I was in a strategy session today with some lawyers, all but one of whom are men. This group knows me, has worked with me for years, and its members, I’m honored to say, have a lot of respect for my work. One of the men was describing another party and said, “They’ve got several in-house women lawyers and she [the lawyer being discussed] is one of them.”
I often let that kind of nonsense pass, especially if I think I’m about to have to spend some of my credibility arguing an unpopular point related to the case or our strategy, but, this time, I didn’t.
I winked, smiled (because we have to go out of our way to show that we’re not “humorless,” and that we’re all good friends here) and said, “Women lawyers. As opposed to the real ones.”
There was some uncomfortable shuffling and joking. The youngest male lawyer went out of his way to jump in and say, “No, he’s just pointing that out to show who he’s discussing,” and I smiled, tapped my pen, and moved on. I’d made my point.
On the way home, my driver pulled up the hill and I saw the setting sun turning Columbia gold atop the Capitol. We drove along the Potomac, turned an orangey-gold by the setting sun, and discussed how lovely this city is. I do feel unbelievably blessed to practice law in this city of Equal Justice Under Law.
I realized that I’ve somehow come to a point in my career where I have a bit of privilege to spend. I don’t mean privilege in the sense of being more privileged than the men with whom I work. I mean privileged in the sense of knowing that I can occasionally stand up for women and not pay too high a price, career-wise. I mean that, while there are clearly limits, I have got a certain amount of lee-way based on the cred that I’ve built up over years and years of doing, well, good law.
I think that, for women my age, it’s important to look for these opportunities. Life, as Sara Teasdale said, has loveliness to sell and I, it turns out, have some privilege to spend. I hope to spend it to good advantage.
Picture found here.