They called us “the estrogen law firm.”
Ten years ago, we broke away from our big jobs in corporate law to start our own firm. At the time, 31 percentof the lawyers in this country were women. A decade later, that number is just 36 percent. The law was then and is now a male-dominated industry, and those men couldn’t understand why two women who had gained entrance to the boys’ club would want to give it up.
So they poked fun. They figured we had given up the intensity of big firms for better work-life balance, that we wouldn’t work hard, that we wouldn’t be viable courtroom opponents.
While they were busy dissecting our decision, we kept winning.
Adversity typically goes one of two ways: Either you become a reflection of your own sad statistics, or you turn your difference into an advantage. As trial lawyers and enthusiastic fighters of big, important battles, we chose the latter.
In the early days, people made assumptions about us. They still do. A survey conducted in 2018 by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association found that female attorneys are far more likely to be mistaken for janitors or court personnel than their male counterparts. Women attorneys are more likely to be interrupted and to do more office housework. They also get less access to prime job assignments.
It’s frustrating, demeaning and, at times, limiting. Being underestimated doesn’t feel good —until you see it as an opportunity and not a disadvantage.
There are tremendous advantages to being a woman in the courtroom. Our male opponents assume women lawyers will be easy to beat. Eventually you learn there is nothing better than being underestimated: The opposition let its guard down, and you’ve found the edge.
Over the years, we’ve learned every case comes down to two different takes on the same universe of evidence. The winning side is the side with the best capture of that evidence. We read every word of a 4,000-page document ourselves. We learn the intricacies of complex systems and processes so we can drill down to the simplest parts. We analyze the pool of jurors to determine how to present our arguments in a way that will resonate. And we pour our heart and soul into every case . Every case means something to our clients, so it means something to us. When you have real passion and conviction in your work, people want to hire you.
Suddenly, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. You’re just good at what you do. Period.
We talk about diversity all the time at Lincoln Derr, but we don’t complain. Being different allows us to stand out. At the same time, we want to reach a place and time when discrimination is one less battle to fight. We focus on changing the status quo. We hire for diversity; and we train for skill and ferocity in the courtroom. We infuse our entire team with an ethos built on hard work, compassion and tenacity. Then, we do a little office yoga to balance everyone out.
If being labeled “the estrogen law firm,” is what we have become and what we have created, it’s a label we’ll wear proudly — while we keep winning. See ya’ in the courtroom, boys.
Sara Lincoln is the co-founder of Lincoln Derr and serves at the helm of the firm leading all practice groups through active counsel, litigation, and advising. Ms. Lincoln is a proud fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers – one of the greatest honors for trial lawyers practicing in North America.
Tricia Derr is the co-founder of Lincoln Derr and serves at the helm of the firm leading all practice groups through active counsel, litigation, and advising. Ms. Derr is a litigator specializing in innovative multi-media communication, practical business-minded advice, and speaking to audiences in a “real”, non-technical way.