Oregon State Bar Bulletin — JULY 2007
Women in the Law
The OSB Classes of 1973 and 1983
By Janine Robben

Getting The Job

Janine Robben: When you were interviewed in 1993, some of you talked about some very overt job discrimination, being told — to your faces — that you weren’t going to get hired because you were female. Of course, today that’s absolutely illegal. Do you have any sense of whether it’s still going on?

Neva Campbell ’73: I haven’t been with the firm (Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt) as a practicing attorney since 1999. I do, however, have an ongoing relationship with them, and I do meet the summer associates every year.

Women are being hired, and they’re being given good work. I think surely now, with all of the training the attorneys who are on the hiring committee have, that they ask the right questions.

When I interviewed with the firm, they asked me how old I was. I told them I was 40. And they said, "Well, you say that quite casually and like you’re comfortable with it." That was an example of a question they asked me. And I had children, and we discussed that. At that time, that was the thing to do. I wasn’t offended. I think it really worked in my favor, because I was married. They weren’t going to be worrying about what the wives were going to worry about. And they felt that the clients would be more accepting of me. I think that was probably true, because I didn’t have any trouble with clients accepting me. But I do think that today, young women expect to be treated properly, and I think they are still accepted by clients.

Jody Stahancyk ’73: I sort of appreciated when they (potential employers) told me that I couldn’t do something, because they were really very honest.

Karen Stolzberg ’83: What do you mean, you couldn’t do

Jody Stahancyk: Like when I went to join Jim Goodwin’s law firm, they told me they wouldn’t hire me because I was a woman.

Karen Stolzberg: And you appreciated that?

Jody Stahancyk: Yes, and I’ll tell you why: Because every single one of them came back later and said, "You know, we made a terrible mistake."

Julie Stevens ’73: We were kind of the generation of women lawyers right on the edge, and we were just glad to be at the table in any way we could get there. It was the generation after us that was like, "Excuse me? You said what? You did what?" There was more anger later.

Fitting In

Jody Stahancyk: I started in the (Multnomah County) D.A.’s office (in 1973), and I was very social. I went to the group of women who were much older than me who were practicing law. They were terrified of what the judges would do to them. And I started being their coach and saying, "Well, why would you let them stop you? I mean, you know, you just go in, and you do it." I think that we were very lucky in that there was a mass of (seven or eight of) us (in the D.A.’s office), so we weren’t so alone. But we were still incredibly special or different, and therefore we stood out, and that was both good and bad.

And nobody criticized people within the group for having different views. I think now, if somebody was actively opposed to abortion and someone was believing there should be a right to it, they would find it more difficult to be in the same group.

Julie Stevens: When I went down to Coos Bay (to work in Oregon Legal Services’ regional office there), if you walked into a room and there was another woman lawyer there, you went over and talked to her. I mean, it was the fact that you were female that allowed you to bond at all. And at this point in time — and I think it’s probably a good thing — there are so many women that I no longer feel it necessary to seek them all out, either for help or to give support. And because of that, yeah, now I care about your politics.

Kathleen O’Brien ’83: I don’t think women, as women lawyers, still are successful in being apolitical and mutually supportive. (They try to be supportive, but not apolitically.) I think the Oregon Women Lawyers (OWLS) list serve is the prime example of where it is safe to voice an alternate point of view, and for the most part it’s not a political medium; it’s a mutually supportive medium. And the electronic age actually has sort of changed the dynamic. We aren’t necessarily seeing each other all the time now, but we have those types of resources.

Jody Stahancyk: I had a very disturbing conversation with a mother of a Lincoln High School student. She was a doctor, about my age, and I said, "Isn’t it wonderful that our daughters don’t have to experience some of the things we had to experience?" And she said, "Well, actually, no. I think they should have to, because they don’t appreciate what we went through."

Karen Stolzberg: It’s the same thing the older generation has been saying about the younger generation since the beginning of time.

Jody Stahancyk: But would you want women to experience what we had to experience?

