Beast Mode for Gender Equity

I’m a civil trial lawyer. I’m usually the only woman lawyer in the courtroom. Despite women graduating from law school in roughly equal numbers to men for nearly twenty years, research from 2013 revealed that women are lead counsel in only 13 percent of civil cases.  

Aspiring women trial lawyers are offered well-meaning advice to get more trial skills training or to “strive to maintain a calm demeanor” in the courtroom, to modulate their voices to be lower and louder, and to be aware of how their hair style, shoe selection, and wardrobe can affect their success.

Aspiring women trial lawyers don’t need advice—they need sponsorship by a successful trial lawyer. It isn’t crucial that the sponsor be a woman, but research reveals that implicit bias causes male sponsors to sponsor men most often. For like-minded women trial lawyers who want to see greater gender diversity in the courtroom, we must step up. It is magical thinking to believe that the courtroom will become gender diverse based only on the fact that women are graduating from law school in equal numbers with men.

We know that without a sponsor, the likelihood of a woman becoming lead trial counsel is remote. We understand that the life of a trial lawyer isn’t for everyone. We have been bruised and bloodied (sometimes literally) as we slug it out in the courtroom. We invest endless hours, energy, and heart in our clients and their cases, particularly at trial. Our relationships can suffer. But for those aspiring women who have the desire, ability, and the drive to do what it takes, they need opportunity and sponsorship to succeed.

Beast mode refers to a state of performing something, especially difficult activities, with extreme power, skill, and determination. While the term gained popularity on the football field, neither the term nor the mindset is confined to sports. Beast mode is regularly on display in courtrooms by skillful trial lawyers battling their way through trial. It is a mindset that is usually unstoppable.

I challenge all women trial lawyers to channel their inner beast mode—their power, skill and determination—to sponsor an aspiring woman trial lawyer. Show her that success isn’t about remaining “calm,” or “modulating” her voice, and that personal authenticity wins over hairstyle and wardrobe. Invest in her success by offering meaningful representation opportunities. Ask her to argue the motions she briefed and examine the witness she has prepared. Without each of us taking tangible steps to make an investment in the success of an aspiring woman trial attorney, our collective hope for gender equity in the trial bar is nothing more than “thoughts and wishes.”