The Ladies of Law: Practicing Law as a Woman in the South
Imagine going to law school, getting the best grades, passing the bar—doing all the right things—but still not being able legally to practice law where you live. In 1911, that’s exactly what happened to Minnie Hale Daniel. Nevertheless, she persisted, and with 18 other women lawyers, founded the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers. Together, they wrote a series of bills so that women could practice law in Georgia.
My inspiration to become a lawyer: In college, I was intrigued by the criminal justice system. After receiving my undergraduate degree in criminal justice, my parents encouraged me to continue my education. I decided to enter law school, and my plan was to continue down the criminal justice path to become a federal or state prosecutor.
What I like most about being a lawyer: For me, building relationships with clients is the best part. I have met amazing people, both business and personal, through my practice. It really feels good to be able to help people through difficult times. My goal is to be more than just an attorney to my clients; I want to be there as a friend and counselor.
The biggest challenge I face as a woman in law: I’ve been practicing law in Savannah for 18 years, and things have come a long way during that time. However, the generation of women lawyers who came before me were the real trailblazers in our field, and I’m very lucky to work with some of the best women lawyers in this town who continue to mentor and inspire me. In fact, I’m currently the president-elect of the Savannah Bar Association, and I look forward to leading the association and setting a positive example for other women in our field.
What I look forward to at the office or in the courtroom: I work with an outstanding group of attorneys and staff. I feel so fortunate because I have the best job and I look forward to going to work everyday. Our firm is excited about our new office building at One West Park Avenue, and I think our clients are going to love the new space as much as we do. In the courtroom, I look forward to prevailing for my clients. After lots of preparation behind the scenes, it all comes together when I get the opportunity to present a client’s case to the judge.
What I look forward to at the office or in the courtroom: What had been my favorite thing about practicing is now also my favorite thing about teaching: I love interacting with students, hearing their stories and sharing their victories with them. As Dean of Students and Career Development, I get to interact with extraordinary students every day, and they share with me their problems and struggles, academic and personal. But they also share with me their victories; turning around a grade, being accepted into a prestigious clerkship or internship, passing the bar exam and getting a job with their first-choice firm. Some days, a student will come in and share their hopes and fears about the practice of law — and life — over a cup of tea in my office, and then come back a month, or maybe a year, later to share with me the joy of a dream realized. I feel honored and humbled that these students trust me enough to confide in me with these pieces of their lives. Savannah Law School is special, not only because of the impressive faculty and exceptional education we offer, but because of this type of personal attention and the family atmosphere that we maintain, even long after graduation.
My inspiration to become a lawyer: My father was a police officer and he used to take me to court with him sometimes. One day, when I was about ten years old, I saw something very unfair happen in court. I whispered to my father that he should stand up and tell the judge that this was not fair. And he said he was not allowed to. And so I whispered that I would stand up and tell the judge that what he had done was unfair. And he said I could not. So, I asked who was allowed to stand up and tell the judge something. And he said, “only the attorneys,” so I responded that I would become an attorney. And I did. Along with the oath we take as “officers of the court,” attorneys also take on the social and ethical responsibilities to stand up and speak for those who can not speak for themselves and to right wrongs where they are able. It’s an honor to serve our clients and the public in this way. And now that I work in academia, I have the privilege of teaching the next generation of lawyers these responsibilities and how to serve people through this profession.
My inspiration to become a lawyer: Just after college, I was in California working in the entertainment industry, in a job that was not especially fulfilling. I figured that if I ever wanted to help myself and help those around me, I had to pursue another career that gave me more direct responsibility and more control. By earning a law degree, I knew I could always be self-sufficient and pursue my own path in life if I needed to. So far, I’ve been lucky enough to work for great law firms.
How I got started in law: I graduated law school during the economic downturn, so jobs were few and far in between. I accepted the very first offer I got, to work for a class action firm in downtown Los Angeles, on the plaintiff side. I was scared to death because I knew nothing about class action law and had to learn most of it on the fly. It was difficult learning something new while keeping your eye on what was often thousands of class members at any one time. However, I’m grateful for the experience. It prepared me well.
The biggest challenge I face as a woman in law: Family planning. Building and maintaining a successful professional career can be difficult when you’re also trying to build a family. I know many female attorneys face this challenge and there are really no right or wrong answers. I’m not quite at that point in my life yet, but it is something I think about from time to time, knowing I too will eventually have to cross that bridge.
What inspired me to be a lawyer was: Realizing that I was fairly successful at, and derived immense satisfaction from, helping resolve disagreements, whether between family or friends. I decided that focusing on civil litigation would allow me to parlay the same types of skills in my professional life.
How I got started in law was: Talking to a friend’s father who was an attorney for the ATF. I thought what he did sounded quite interesting.
What I like most about being a lawyer: Close interaction with people from all walks of life.
The biggest challenge I face as a woman in law: Some women in business carry themselves as though they have something to prove. Sometimes that can translate into being unreasonable in the legal profession. I’ve always considered myself an equal to any man in the legal profession, so I don’t have anything to prove. I pride myself on being reasonable and try to make sure people know that.
What I look forward to at the office or in the courtroom: Providing a voice for my clients and knowing I can help facilitate closure for their loss or dispute.
What inspired me to be a lawyer: At a very young age I just knew I was going to be an attorney.
How I got started in law: In college I was the president of the pre-law society and then I went to law school.
What I like most about being a lawyer: Litigating cases before judges, the steps from start to finish in litigating a case, negotiating settlements and helping clients who do not have a strong enough voice on their on.
The biggest challenge I face as a woman in law: At times there is still the “old boys” club, however, this club is diminishing in size.
What I look forward to at the office or in the courtroom: Presenting facts and arguments to the court.