How to Feed a Lawyer (and Other Irreverent Observations from the Legal Underground)

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Rufus T. Firefly

You know, I never really thought about it, but it's true. I know very few woman plaintifs lawyers. I do, however, know a good number of woman defense lawyers - of a variety of ages, i.e., young associates and senior partners. I also agree that women are generally easier to get along with and more reasonable than male lawyers. Plus they're pretty. Well, sometimes. But when a woman lawyer is difficult, there's no lawyer more difficult. I know that sounds bad, but that's been my experience.

David Giacalone

I'm always amused and a bit irked by articles that wonder why women lawyers aren't sufficiently "represented" in various sectors of the legal profession. I believe the reasons for the anomalies tend to be personal choices by individual women -- many related to lifestyle (e.g., wanting to raise children in a hands-on manner, desiring to have a life), values, and temperament -- that are in many ways different from (and often superior to) their male colleagues.

Evan is right that there is much about the male p/i lawyer stereotype that turns off a lot of women [and men] of taste and intelligence (most of whom do not admire pinky rings, tacky advertising, and "hornblowing"). I also like to think that fewer women enter law to get rich by means of giant jackpots. They might seek wealth, but they want to earn it the old fashioned way.


"Personal choices by individual women" in the aggregate become a societal issue, one which deserves to be written about, even though such articles may "irk" you. "Values and temperament" aren't just chosen by particular women, they are learned. The values and temperament needed to succeed as a plaintiffs' lawyer aren't necessarily unchanging, and finding a way for women lawyers to fit into them is a valuable goal.

David Giacalone

Dear [Ms?] Misc: My "irk factor" is due to the apparent underlying notion that there is some conspiracy keeping lawyers who happen to be women from entering any particular sector of the legal profession. It is difficult to name a profession where personal choice is more unfettered than it is for lawyers. Personal attributes other than gender seem far more likely to keep any particular lawyer from reaching his or her goals.

I'm sorry if you feel that "society" is still imposing values on women -- as opposed to individual women choosing their own value systems. I think women and men have the obligation (and opportunity) to make conscious value choices about their life. Expecting women and men to make aggregate career choices that are statistically identical seems like an exercise in finding problems that don't exist -- and/or denying differences between the sexes that do exist.

The trend whereby women dumb-down or numb-down their values to the general level of men is not very inspiring, but I certainly don't begrudge any woman that right.

Whether a woman lawyer wants to accept, or to try to change, the ethos of the plaintiff's p/i lawyer bar, she has the opportunity to do so. Please don't saddle the gender with the handicap of victimhood.


Perhaps the problem is marketing. Do ordinary citizens, who constitute the market from which plaintiff lawyers make a living, have a perception that women attorneys are not as "aggressive" in court as male attorneys? If so, fair or not, that could at least partially explain the discrepancy.

David Giacalone

UCL [we have to stop meeting this way]: Seems to me that a very large portion of "ordinary citizens" either watch enough tv lawyer shows to know how good a female "barrister on wheels" can be, or know the difference between false tv-ad bravado and effective lawyering.


David [Thanks for making me snort milk through my nose]: You could be right, but in my jurisdiction the "best" plaintiff's lawyers are hardly ever the richest ones. Instead, it seems like the plaintiff's lawyers who have the gaudiest, tackiest, and most wide-spread TV ads are the richest. I'm unconvinced that most consumers know how to pick truly good lawyers. I think a tacky lawyer with an embarassing but effective ad will win over a modest but superb litigator any day. And so, I'm also unconvinced that the large number of visible, high profile, women attorneys out there is enough to overcome the larger societal anti-female prejudice.

Then again, I'm speaking from a defense perspective and have never had to worry about marketing for plaintiff's cases.



(a) Is it possible to tell which lawyers are richer than others? How?

(b) "I think a tacky lawyer with an embarassing but effective ad will win over a modest but superb litigator any day." Isn't it true that more often than not, the TV-advertising lawyers (especially if the lack the know-how) refer the tough cases to the "superb litigators"? I know plaintiffs' lawyers who don't advertise but who get a steady stream of referrals from lawyers who do.

