As someone who views the legal profession from an outside perspective, I can tell you that every once in a while I get wallopped with something happening in the industry that catches me by surprise. Perhaps none was more shocking than reports of the Mad Men-esque, old-boys-club stories I’ve heard about sexism in the courtroom.
A while ago I met with a Rocket Matter client firm in Chicago, consisting of a male partner and three young associates, all women. The women began to describe some of the sexist encounters they faced, and they were as surprised as I was that I hadn’t heard about any of this. These female attorneys thought this courtroom treatment was common knowledge.
I assure you, sexism in the courtroom is not common knowledge. The idea that officers of the court, or judges for that matter, are denigrated because of their gender is an idea that doesn’t compute for a 21st-century inhabitant. I thought we left these attitudes behind thirty years ago or more.
Some may think I’m naive, not informed, or that I don’t keep my ear to the ground (all those things might be true, by the way). But self-deprecation aside, there’s a good chance that if I haven’t heard of this, as someone who’s very close to the legal industry, very few people outside the world of lawyers, judges, and courts know about this either.
I tasked our investigative reporting team to look into the issue. This group has already researched and raised awareness about substance abuse, depression, and sexual harassment in the legal profession. The result is a five-part series we’re running this week.
Perhaps there’s a contingent of people who don’t care, or agree with the judge who shouted at a female litigator “Don’t you understand? We need you at home with Manhattan in hand waiting for us because we earn the income!” After all, on the day we are beginning our series, Twitter is alight with recordings of a misogynistic and unapologetic Tucker Carlson saying the crassest things about women (and who is defended by Donald Trump Jr.)
But as our reporting uncovered, we seem to be on a continuum that is heading towards fairness. As we’ll discuss, women judges and attorneys are leading the charge to understand the issues involved in gender bias and raise awareness in the community. And in spite of some of the horror stories, one attorney spoke up about the professionalism of the judges and counsel she works with.
Sexism in the courtroom needs awareness and it needs men and women to combat it.