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APRIL 2014 - PM
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President's Message - APRIL

Anne C. Tremblay
WLALA President 2013-2014

 

'Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world's view of us.' - Virginia Woolf

It was circa 1997 on a weekday morning at the Westminster Municipal Court.  I was a deputy district attorney (DDA) handling misdemeanor trials and working towards my first significant career milestone – making it to “felony panel,” the general felony assignment at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.   I was working in the office on filing custody cases for the week and I was at the bottom of the trial rotation list.  In my mind there was NO way I would be going to trial that week and, for comfort’s sake, I was wearing a pantsuit in lieu of my court uniform of a suit with a skirt, blouse, stockings and pumps. 

So you might imagine my surprise when my colleague running the trial calendar paged me (yes, we only had pagers back then) to her courtroom.  Once there, she informed me that for a variety of reasons, since faded from memory, I was assigned to take out the next trial – a domestic violence case, with jury selection scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m.  I still remember my feeling of panic.  A feeling that didn’t result from the fact I only had a few hours to review the case, talk to the officers involved and prepare my voir dire questions.   Taking same day trial handoffs is a rite of passage and regular occurrence for all DDAs.  Instead, my panic stemmed from never having appeared before a jury in pants and not knowing any female DDA who had either.   In a conservative county and a conservative prosecutor’s office, it just wasn’t done.

So what did I do next?  I did what any self-respecting 29–year-old professional would do, I called my mother.  What did my mother do once she heard the panic in my voice?  Within an hour she was at the courthouse with a skirt and stockings in hand.  Once again, my “super mom” saved the day.

It seems hard to imagine now.  Women make court appearances and conduct trials wearing pants every day in California courts.  But less then twenty years ago, I was so concerned about how I would be perceived by the court, the jury and my colleagues.  I was worried I would be judged for what I was wearing instead of my performance as a trial attorney.  I truly believed it could negatively affect my career.

The memory of this day came back to me last week when my eldest brother and several of my friends sent me the recent Slate.com article entitled Female Lawyers Who Dress Too “Sexy” Are Apparently a “Huge Problem” in the Courtroom.  The author, Amanda Hess, notes that women in other male dominated professions are not scrutinized the way women attorneys are and she examines why the dress of female lawyers is still “contested territory.”  As Hess notes, and I have seen over my career, there’s been an evolution from dark colored skirt suits to dresses, pants suits and even sweater sets.   I must admit it took me some time to adjust to Alley McBeal-length skirts and the bare leg trend of younger attorneys.  Teaching law students and young lawyers that first impressions and professionalism matter is essential. 

But, just as I love the depth, breadth and diversity that female jurists and lawyers bring to our profession, I also appreciate the variety and personal style that many women lawyers now bring to the courtroom.  Vain trifles or not,  I certainly don’t want another young lawyer to experience the unnecessary stress I felt that day in 1997 – all over a pair of pants. 

I know that content not clothing will be the focus at our April programs.  We start the month off with our 19th Annual Litigators Forum on April 3rd at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel.   Our accomplished panelists and the keynote speaker, San Francisco Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese M. Stewart, will be discussing their Cases of Lifetime.  Please join us for the panel, cocktails and dinner.  Thank you to WLALA board members Robyn Crowther and Tamar Terzian for planning this year’s forum.   Register today at wlala.org.

This month will also feature a lunch program on Women in Leadership at Sheppard, Mullin on April 24th.   The Hon. Nicole Bershon will moderate a discussion among accomplished women attorneys who have obtained high profile leadership positions in diverse practice areas.  Come hear how to position yourself for a leadership role and learn what to do once you get there.

Kudos to Membership Committee Co-Chairs Michelle Michaels and Kimberly Encinas for another successful WLALA Night at the Magic Castle on March 12th.  Those who attended gave the event rave reviews. Whether its substantive programming or special events, WLALA continues to provide something for every one of our members.  

In closing, I want to thank Carla Barboza of Latina Lawyers Bar Association, Tami L. Warren, President of Black Women Lawyers, Inc. and the Hon. Cythina Loo, Immediate Past-President of the Asian Pacific American Women Lawyers Alliance, for co-hosting our recent Women’s History Month reception.  I also want to thank the generous board member and anonymous donor who covered WLALA’s portion of the costs for this free event.  Bringing together the membership of our sister organizations at a jointly sponsored event was long over due.   All the attendees agreed this should be an annual event.  Pictures of our keynote speaker, the Hon. Consuelo Marshall, and others enjoying this special event are included below.

There are so many great WLALA programs still to come this year so please mark your calendars.   I look forward to seeing you (in pants or a skirt) at one of our upcoming events.

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