Law Association of Women hosts women judges panel
On Jan. 27, the five judges seated at the front of the Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom at the Levin College of Law had at least three things in common—all had been practicing lawyers, all are now judges and all are women.
In an advice, honesty and laughter-rich panel discussion sponsored by the Law Association of Women titled, “A Conversation with the Judiciary: Perspectives of Women Judges,” each of the five judges discussed her unique experiences as a student, a lawyer, a judge, and as a woman.
The advice from the ladies ranged from serious—“be responsible and take responsibility; make yourself indispensible to your employer,” to humorous—“don’t wear wedding hair to court.”
When the Honorable Jacqueline R. Griffin (JD 75), a district court judge for the 5th District Court of Appeals began her legal education at the University of Florida, only a miniscule seven percent of the law school student body was female. She became fast friends with one of her classmates, now the Honorable Anne C. Conway (JD 75), chief U.S. District Court judge for the Middle District of Florida.
“We had a tendency to clump for safety reasons,” Griffin explained. In the mid-1970s, when Griffin and Conway became litigators, they were two of three women litigating in Orlando at the time.
“We were the women,” Griffin recalled, only to have her statement promptly amended by Conway—“we were the girls.”
In the panel discussion, Griffin and Conway were joined by the Honorable Elizabeth A. Jenkins (JD 76), a U.S. Magistrate Court judge for the Middle District of Florida; the Honorable Carly E. Delano, a Bankruptcy Court judge from the Middle District of Florida; and the Honorable Marcia Morales Howard (JD 90), a U.S. District Court judge for the Middle District of Florida.
Howard earned her J.D. from the University of Florida in 1990, nearly a decade behind the other four women, benefiting from significant shifts in cultural attitudes toward women in the legal field that occurred during that decade. Howard emphasized the value of professional and polite conduct, stating that “one of the biggest mistakes that young lawyers make is confusing being a zealous advocate and being a jerk.”
She also warned against wearing too much perfume to court, too little clothing, or elaborate, intricate hairstyles, which she dubbed “wedding hair.”
Concurring with Howard, Delano cautioned that women should be aware that in court, their looks are not an issue and instead they should focus on being prepared, conducting themselves professionally, and treating paralegals, secretaries, and court staff with the utmost respect and courtesy, to which Conway added, “[there is] nothing a judge hates more than rude lawyers.”
The judges also dispensed advice on balancing family and career, encouraging female lawyers to seek help from outside sources and that “if you’re overwhelmed, you can change your practice and hours” and that if a lawyer is indispensible to her practice, her firm will usually be willing to work with her on arranging for a part-time schedule. Delano added, “there are so many different varieties of jobs that you can find a place where you’re comfortable. Your kids aren’t small forever.”
Addressing potentially sexist treatment or comments from colleagues, the judges advocated maintaining the utmost of professional standards and letting one’s work speak for itself. All agreed that in today’s legal world, such instances are rare, but not unheard of. As to how she handled sexist attitudes when she first practiced, Griffin explained, “We worked twice as hard, we were twice as prepared and we didn’t care if someone called us ‘little girl’ in the hearing, because we won.” Howard agreed, adding that “beating the pants off someone is better than picking a fight.”
With the 2007-2008 Levin College of Law entering class composed of 51 percent women and the 2008-2009 entering class close behind at 47.9 percent, there has never been a better time for a woman to become a lawyer, but as the judges emphasized, so long as she also remembers to stay a lady.