Sunday, February 23, 2014

Lauren Thinks I'm Evil: My Life as the Reluctant Feminist

Lauren thinks I’m evil.  At least, that’s what she told a table full of my friends at a dinner last month while they were all attending a legal seminar. 

Interesting description.  You may wonder what I did to earn such a label. 

Where do I begin?

The beginning seems like a good spot.  Well, the beginning for me, at least.

My mother was a career woman in the 70’s at the dawn of the modern feminist era.  Knowing her, she had little interest in the movement.  She was motivated to feed two babies after losing a husband while pregnant with my younger brother.  I grew up hearing the stories: the boss who would “accidentally” reserve only one hotel room on a business trip, the business trip dinners alone in hotel restaurants where men would walk by and drop their room keys on her table assuming she was a prostitute, the successful female friends who committed the ultimate sin of getting pregnant which, of course, led to their firing.

Flash forward to 1993.  I was fresh out of law school and landed a job at the Dallas County District Attorneys Office.  The gender breakdown in the office was (and remains) around 50/50 male-female.  Sexism was never even a thought in my head.  It seemed so 1975.  After all, it was the 90’s.  There was no more sexism, right?  Ah, so naïve. 

Circa 2004.  I had been a criminal defense attorney for many years trying drug cases, sex crimes, aggravated robberies and miscellaneous other felonies.  The loss of a particular DWI trial led me to consider focusing more on that area of practice.  To do so, I knew I needed more training and knowledge.  In fact, I made it my mission to master the art of DWI defense. 

I heard about a national organization that was supposed to be focused on training lawyers in this field.  I joined and signed up for one of their seminars.  Now keep in mind, I was not a new lawyer.  At the time, I had belonged to the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, the Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Dallas Bar Association for YEARS.  My first impression when I walked into this DWI seminar in January, 2005 was - IT’S ALL MEN!  I looked around and thought how odd it was that I was one of the only women in attendance.  This was certainly a far cry from all of the other legal seminars I had attended over the past decade.

It soon became apparent that not only was I one of the only women there, the speakers were all male and the entire governing body of the organization appeared to be male.  Had I joined a fraternity but someone forgot to tell me?

The seminar was ok but I did not leave with some vast new understanding of the subject I was trying to master.  I had a sense that there were a lot of men getting on the stage who were trying to convince all of the other men in the room that they were the Cock of the Walk. 

Summer came and I was off to another seminar with the national group.  I once again walked into a room of men.  I seem to recall taking note of possibly 5 women in attendance over the course of the next few days.  It was really a strange experience. 

Real trial lawyers – those of us constantly in trial as opposed to lawyers who rarely try cases – can quickly spot a non-trial lawyer trying to teach “trial skills” at a legal seminar.  In short – they’re full of crap.  There were a number, actually a lot, of men speaking at these DWI seminars that left me feeling they had not seen the inside of a courtroom since I was in law school.

As for the gals – well, there were no female lawyers that presented.  I did not understand at that time how the organization was governed but it appeared that the entire governing body was male.  In addition, it was not exactly a woman-friendly environment.   My impression was this – drunken middle-aged white guys on the prowl.

Overall, I felt my seminar dollars could be better spent elsewhere so I began seeking out training from other sources.  I didn’t leave the organization at that time but I was not particularly engaged, either.  Over the years I watched women appear to rise in prominence only to seemingly disappear.  The few female friends I made within the organization told me story after story of breasts being grabbed at happy hours after the seminars would end for the day, women lawyers being propositioned by very-married members of the organization’s leadership, one friend thanking a leader for paying for a dinner at a seminar and his response was to put his hand up her skirt, and so on.  I remember one drunk lawyer sitting next to the very married me at a seminar dinner trying to pick me up.  Tailhook meets DWI.   

Years went by.  I ran some stats on the number of female DUI lawyers who presented at the organization’s seminars over the course of 8 years. A grand total of 149 men presented during that time period compared to 5 women.  The 5 number is misleading, however.  2 of the women were experts in a particular field – not DUI lawyers.  That leaves 3 presentations but there were only actually 2 women – 1 spoke twice.  That leaves a GRAND TOTAL of 2 women DUI lawyers on the stage in 8 years. 

I was disheartened to learn that one female lawyer who rose to prominence was sleeping with a member of the governing board.  Another bought incredibly large fake boobs that she felt the overwhelming need to display with tight, low cut tops at every seminar.  You’ve come a long way, baby?  Apparently not. 

Meanwhile back at the ranch - I transitioned my practice to 100% DWI defense and took every conceivable course I could find on blood and breath alcohol testing, field sobriety tests, DRE, alcohol pharmacokinetics – you name it, I studied it.   James Publishing and my dear friend, Kimberly Tucker, asked me to come on board to help re-write a DWI book for Texas.  I said yes and spent the next 3 years working on that project.  It was finally published last summer.