Karen Stolzberg: No, not necessarily. I don’t see any reason to roll back the clock. I don’t think it would do any good.

Kathleen O’Brien: Jody, I wouldn’t want my daughter to have to experience the type of sexism that existed in the ’70s and ’80s. But she’s 21. She’s in a generation that has a whole different breed of sexism and definition of sex roles. And she’s a Lincoln High grad. Those women are facing just as much of a challenge, but it has a different cast than the challenges we had. I wouldn’t wish any woman to have to go through those battles, but they will recur generationally. We are going to continue to have at least two genders, and there will continue to be struggles to gain equality until the time comes when things are more in balance, if that time comes.

Pamela Knowles ’83: I don’t think I ever really thought about the fact that I was in a law firm that was all men. Well, I realized I was the only woman there and trying to figure out what my role was or which group to go to lunch with and those kinds of things. I did mostly employment law. It was right about the time that all the sex discrimination cases were coming up, and nobody talked about employment law. So I started talking about it at the firm and actually developed a practice around it, which is why I think I made partner in the firm, because I could show that I — just like the guys — could go out and develop a practice. And it was a big practice, so it was lots of fun.

I grew up with all boys, so I was very comfortable being around the guys, and when other women would eventually join the firm, which was wonderful, they’d come and say, "What do I need to do to fit in?" And I would say, "Well, do you play golf? Can you go for a drink after work?" The firm I was in had a restaurant right in the same building. I would say, "There’s a table down there every day. There’s a bunch of lawyers at it. Just go and pull up a chair. You belong there. You’re a partner in this firm. Get in there. Get aggressive about it."

Neva Campbell: I didn’t feel so isolated inside the firm, but when we had all-attorney meetings, the firm had no place large enough, and we went to the University Club. All the men went in the front door, and they escorted me to the side door. And when I made partner, one of the things the partners got was a membership in a club of their choice. Well, I didn’t choose the University Club.

Sandra Hansberger ’83: I felt very uncomfortable as a young lawyer in the courtroom, and sometimes being the only woman in the courtroom. As I reflect back on it, I’m not sure how much of that had to do with gender or age or a combination of gender and age.

Pamela Knowles: Or experience.

Sandra Hansberger: Or experience. I argued a case at the 9th Circuit, probably around 1993, and I was the only woman in the entire courtroom. I didn’t feel badly about it, but I noticed it. But last week I was in Washington, D.C. and I had the chance to go hear arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court. Half the people arguing were women, which was great. I just sat there going, "This is terrific. This is fabulous."

Moving to Beyond Fitting In

Jody Stahancyk: In law school, one of the women was going to get married, and she wanted to keep her own name. I agreed to call the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Oregon and ask them if there were there any laws that required you to change your name. I worked my way up to the head of the Bureau of Vital Statistics, and he said, "I don’t know. No one’s ever asked this question before."

Sandra Hansberger: The Oregon Women Lawyers list serve had a long running dialogue on the issue of mixing your last name, changing your name and also a discussion on Ms., Mrs. and Miss. It is so surprising to me that the pendulum has just swung completely back, with no seeming recollection of why we tackled this issue in the first place. I think the reason that you all fought that battle was that there were various forms of discrimination against unmarried versus married women, and of course "Ms." sort of resolved that problem.

Kathleen O’Brien: But I do think there’s progress, and progress moves in waves, and so there is some return of the pendulum. How I characterize it is that our daughters and the new generations are more free to choose, and there certainly has been a return to femininity as some evidence of the backlash of what is construed as "feminist."

Julie Stevens: The other piece of it, though, is for the most part, titles are dropping. Does anybody get mail addressed to Ms. or Mr. anything? Doesn’t it just come to Julie Stevens or Jody Stahancyk?

Jody Stahancyk: Yeah. I think that part of this is that things are much less formal and much less defined than they were before. (But) I must tell you that it was so intensely important for me to keep my own name. As I look back, I’m not sure what it stood for, but it was awfully important to me.

Kathleen O’Brien: Well, Margaret Mead carried her original name through four marriages, and I think she’s the prototype of why that was important, because she maintained her identity.

