Women Leaders in the Courtroom Provide Excellent Advice at PADC First Annual Women’s Initiative

Almost 100 attorneys were captivated by and benefitted from the inaugural event of the Philadelphia Association of Defense Counsel’s (“PADC”) Womens’ Initiative, “Leaders in the Courtroom: From the Trial Courts to the United States Supreme Court” held recently at Cozen O’Connor’s Susquehanna Conference Room in Philadelphia. United States District Court Judge Cynthia M. Rufe, Roberta Liebenberg of Fine, Kaplan and Black, Teresa Ficken Sachs of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin and Regina Foley of Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer motivated the crowd with their advice on how to get into, and excel, in the courtroom and in their legal practice. Program moderator Erin Siciliano of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker kept the themes together and engaged in meaningful commentary with the speakers and audience.

Women and diverse attorneys in the audience were urged to be assertive during recruitment and in interactions with senior partners. By being their own best advocate they demonstrate that they can successfully advocate for their clients.

For opportunities in the courtroom, women and diverse attorneys are urged to volunteer for trials and state what they want to do in the courtroom, i.e., cross-examine a witness, and avoid being mere window dressing at counsel table. Ask, “What is it you want me to do in court?” To get ready for these opportunities, request pre-trial assignments such as deposing a witness, to enable you to have a role in the case when it goes to trial, and keep asking even if at first you are unsuccessful in being heard. Even if you are not currently the very BEST at the task, make clear you want the opportunity, and will be able to do it, and then prepare to do it well!   Studies show that female jurors strongly prefer to see women attorneys taking active roles at trial, and that diverse jury teams earn better results and are generally favored by clients. It was further noted by the panelists that diverse jury teams match the increasing diversity of judges, juries, and clients.  

Some courts are creating trial opportunities for women and diverse attorneys by encouraging the attorney who wrote the brief to argue the motion.

Extracurricular activities was stressed as a developmental opportunity. Public speaking, sitting as a mediator or arbitrator, serving on a mock jury, taking NITA courses, participating in bar association leadership positions, and serving on a court committee are ways to increase overall development and core competencies, and ultimately gain name recognition with peers, senior partners and clients.

Implicit bias was discussed. It was noted that when men raise their voices in court they are deemed “zealous” and “passionate”. When women do so, they are deemed “aggressive”. Women and diverse attorneys were urged to always be authentic, but to own the courtroom and act as if they belong there. On a lighter note, women are urged to use their voice to be forceful but not too forceful. Like Goldilocks, women must be “just right”, a combination of “sweet steeliness”.  This issue is a concern at every level of court, the panelists noting anecdotal evidence that female United States Supreme Court justices get interrupted by their male counterparts much more frequently than male justices. And, when interrupting female justices, the language used was less polite than that used to interrupt male justices.

It was noted that the private law firm female equity partner rate of only 19% of all attorneys has not changed much in 10 years. The panelists suggested that firms offer mentors and sponsors to women and diverse attorneys and program attendees were urged to focus on the significance of business development and origination credit.  It is important to interact with clients, and make sure the client knows what YOU are doing on their case. Ask senior partners for work with big clients in important matters! 

The program also included networking before and after the CLE program, which was attended by many women lawyers, as well as judges and court leaders.

We wish to thank PADC Executive Director Dave Cole, President Bob Cosgrove of Wade Clark Mulcahy, President-Elect Harriet Anderson of Robert J. Casey, Jr. & Associates, Secretary Kathleen Wilkinson of Wilson Elser and Executive Committee member Jennifer Coatsworth of Margolis Edelstein for their active involvement with planning this event. Thanks also in particular to PADC Executive Committee member Erin Siciliano for planning the event and serving as the program moderator. We appreciate the generosity of the following law firms that sponsored the event: Conrad O’Brien, Cozen O’Connor, Deasey Mahoney & Valentini, Goldberg Miller & Rubin, Harrington & Associates, Margolis Edelstein, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Wade Clark Mulcahy, Ward Greenberg, White and Williams and Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker. We also appreciate the continuing support from our annual sponsors: Advanced Depositions, Advanced Trial Technologies, CED Technologies, Consulting Engineers & Scientists, D4 | Special Counsel, ERSA Court Reporters, ESi, Exponent, Forensic Resolutions, IME Care Center, MCS, Minnesota Lawyers Mutual Insurance, RTI Forensics, RX Professional Services and VirtSOS.

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