There are many reasons I feel grateful to have been raised by a mother who practiced law as a trial attorney. For one thing, I had the benefit of growing up with a role model who worked in a demanding and often stressful field that required an immense amount of dedication. Witnessing my mother’s career in action was inspiring and helped me realize not only what I wanted to achieve for myself, but also the qualities I hoped to mirror in my own career. My mother was often described by her colleagues as tactful. She was also admired by clients, feared by opposing counsel, and relied upon by co-defendants. (There were, of course, those instances where she had a case against her clients dismissed, leaving her former co-defendants to foot the bill.) She also exhibited a trait that I admired above all else: the tenacity to keep working at something until she succeeded. She is one of the main reasons I chose to practice law. I wanted to be just like her.
I also believe that what I observed of my mother’s career growing up gave me a rudimentary awareness of the challenges women face in the workplace. I was a witness to the complete dichotomy between, on the one hand, a hardworking attorney who fights emphatically for her clients; and on the other hand, a woman who was at times belittled or discriminated against solely on the basis of her sex. Even as an adolescent it was shocking to hear that an opposing counsel could be arrogant and entitled enough to make openly sexist comments. Although the more flagrant instances occurred when she was just starting her career, they continued to surface sporadically even as she became more experienced. Most shocking of all were instances of judges calling my mother “missy” or other derogatory names when she appeared before them. These comments were made in open court—a blatant intimation that women had no place there. These stories have stayed with me.
But I also observed first-hand the profound impact that a male ally can have on a woman’s career. My father—who is also a trial attorney—was always one of my mother’s biggest professional champions, and he was not shy about promoting her achievements to anyone and everyone. I hope to emulate that same attitude in my own career. While I don’t believe I’ve arrived at my views solely because my mother is a lawyer, I do believe my upbringing has brought the issue to the forefront of my professional career and afforded me insight that not all may be lucky enough to have. I nonetheless have a lot to learn when it comes to supporting women in the workplace and combating an imperfect legal system. Going forward, I hope to show my support through my actions as well as my words. And perhaps if men continue to enthusiastically support women’s legal careers, society will accept that a woman’s place, just as much as a man’s, is in the courtroom.
Steven Tegrar is an associate in Debevoise’s New York office.
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