By: Daily Record Staff , Hon. Craig J. Doran//May 9, 2019
By: Daily Record Staff , Hon. Craig J. Doran//May 9, 2019//
Although it has been 133 years since Kate Stoneman broke the gender barrier and became the first woman admitted to practice law in New York State, a woman’s voice in the courtroom is too often silent.
As a judge, it has long troubled and puzzled me to see women sitting quietly at the counsel table while their male colleagues presented oral argument. Often, the female attorney had written the brief and knew the case and the law inside and out. Frequently, the male partner would confer with the junior female associate when I asked a tough question, indicating to me that she knew the issue better than he. But the woman’s voice was rarely heard.
I conferred with my colleagues in the Seventh Judicial District, who told me, anecdotally, they were witnessing the same thing — in an era where just as many women as men are graduating from law school.
Then a groundbreaking New York State Bar Association study confirmed our observations: In courtrooms throughout the state, women attorneys have a speaking role only about a quarter of the time. Tellingly, that number is consistent upstate and downstate, in federal and in state courts, in criminal and in civil cases.
It didn’t seem right that women, and other young attorneys, were denied an opportunity to address the court or jury and hone the skills necessary to take the next steps up the professional ladder. I thought we were somehow falling short of our duty to help develop the most robust and talented bar possible. It seemed we were missing an opportunity to help train the next generation of litigators in the art of oral advocacy, and ultimately shortchanging legal consumers.
But, what could we, the judges, do about it? A judge has no business dictating to a litigant or her/her legal team who will argue the case or who will play the role of lead attorney.
After brainstorming with the presidents of the Monroe County Bar Association, the Rochester Black Bar Association, the Greater Rochester Association of Women Attorneys, Rochester City Court Justice Teresa Johnson and Western District U.S. Judge Elizabeth Wolford, I concluded that we could create a culture and environment that was more conducive to providing in-the-trenches experience to the next generation of litigators, and perhaps chip away at the insidious “old boy network” that seems to hold women and other young attorneys back.
We drafted a statement encouraging junior members of legal teams to take part in oral argument and agreeing to keep an open mind about increasing the time allotted to attorneys and allowing more than one attorney to argue a point. The objective was to create a platform for young attorneys to present arguments, and to encourage senior attorneys to utilize that stage to develop their associates. Then, I circulated the statement among the judges of the Seventh Judicial District to see if I could spark any interest among my colleagues.
Promptly, 46 of our judges signed on to a statement that concludes: “We hope that a collaboration between the bench and bar will provide valuable experience for young litigators. It is the way one generation will teach the next to present argument and try cases. In this way, we will ensure that our district’s reputation for excellence in trial practice continues.”
I suspect Kate Stoneman would say, “Amen!” — loud and clear!
Hon. Craig J. Doran is a New York State Supreme Court Justice and the Administrative Judge for the Seventh Judicial District. In that capacity, he is responsible for overseeing court operations in the trial courts in Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates Counties.