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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

What It Takes To Be A Trial Lawyer If You’re Not A Man

AtlanticThe Atlantic:  What It Takes to Be a Trial Lawyer If You’re Not a Man, by Lara Bazelon (San Francisco):

Last year, Elizabeth Faiella took a case representing a man who alleged that a doctor had perforated his esophagus during a routine medical procedure. Before the trial began, she and the defense attorney, David O. Doyle Jr., were summoned to a courtroom in Brevard County, Florida, for a hearing. Doyle had filed a motion seeking to “preclude emotional displays” during the trial—not by the patient, but by Faiella.

“Counsel for the Plaintiff, Elizabeth Faiella, has a proclivity for displays of anguish in the presence of the jury, including crying,” Doyle wrote in his motion. Faiella’s predicted flood of tears, he continued, could be nothing more than “a shrewdly calculated attempt to elicit a sympathetic response.”

Faiella told the trial judge, a man, that Doyle’s allegations were sexist and untrue. The judge asked Doyle whether he had a basis for the motion. Faiella says that he replied that he did, but the information was privileged because it came from his client. (Doyle told me the information had in fact come from other defense attorneys.) Faiella called his reply “ridiculous.” She told me: “I have never cried in a trial. Not once.”

As Faiella listened to Doyle press forward with his argument, her outrage mounted. But she had to take care not to let her anger show, fearing it would only confirm what Doyle had insinuated—that she would use emotional displays to gain an advantage in the courtroom.

The judge denied Doyle’s request, saying, in essence, “I expect both parties to behave themselves.” Afterward, Faiella confronted Doyle in the hallway. “Why would you file such a thing?” she demanded, noting that it was unprofessional, sexist, and humiliating.

“I don’t understand why you are getting so upset,” she says Doyle replied. (Doyle denied that gender was the motivating factor behind filing the motion; he said he had filed such motions against male attorneys as well.)

When I asked Faiella for a copy of Doyle’s motion, she said that she could send me examples from more than two dozen cases across her 30-year career. She said that at least 90 percent of her courtroom opponents are male, and that they file a “no-crying motion” as a matter of course. Judges always deny them, but the damage is done: The idea that she will unfairly deploy her feminine wiles to get what she wants has been planted in the judge’s mind. Though Faiella has long since learned to expect the motions, every time one crosses her desk she feels sick to her stomach. “I cannot tell you how much it demeans me,” she said. “Because I am a woman, I have to act like it doesn’t bother me, but I tell you that it does. The arrow lands every time.” ...

The glass ceiling remains a reality in a host of white-collar industries, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. If the courtroom were merely another place where the advancement of women has been checked, that would be troubling, if not entirely surprising. But the stakes in the courtroom aren’t just a woman’s career development and her earning potential. The interests—and, in the criminal context, the liberty—of her client are also on the line.

What makes the issue especially vexing are the sources of the bias—judges, senior attorneys, juries, and even the clients themselves. Sexism infects every kind of courtroom encounter, from pretrial motions to closing arguments—a glum ubiquity that makes clear how difficult it will be to eradicate gender bias not just from the practice of law, but from society as a whole. ...

Let’s start with the clothes. In my office, and in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where the federal prosecutors worked, the men stuck to a basic uniform: a dark suit, a crisp button-down shirt, an inoffensive tie, and a close shave or neatly trimmed beard. If they adhered to that model, their physicality was unremarkable—essentially invisible.

Women’s clothing choices, by contrast, were the subject of intense scrutiny from judges, clerks, marshals, jurors, other lawyers, witnesses, and clients. I had to be attractive, but not in a provocative way. At one trial, I took off my suit jacket at the counsel table as I reviewed my notes before the jury was seated. It was a sweltering day in Los Angeles, and the air-conditioning had yet to kick in. The judge, an older man with a mane of white hair, jabbed a finger in my direction and bellowed, “Are you stripping in my courtroom, Ms. Bazelon?” Heads swiveled, and I looked down at my sleeveless blouse, turning scarlet. ...

In the seven years I worked as a deputy federal public defender, I fought hard for my clients, and I had my share of victories. But I was practicing law differently from many of my male colleagues and adversaries. They could resort to a bare-knuckle style. Most of what I did in the courtroom looked more like fencing. Reading over my old trial transcripts, I am taken aback by how many times I said “Thank you”—to the judge, to opposing counsel, to hostile witnesses. And by how many times I apologized.

In 2017, after nearly a decade of holding jobs that offered limited opportunities to go to court, I took a position as a clinical professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law. I’m now training students to become trial lawyers by supervising their representation of criminal defendants in San Francisco Superior Court. During my first semester, all five of my students were women. Four were women of color. Eighteen years earlier, I had been sitting where they were. I wondered what had changed. ...

“I want a Jew lawyer,” a client once said to me. I told him I was Jewish. “No, a man Jew lawyer,” he responded. ...

Some female trial lawyers have succeeded in turning the attributes associated with their gender—compassion, warmth, accessibility—to their advantage, particularly once they get in front of a jury. Shawn Holley, a prominent entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles, told me that she makes her gender work for her. She described her courtroom affect as “polite and charming”—but not so polite or charming that it “gets in the way of the job that needs to get done.” Holley cut her teeth working as an associate for Johnnie Cochran during the O. J. Simpson trial. She said it was this quality—a sweet steeliness—that led Cochran to recruit her. He encouraged her to be “the person in the courtroom that everyone loves while being as capable and prepared as possible.” She followed his advice, and today she represents high-profile clients including Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan, and Kim Kardashian. ...

I’ve always loved that definition of a lawyer’s work and its description of the sacrifices we make for our clients. But in the courtroom, whether as an attorney or as an instructor, I’m constantly reminded that women lawyers don’t have access to the same “means and expedients” that men do. So I tell my female students the truth: that their body and demeanor will be under relentless scrutiny from every corner of the courtroom. That they will have to pay close attention to what they wear and how they speak and move. That they will have to find a way to metabolize these realities, because adhering to biased expectations and letting slights roll off their back may be the most effective way to advance the interests of their clients in courtrooms that so faithfully reflect the sexism of our society.

Sometimes I worry that I am part of the problem, that I am holding my students back by using valuable class time to pass on the same unfair rules that were passed on to me. And then we go to court.

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Comments

I'm pretty sure that if a male trial attorney threatened to use his strength to beat up any juror who didn't side with his client, a judge would rule just as accordingly on that issue as he would with a female trial attorney pulling out tears from her bag of tricks.

Given the daily complaints by feminists about law schools and law firms, maybe they should create their own safe ones away from men, and then, maybe, they could create women courtrooms.

Posted by: Woody | Aug 10, 2018 6:11:29 AM

Commenters on this site are tremendously disappointing in their responses to gender equity items.

TaxProf Blog: Come for the thoughtful news clips, stay for the misandry.

Posted by: Catherine Christopher | Aug 14, 2018 10:41:35 AM

I'm reading a little closer, and the numbers don't work.

When I asked Faiella for a copy of Doyle’s motion, she said that she could send me examples from more than two dozen cases across her 30-year career. She said that at least 90 percent of her courtroom opponents are male, and that they file a “no-crying motion” as a matter of course.

Ninety percent of her cases have male opposing attorneys and they file the motion as a matter of course. She has two-dozen examples, and she's been doing this for thirty years.

So, she only tries one case a year? With that little business, I'd be crying, too.

Posted by: Woody | Aug 14, 2018 12:22:43 PM