From my perspective the criminal law defense profession continues to be a man’s world. Based on 25 years of observation, the number of women criminal defense lawyers at the county courthouse continues to be a minority. It should not be so, however. There should be more of them in our courtrooms fighting for the rights of the citizen accused.
Granted, I’m no expert in women. But those I’ve seen, those having the fortitude to manage the strain of a courtroom law practice, have added much to the profession. These women were tough and insightful. They’ve added invaluable insight into client management, case evaluation, and above all, jury selection. These women were great multi-taskers, too. So much better that me. And often times they just seemed to do a better job. I’d like to see more women fighting for the rights of citizens all across our Texas criminal courtrooms.
A 2013 article in the ABA Journal chronicled the careers of several leading women in the profession.1 Although the article focused on women in civil practice, one could easily discern the cross-over application to criminal defense. The take away from the article were traits common among the most successful women attorneys. First, these leading ladies worked long hours. Regardless of gender, unfortunately, there was always a price to pay for success. That price was time, and lots of it. Further, these high-fliers fought hard to develop opportunities within their firms. They worked the big cases and made the big deals. And this sacrifice gave them opportunity to spotlight their unique talents. Moreover, these women were better at networking, and building friendships and business relationships, compared to their male counterparts. Indeed, these women leaders learned to pull their own weight. Pulling their weight meant becoming consistent producers. They learned to generate revenue, develop business relationships, and attract paying clients to their firms. Most importantly, they all earned first-rate reputations for making their firms profitable. Regardless of gender, being a good lawyer was just not enough. Being business savvy was the difference between remaining an associate or becoming a profit-sharing partner.
Granted, I’m no expert in women. But I have learned about the unique challenges facing the female criminal defense attorney. Like most male practitioners, the women were challenged by the same unpredictable work hours and the same unpredictable income. But unlike their male counterparts, women sometimes failed to get the family support they needed to make a go-of-it when working those long, unpredictable hours. This was especially true when it came time to raise a family and tend to the needs of children And, of course, there remained the lingering problem of sexism in the profession.
Unfortunately, I don’t know the answers to the problems facing women criminal defense attorneys. But whatever their unique challenges, I’d love to see more of them at the county courthouse trying cases. I appreciate their intuition and I appreciate their world-views. And maybe I’m being a little selfish saying that, often times, women are just more fun to have around.
1. Zahorsky, R. M. (2013, June 1). Meet 6 law firm leaders, each with a different story, each at the top of her game. Retrieved March 16, 2017, from http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/women_in_charge_at_the_top_of_their_game/
(“Off the Back” featured in the “Voice For The Defense” April 2017)
Stephen Gustitis is a criminal lawyer in Bryan-College Station. He is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also a husband, father, and retired amateur bicycle racer.
“Off the Back” is an expression in competitive road cycling describing a rider dropped by the lead group who has lost the energy saving benefit of riding in the group’s slipstream. Once off the back the rider struggles alone in the wind to catch up. The life of a criminal defense lawyer shares many of the characteristics of a bicycle rider struggling alone, in the wind, and “Off the Back.” This column is for them.