Neva Campbell: I think the issue applies to all professions. Because once you establish a reputation and a client base, and they know your name, that’s bad to change it in the middle. They can’t find you in the bar Bulletin, they don’t know who Dr. So-and-so is when they call to make an appointment.

Pamela Knowles: I would like to see what the younger group said about this. I’m not in private practice anymore, so I can’t see how women are treated in a law firm now or how it’s different about
getting clients and that kind of thing. But the thing I noticed as I was leaving private practice was the pendulum was kind of swinging to the point where we would go out on an interview on an RFP (or request for proposal) for the state or for larger companies, …and my partners often took me along. Some of them did it because they thought there should be a woman, and some of them did it because of the area I practiced in. But anyway, some of them were smart enough to realize that they should be bringing a woman along, but there were exceptions. One time the panel that was interviewing the firm actually said, "Where are the women in your firm? What’s going on?" So we didn’t get that job, of course.

I’m at the Portland Business Alliance now, so I work a lot with businesses, and I notice so many of the businesses have women either at the top or as vice presidents or senior vice presidents or chief of operations or whatever. And my own CEO is a woman, and it’s just such a pleasure to work in an office where a woman is [in charge]. So I’m curious about what is happening out there, how lawyers are getting hired. Does the fact that we have so many women across the board who are now in positions to hire lawyers — or do other kinds of business — does that seem to be affecting things?

Julie Stevens: Legal Aid is a totally female organization at this point except for our executive director. We have had numerous opportunities to hire executive directors, and there’s always been a woman who makes it into the final three. And she never gets it, never. For whatever reason, it’s always "the best choice was a guy." I have pretty much liked the guys that got the job. But it’s just interesting to me that — when you get right down to it — the woman can get right up to that final glorious pinnacle, but she can’t get there.

Karen Stolzberg: On the list serve, there have been a lot of articles posted about the glass ceiling and how that isn’t gone.

Julie Stevens: The overt discrimination is not there, but I think it’s still there, and I think that some of us who come from our generation are still pretty sensitive to that.

Jody Stahancyk: I have a firm in Astoria, Portland, Vancouver, Prineville, Bend. I’m a lawyer who runs a business. I practice law. I treat this as a business. I have been surprised there are not more entrepreneurial women who are interested in doing these kinds of things. But I don’t believe it was that they couldn’t do it; I’m just not sure they’re interested. But being a woman didn’t stop me.

Janine Robben: Sandy, you’re the head of the Lawyers’ Campaign for Equal Justice, right?

Sandra Hansberger: Yes, and it’s largely the reason I changed jobs — [the opportunity to be in charge].

Kathleen O’Brien: I think we’re seeing a greater component of the quality Jody embodies, which is courage, in the younger generation of women. I can say when I started practicing in ‘83, I was one of very few women who had a shingle. I had a two-person firm on the east side of Portland, and I did it with a man. It seems to me, just anecdotally, that there are more women in the younger generation that are willing to go out there on their own, hang out a shingle.

Karen Stolzberg: I operated years and years without the courage. For the first 12 years that I practiced law, I lived in terror of committing malpractice. I really was afraid all the time. And I never really had good mentoring. It’s only after years and years and years and years of doing it that I sort of figured like, "Nothing’s happened, it’s going to be okay." And I would never have hung out a shingle then. I was way too timid. It’s only after working in four male-dominated law firms that I decided, "Well, it’s time. I don’t want a boss anymore."

Living With Your Chosen Specialty

Susan Elizabeth Reese ’73: I went (to law school) because I wanted to defend people who were unlawfully accused. But what I’ve seen, as a criminal lawyer for over 34 years, is that it isn’t as much fun. And part of it, from my perspective, is it’s gotten so cruel. I mean, Measure 11 changed the balance of power, and it keeps getting worse. And the prosecutors and victims’ rights people come in and say, "Well, we’ll abolish this rule of evidence, we’ll get rid of that rule of evidence." And in other states and other countries where we’re seeing reconciliation, and the civil (side) where there’s a lot of mediation and dispute resolution — there’s nothing like that in the criminal cases. I’ve had settlement conferences with …judges who …just shake their heads when (the) prosecutor (says), "This guy’s going to the penitentiary for this amount of years, and that’s the way it’s going to be."

