I was a third year student at the University of Virginia Law School and was at my third interview for an associate position at a prominent Wall Street firm. The earlier interviews had been successful but the final decision was with this senior partner who smiled and said: “Dear, we hired a 55 year old spinster and she left to get married in nine months. You are young and attractive and you will get married and raise a family and never practice law”. Of course none of my similarly situated male colleagues ever had their ambitions so directly challenged. This was the 1960s and many lawyers still believed that a career and a family were mutually exclusive.
I did eventually obtain employment in a large New York City firm where I was kept quietly in the back office and might even “pass” as clerical while I spent hours reviewing deposition transcripts. One of my UVA alumni friends soon directed me to a smaller firm where I was given much more responsibility and even occasionally sent to court. That firm dissolved and I returned to New Jersey with my husband and my baby.
Opening a sole practice in Oradell, New Jersey in the 1970s was challenging, my success in building that practice required lots of hard work greatly assisted by my colleagues. Colleagues, both male and female, were supportive as we covered for each other and discussed our problem issues. My friends at Women Lawyers in Bergen were important and the encouragement I received invaluable. Participation in County and State Bar Associations helped my self confidence.
Although working conditions are greatly improved, there are still particular issues more often confronted by female attorneys. Of course, be strong and continue forward but never be afraid to seek advice. Reaching out to more experienced practitioners is a sign of strength not weakness.
Soon after opening my solo practice, I had a trial call in Hackensack. After I said “Ready plaintiff” the judge asked “Are you a lawyer?’ and when I replied “Yes your honor” one of the regulars chimed “Next time wear a pin striped suit” to much laughter. Fast forward about fifteen years and I was sitting on that same bench calling the calendar. It was an extraordinary moment as I felt physically carried back to that earlier time.
I will always be thankful for having had the opportunity to serve on the Superior Court bench. Each assignment presented special challenges and I especially enjoyed my years in Chancery. During my tenure the number of women judges expanded from a token number to a more significant minority that will hopefully before long amount to equality. The collegiality and warmth among my colleagues both male and female has given me the blessing of many lifelong friendships.
Enough reminiscing. I am now fortunate to be working with the excellent lawyers at Javerbaum Wurgaft where I can still make a contribution though my mediation practice. The attorneys here practice with the kind of professionalism that I found to be most important quality in the attorneys who appeared before me during my twenty years on the bench. Indeed, the most important closing advice I can give to a young lawyer is to make certain that your word is always good.