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On Lawyering, As Women - Women Lead Arkansas

On Lawyering, As Women

I’m a lawyer. I was interviewed once about being a woman in the legal profession and whether I was treated differently. I still don’t really feel that I was discriminated against as a woman, but maybe I didn’t notice. The following? I would have noticed.

A friend relayed stories recently about her experiences out there in the courts. In East Arkansas, after the male attorneys walked into the courtroom for a closed hearing, she tried to follow. The bailiff stopped her, “Ma’am, this is just for attorneys.”

“Well, good thing I’m an attorney today!” she said. He continued to doubt her and said, “I’m going to need to see a business card or something.” She ignored him and walked around him into the courtroom.

In another Central Arkansas district court, after speaking on her client’s behalf while standing next to him at the podium, the judge looked up and said, “Sir, do you have an attorney?”

What. The. ??? See how we assume men in suits are attorneys, but women are not given the benefit of the doubt? That’s sexist. That’s why I’m a feminist. But this isn’t about me (directly). I was reminded of these anecdotes when I attended an ethics CLE (continuing legal education) taught by Cathi Compton.

Cathi is an attorney at the Attorney General’s office and is running unopposed for judge, so she will be our new Sixth Judicial District (Pulaski and Perry counties), Division Three circuit judge as of Jan. 1, 2015. And she’s a “graduate” of WLA’s first campaign training for women! We’re not even a year old and already helping women win! (Give us money)

Cathi’s class included a poem she wrote after a judge, in front of everyone in court, told her that her clothing was inappropriate. While the male attorney tried to blend into the wall without coming to her defense, the judge asked what she planned to wear for the trial, then proceeded to reject her plan, which was suits. Finally, he suggested she go shopping.

Goodness, what could she have been wearing? A cleavage-baring blouse? An Ally McBeal mini skirt? No. Cathi was wearing a navy skirt and buttoned-up shirt with a red leather blazer, in honor of Washington’s birthday. She was feeling patriotic that day.

Before I let you read the poem Judge Mills inspired Cathi to write, I need to make a request. MEN, stand up against sexism! Her male colleague should have defended her and should have supported her against the patriarchal, sexist judge who thought Cathi should dress according to his rules. Nevermind the snakeskin cowboy boots both opposing counsel and the bailiff were wearing. If women are going to achieve equity, be perceived as equals, and be allowed to work unmolested in their chosen professions, men need to be our allies. Period. Now, on to the reason we’re here.

 (Soon-to-be-judge) Cathi Compton

I learned to dress myself when I was four
By six or seven, I’d learned even more.
By seventeen, I’d burned up my bra.
At age 29, I entered the law.

 I’ve dressed for court in ribbons & bows
Some hot summer days, I’ve bared my toes.
I’ve argued cases in maternity clothes-
But never have I seen a judge in such throes.

As when I came to court looking quite patriotic
Only to discover just how idiotic
Judge Mills had determined my attire to be,
My wool navy skirt which came down to my knee,
My button down blouse buttoned up to my collar
My dark navy legwear-I looked like a scholar!

But no! said Judge Mills, this outfit won’t do!
It’s too sporty, too bright, for a lawyer like you.
Not only that, but last time, it’s true:
You came to my court dressed way wrong then, too.

Said I, but Judge, what will I do?
My wardrobe is filled with colorful suits,
A red one, a teal one, I even wear boots!

I looked in my closet one day & I said
“I’m sick of gray suits, they make me look dead.”
I waited until I had saved up some cash
(I’m always waiting, there’s never a stash).

I took myself shopping at a fine little store
& told them I’d wear dreary colors no more.
Together we looked at the fabric & hue
Taking into account this job that I do.
Which is stressful enough, without adding to.

Good enough, said my clients, the juries, the judges
Good enough, said my preacher & those without grudges
Good enough, said the years as I practiced the law
Good enough, said my daughters, alert for a flaw.

“Inappropriate! Too flashy, too sporty, too strong!
This clothing you choose is simply quite wrong!”
Said Judge Mills as those in the courtroom stared,
Their mouths all agape, at least one of them scared.

“Pants are accepted, and necktie will do,
Or you could just go shopping; I advise you to.
But don’t think for a moment that I will forbear
From scolding you here & harassing you there.”

“But all this, Your Honor, for the clothes that I wear?
Surely there are greater issues out there.”
Like justice and mercy & search for the truth
Like professional pride and the burden of proof
Like which of our punishments are inhumanely cruel
And now: what to do with this silly old fool.