Julie Stevens: The opposite of that is that family law has gotten more fun. I think that if I could have afforded the salary, I would have been a social worker, because what I like are people stories. What your client gives you is probably not the accurate one, but there’s always a story. The whole family law arena has gotten more social-worky over the years. This is just fine. If I resent anything about the new attorneys coming in — I mean, they’re wonderful people, I helped hire them – but (the very young ones) don’t have that sort of sense of joy in the law.

Karen Stolzberg: Well, that might come with time. I don’t know if I had joy in the law all those 12 years that I was in terror.

The Mommy Track

Jody Stahancyk: I dropped out of practicing law to stay at home and take care of my children at a time when I was told that if I did that, that was it. I said, "No, it isn’t, and I will do what I want to do and I will come back and do it any way I want to."

Julie Stevens: I think your story would be different, and would probably have a different financial ending, if you had been working in a large firm and took those years off to have your kids.

Jody Stahancyk: I think that’s right.

Neva Campbell: When I started practicing law, it was pretty much the idea that if you joined a law firm, you were expected to be there forever, and they hired with that in mind. So that, I think, partially made it harder for women to get in because they couldn’t be just like "us." Now every time I pick up the bar Bulletin, the Oregonian, there’s a list of people and pictures who have moved from someplace. And what happens there, you have more ability to move into something else, or you renegotiate how you’re coming in. It’s not like you’re renegotiating going back where everybody else has got two years more experience and has built up a client base. So I’m hoping that this idea of mobility is benefiting women who want to take time out and have a family and re-enter the workplace.

Janine Robben: I was struck, looking at your group, that you have much younger children than I expected this group to have. A whole bunch of you have teenagers.

Karen Stolzberg: Late starters.

Sandra Hansberger: I think that’s really what it is. I had my son when I was 34. He’s 16 now. There’s no way I could have done it any sooner. You know, I just had so much going on. I just kind of put it off until finally I went, "Oh, better do this now."

Janine Robben: How many years had you been a lawyer before you had kids?

Sandra Hansberger: Eight or so. I actually remember hearing a lot about Pam at her firm — you know, she did a lot of groundbreaking at her law firm and taking time off. Or did you
do part-time?

Pamela Knowles: Part-time was the big thing back then.

Sandra Hansberger: I tried part-time. I tried job-sharing. For both of them, I remember my husband saying, "Oh, this part-time…[and] job-sharing stuff is a great deal. You just work full time and get paid half." So it didn’t work for me. But I think that those options are there. And I think a lot of folks like Pam really took the lead with alternative work arrangements.

Pamela Knowles: I have three sons, who are now 15, 18 and 21. It was a very interesting time when women were trying to figure out how to try to do it all. I think some of us at lunch were talking about doing it all. It was hard for me personally because what I wanted to do was to be able to serve my clients. I wasn’t all that worried about the firm (then Ragen Roberts O’Scanlain Robertson & Neill, now Davis Wright Tremaine). When I was on the partnership track and I had my second son, that’s when I asked to go part-time, and to continue to be on the partnership track, which was like, "Oh, my God, you can’t do that. You’re off that track if you want to be part-time." And I really fought for it. I had a couple of enlightened partners at the time. One, who I never would have guessed — he was an older partner, curmudgeon, very conservative — and he said, "What difference does it make? It just will affect how much we pay her. She’s still qualified." So I became a partner. And it did, I think, open a door in a lot of other firms. At that time, we were just in the process of merging with Davis Wright & Jones from Seattle, and there were no women partners in the Portland office. That was one of the things that the Seattle office said, "Why don’t you have any women partners in your firm?" So I went on and was made partner and was there for another six years as a part-time partner.