In the summer of 2010 my disgust with the national organization was such that I left.  It wasn’t until a new “leader” took over in 2011 that I came back with the hope that there might be a new era dawning.  I sent him a long email detailing various events that had occurred and examples of sexism within the organization.  He assured me that he had big plans for change.

In January, 2012, the organization put on their annual seminar.  It was held in Orlando.  All male speakers.  There may have been 10 female lawyers in the whole place.  Sigh.  So much for “hope and change”, huh?  I remember sitting around the pool with a group that included a few women who were lamenting yet another seminar with no female speakers. 

When I returned home, I posted an email on the organization’s list serve under the heading “Where are the Women?”.  Here is a portion:

I would like someone in authority to explain the following to me and to the rest of the membership:

I joined in 2004...From 2005 - today, there have been 149 male speakers at your seminars but only 5 women.  2 of those 5 were experts.  Of the remaining 3, 1 female spoke twice.  That leaves us with a net result of 2 WOMEN DWI/DUI LAWYERS.

In 8 years, that's it?  2?  

I'm in charge of the 2nd day of a 2 day TCDLA DWI seminar in May.  Of my 8 DWI lawyer speakers, 4 are female.  I can find 4 outstanding DWI litigators in North Texas and you can't find more than 2 in the entire United States in 8 years?

I don't think I went to sleep and woke up in 1950.  

What is going on here?  Where are the women?

Who is in charge of speakers and why does there appear to be no seat at the table for the gals?

No real response.  I was just a troublemaker or crazy feminist or some other such nonsense. 

In the years since, many events have transpired between me and this group of men that have altered the course of my life.  I took a stand that was not popular and there were consequences.  People I knew well said terrible things about me.  For a while it was open season on the troublemaker.

The breathtaking arrogance of this organization is amazing.  They sent a gal who I mistakenly thought of as a friend to “suggest” to me that I rejoin the fold and make amends.  She went so far as to point out that my children are in private school and that is expensive – sure would be unfortunate for something to happen to my income.  Hmmmm….bringing my kids into it.  Pretty amazing.  Some might even say evil.  What say you, Lauren?

When I stood up for myself, I believed that I also stood up for the other women within the organization and the ones who would come after me.  Like Lauren.  I was standing up so other women would not be groped, propositioned, discriminated against, ignored, disrespected, relegated to 2nd tier status and so on.   

As a criminal defense attorney, it is supposed to be in our nature to stand up for the little guy.  We love the underdog.  I mistakenly believed I could make a difference with the national organization.  They controlled the grown-up table and expected the women to be content to sit at the kids’ table.  We were supposed to smile and look pretty, right?  By standing up to them, I hoped and believed they would realize how wrong they were and reform would follow.  Ah, so naïve. 

Reform did not come.  What they did instead was make me the bad guy.  The EVIL one.  Right, Lauren?

Which leads me to today.  2014.  My law practice continues to grow. The seminar company I helped get off the ground with some like-minded renegades is taking off.  I am constantly meeting young, female lawyers at our seminars and giving them encouragement to reach for the stars.  My friends are awesome, my husband is wonderful and my kids are amazing. 

So what did I learn along the way?

I learned that if men want to preside over the grown up table and never invite you to join them because you don’t have a penis, don’t try.  Start a grown up table of your own.  That’s what I did and our table is ROCKIN’. 

I learned that the vast majority of men I know are NOT sexists but that if you find a few, put them in a group and give them a touch of power – bad things happen.

I learned that the lengths to which some women will go to get ahead and undermine other women is quite breathtaking. 

I learned who my true friends are.  Not the people I cared about and believed in who ultimately did not have my back – they were never really my friends.  I mean my true friends.

I learned that I am a lot stronger than I thought I was.  Though I’m still under attack by the organization, it doesn’t upset me anymore.  In fact, I now find them amusing and more than a little pathetic.

To those fellow lawyers who continue to have my back and have more character than any other people I know - thank you.  Michele, Linda, Kim, Sharon - you are forever family to me.  Mike – what can I say?  The past 2 years were made easier knowing you were a text away.  And Duke sucks.

Evan, Tim, Rhid, Marcos, Jamie, Scott – I’m proud to call you my friends.

Sandi – I already feel like I’ve known you for years.  Have a Sea Breeze on me.

OO – you’re a good guy with bigger balls than anyone I’ve ever met.

As for Lauren - this evil gal wishes you the best.  I truly hope you obtain whatever it is you think the organization can provide you.  If trashing me helps get it for you, well, good luck with that.  With any luck, you won’t have to resort to cosmetic surgery or blow jobs.   

Oh, and if you ever want to sit at a different table – give me a call. 

No comments:

Post a Comment