David Giacalone

You (indirectly) bring up a very good point, Evan: Why do we let "p" lawyers who attract clients take substantial fee splits -- out of proportion to the work done -- from the referee lawyers who really do the work? It's one more indication that (a) the bar looks the other way when contingency fee ethics are involved; (b) contingency fees have fat built into them and are higher than necessary.

More important, where do you hide your pinky rings?

My advice to any lawyer who wants to make a name for himself or herself with the public in the p/i field: openly compete on contingency fee levels. Like this firm (two men and a woman, with Carrie Noll playing a substantial role in their tv ads)



"Is it possible to tell which lawyers are richer than others? How?" Sometimes. Reputation, word of mouth, and of course common sense. If a sleazy plaintiff's firm that has the worst ads on television is offering its new associates 6-figure salaries, for example, I'm pretty sure that the 40-year old founding partner isn't eating Top Ramen for dinner every night.

"Isn't it true that more often than not, the TV-advertising lawyers (especially if the lack the know-how) refer the tough cases to the "superb litigators"? I know plaintiffs' lawyers who don't advertise but who get a steady stream of referrals from lawyers who do."

I do too, and it's very easy for both plaintiff's and defense lawyers to have an extremely successful practice based on referrals alone. But the ones giving the referrals are themselves, normally, doing pretty well to begin with.

I'm not saying that a plaintiff's lawyer needs to advertise heavily in order to be successful. I am saying that the most successful PERSONAL INJURY plaintiff lawyers generally tend to be those who do advertise, which I theorize is because consumers react heavily to marketing (which is why it's done).



I know of a firm in my city which draws in clients by advertising itself as the "discount law firm" with "discounted" legal fees of only 25%.

What the firm doesn't advertise to the public is that it is basically a high-volume lawsuit factory. I've worked against this firm on the defense side. Its lawyers spend no time at all on their cases because it's high-volume. If a friend called me asking for a referral to a plaintiff's firm (which happens often), I would NEVER refer them to this 25% firm.

She who must be obeyed

OK - let's start by saying that gender is a continuum, and I always know a few women with bigger cojones than some men. Yeah, yeah, whatever.

The problem is with plaintiffs' bar the same as the environment at big law firms: the way that women {generally} operate is incompatible with some of what you have to do. Practice in a big firm is alienating for a lot of women, because we don't like being placed in head-to-head competition with a peer. We don't like having to explain why we should make more than Steve because we're a lot more diligent and intelligent than Steve, we think that you should see that, and reward it without us having to bend and scrape asking for it. We don't like having to toot our own horn, we tend to believe in meritocracy. And as a rule, we like our risks manageable and the outcome in our control.

NOW: compare that to the life of a plaintiffs' attorney. Being a megalomaniac with a compulsion for self-promotion may not be mandatory, but it really helps. You have to continually sell yourself not just as better than the next guy, or confident and capable, but as Jeebus himself, come down to save the unwashed. And the risks are unacceptable to people with a risk profile like 80-90% of the population (including the vast majority of the female 54% of the population).

Women do things differently, and value different things. We also tend to form relationships differently and maintain them differently. This is enough of a problem for traditional "client development" without hanging your survival in practice on how well you can charm 12 high school graduates in a pinch. SOOOOO many trial tactics are very different to use when you are a woman, too. Some of this is societally programmed, some is hard wired. But I can readily see why women don't enter the plaintiffs' bar. I used to work for some plaintiffs boys. I did their appellate work. They called me "the smart girl." I would never have done what they do: it wasn't for me, and I wouldn't have been good at it.


As a plaintiff's lawyer I wondered about this a lot when was starting out. I was the only woman in my law school class who went into this line of work. I don't see a lot more coming into it. I think a lot of it has to do with the "chicken or feathers" aspect of the work, especially in the beginning. You can have a great year financially, or a terrible one, and I think most women want more consistency.

San Francisco Lawyer

Here's my theory, which isn't addressed in the article: Women lawyers aren't well-represented in the plaintiffs' bar because they don't want to work with male plaintiffs' lawyers, who they find loud-mouthed, show-offy, and generally obnoxious. Oh, and they we smoke way too many cigars.

That is actually a bit funny. For all intent and purposes you are saying that female plaintiff's lawyers are intimidated by boisterous and sophomoric actions of their male counter parts. I think you are selling women short with this statement.

I think women are much smarter than that.

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