Janine Robben: This was one of the big discussions in the morning group, because they don’t think you can have it all.

Pamela Knowles: Well, I don’t think you can have it all. It was very, very hard. I wasn’t home as much with my kids as I wanted to be. My husband had a lot of flexibility in his job, too, so that worked for a while. But, you know, after six years I decided that it was just too much, and I took a state job that had a lot of flexibility in it, and it worked a lot better for us. I didn’t have to worry about making sure I was available for clients when they needed me.

Janine Robben: What would you say to somebody who wants to have children but is afraid it’s going to compromise her career?

Pamela Knowles: I’d say it’s a long road, and there’s plenty of time to make partner.

Jody Stahancyk: I would tell them that the most disturbing thing to me was when I realized I couldn’t do it all. The presiding judge (in Multnomah County) told me that I would take the same intensity raising children that I did with everything else, and that was true. So I think to assume that you can practice law with the same intensity if you have a family than if you do not is not possible. On the other hand, I think it is possible to make modifications. At some times I was off (work); other times I figured nobody cared who cooked the dinner, who cleaned the house.

Pamela Knowles: Or if anybody did.

Jody Stahancyk: In my family they cared. But if the cookies were made and I could show up at school with the cookies, it would be okay. And so I could pick and choose what I wanted to do. I think that you have to make those accommodations. I think today enough men are in those same situations. They’re either custodial parents, they are the primary parent, or they co-parent to a point where this is important to them.

Pamela Knowles: You know, when I looked at my quote about making partner in the original [July 1993] Bulletin article, it pretty much says that. It says that when men are having to arrange their lives with the same kinds of restrictions that women have, that’s when the pendulum will swing and that’s when law firms will start treating women much more like they treat men. It’s not just women who need to parent; it’s men. The men in my class were trying to take as active a role in their children’s upbringing as I was. And so I knew that eventually (the pendulum) would swing, because those guys would become the
partners in charge and they would understand.

Sandra Hansberger: You know, the truth of the matter is, having kids is just a life-altering experience, no matter what you do.

Janine Robben: What did you expect when you went to law school, and did it turn out the way you wanted?

Julie Stevens: When I went to law school, I was going to come out and kick butt and do really cool things for poor people everywhere and argue Constitution issues, big issues, Supreme Court issues. I’d been an attorney for 28 years before I ever got to argue the Constitution in front of a court, and it was on a homeless case. And the only reason I’m doing homeless law is because the person who was doing it left and nobody else wanted to fill that slot, and they decided to defund it. And it was like, "Oh, I could do a couple of those cases in addition to all those divorces out there."

So I kind of wandered into family law. But it fit right away. I wandered into Legal Aid. And I’m kind of surprised at the kind of law that I’m doing, but I’m not surprised to be in Legal Aid. I think sometimes I’m not very directed, like I didn’t come out with a life plan or a five-year plan or whatever. A lot of my friends are retiring now and they’ve made partners in the big firms, especially my classmates, and I think that’s cool. I think their level of income is cool. But it’s really hard for me to see myself in their lives. They’re going to have to carry me out of this job. I like being a lawyer, all of that. And I’m not sure how much of it is connected to the actual law that I’m doing or just being on the edge of fighting to get here and not being willing to give it up.

Susan Elizabeth Reese: It’s a little bit different from what I expected. I thought I would be involved more in death penalty work. My practice is now predominately criminal defense, but I do a little bit of family law, mostly because if there’s a domestic violence issue or a sex abuse issue that one parent or the other may level against the other parent, there might be some criminal aspects to it. But I’m happy with what I’m doing. It’s rewarding. They’ll have to drag me out. I can’t imagine not being a lawyer. My husband retired about five years ago when we built our beach house, and he loves it and he’s catching up on reading that he hasn’t had a chance to do, and he’s having a great time. I divide my time between Portland and Newport. I can do a lot of work out of the office, thanks to technology, but I can’t imagine not having an office, and I can’t imagine not having the identity of me as a lawyer – as much as I sometimes think it would be nice just to walk on the beach and not have to commute to wherever I am in court that particular week.

