Class of 1973

Those of us who wanted to be litigators quickly learned that, in that area, stereotypes were particularly strong and persistent. Litigation was seen as the natural habitat of men. Gladiators, after all, were male. The ability to litigate was linked to chromosomes.We entered law school fresh from the 60's revolution and graduated full of energy, enthusiasm and ideals. We were conscious of our position as a small minority in the profession. We expected the road to be bumpy and that we would encounter difficulties because we were women. But, we were confident that, with persistence, merit would overcome resistance based on stereotypical views.

After articling we were hired, often as the first women in the firms' litigation groups. At the same time we were often told that while the firm had complete confidence in women, they were not sure how their clients would react. The thrill of being hired was accompanied by uncertainty - would women be given the same kind of work, would we have the same earnings, would we advance, and would more women be hired? The answer to all these questions was frequently no. When firms saw no reason to hire more than one woman in litigation, many opened their own offices as sole practitioners or all women firms.

We encountered awkward situations and we encountered outright discrimination. There were no policies or protocols to assist us in addressing these issues. We turned first to our women colleagues for advice, support and debate about the best strategic response. How should we respond when accompanying senior lawyers to meetings or social events in clubs whose memberships were restricted to men with separate entrances for women guests? How could we put an end to sexual harassment by a senior lawyer in our workplace without incurring retaliation? Was a particular incident we encountered based on discriminatory views? If so, should we address it directly or let it go by?

We developed strategies. Some were symbolic. Some colleagues always used their initials in correspondence, never their first names, so that at least at the beginning stages of litigation, opposing counsel would not be aware of their gender. We learned which senior men we could rely on as mentors, who would assign work on merit and stand by us when challenged whether we would be tough enough to handle a particular file or client. The most common strategy was to demonstrate our ability through very hard work - our motto: be over-prepared.

We have seen great changes in our profession, most importantly greater representation of women in all areas of practice and at all levels of the judiciary.Women litigators are no longer curiosities. There are still vexing problems for women, especially in the areas of advancement, compensation and retention in the profession.