitulate to them. Yet that is what Ms. Bazelon’s article advocates.