Neva Campbell: Oh, being a lawyer has been a great experience. Frankly, I’m just as happy now not to be practicing law, and it is because you used to be able to put a letter in the mail, and it took a few days to get there, and then the client would call to talk about it. And now you e-mail them a contract, and they want to mark it up and have you make all the changes and have it back to them in the afternoon.

Sandra Hansberger: I feel it turned out even better than I had expected. Before law school, I wanted to be the champion of the underdog, sort of change the world. And I think after law school, or even during law school, actually, I kind of lost my path a little ways, partly because I decided it wasn’t a feminist thing to do – to be a Legal Aid lawyer or practice family law. So I decided, "For a short time I’ll be a business lawyer," and I clerked at a [business law] firm in Portland. It was just not the right place for me, so I floundered a little bit. Within a few short years I found my way back to public interest work at St. Andrew Legal Clinic and the law school, and that was great. Then with my move now to the Lawyers’ Campaign for Equal Justice, I just couldn’t be happier. At first, when people asked me, "Are you going to miss practicing law in the new job?" I was like, "Not at all." I really had limited my practice area to a very narrow area, and I was frankly kind of burned out on it. Now I keep getting dragged back into it: I have Legal Aid lawyers in my office asking me as many questions about that as about the Campaign. But I don’t really miss (practicing). I’m so close to it. I get to tell client stories. I’m still very connected to the good work that lawyers like Julie do, and that is terrifically satisfying for me. I feel I have been very lucky.

Karen Stolzberg: I would say that I stumbled into law school with half blinders on. I was working in an elementary school in northwestern Massachusetts as an aide. My mom said, "Why don’t you go to law school?" And I said, "Oh, Mom, I don’t want to go. What do I want to do that for?" She said, "Oh, just go down and take the LSAT and see what happens." My dad was a lawyer. So I just did what my mom said because I didn’t know what else to do. And then I went to law school because — why not? And then I started doing workers’ comp, which my father did. It was like, "Oh, my God." I didn’t really think that was where I wanted to be, but I stayed with that for a long time. Eventually I changed jobs into a Social Security job. And then after a few years in that job, I opened my own little practice. So for the last seven years I’ve been doing that pretty exclusively by myself. I really, really like what I do. It’s the law firm of Me, Myself, and I. It’s social work in the same way that Julie described. I’m doing well, and I feel very liberated by not being in a law firm.

Kathleen O’Brien: I started college at 17 and graduated law school at 24. I was very young – had virtually no real world experience. And I was a creative person, and I found that I flourished in law school; my creative side blossomed somewhat. I became a poet: I would chronicle some of the pressures we were under, in long narratives. When I got out of law school, I didn’t have a clear path for myself. I traveled. And then I found that there was nothing else to do but return to Portland and try practicing law. I was lucky enough to have some early success, and I had young children, and I really thought, at a young age, that I had taken on as much of the Super Woman myth as I could, and that myth was busted. And then I tried to get out of law. And it’s 24 years later, and I didn’t get out of law. But I feel grateful to be a lawyer. I am happy when I wake up in the morning and go to work. I have high esteem because I’ve got a job that is rewarding. But I’m still looking for that creative girl to come back in.

Jody Stahancyk: In retrospect, I didn’t have a clue what would happen when I got out (of law school). You know, I had never seen a law firm before. It was just an idea, sort of like being an actress or something. And I’ve thought it’s a wonderful way to spend my time as long as I remember to do the parts I like. My husband and I play a game on New Year’s Eve: Did You Ever Believe We’d Be Here? And every year has exceeded what we’d hoped for.

Janine Robben has been a member of the Oregon State Bar since 1980 and is a frequent contributor to the Bulletin. She facilitated the two conversations that follow, both held on April 27, 2007 at the Oregon State Bar Center. Nancy Morgan of the Oregon Court Reporters Association reported and transcribed the discussions. The transcripts have been edited for clarity and length.

All photos are by Art Thompson Photography.

© 2007 Janine Robben

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