Return to Articles




Cover Story: Beyond the '70s Generation
Observations on the Path From There to Here


by Antoinette R. Stone

Summer 2004, Vol. 67, No. 2

When then-Professor Dolores K. Sloviter gave me that “A” in antitrust, I thought I was ready to go out into the world and litigate antitrust cases. My general outlook at graduation was one of unbounded optimism. I was one of the thirty percent of my law school class who were women. In the liberal incubator of Temple Law School, no one had even hinted that there might be obstacles out there that would impede our anticipated meteoric rise to the top of the legal profession.

My expectations in 1976 turned out to be almost touchingly naïve, and the fact of the matter is that, over the years, reality has been quite a bit different from what I envisioned back then. Last August, when I packed my second and last child off to college, and suddenly had time to reflect, it occurred to me that the women who have practiced law since the 1970s have been through quite a lot. Not only were we part of the first significant wave of women to graduate from law school, we also have witnessed some revolutionary changes in the legal profession, including some that have affected women in particular. Why not sit down with other “women of the seventies” and hear their thoughts about then and now? What follows is some of what I learned from eight other women of my generation: Hope Comisky and Janet Perry of Pepper Hamilton LLP; Amy Ginensky of Dechert; Terri Marinari of the U.S. Attorney’s Office; Leslie Miller, General Counsel to Governor Rendell; Kathleen O’Brien of Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, LLP; Beatrice “Beaty” O’Donnell of Duane Morris LLP; and Hon. Petrese Tucker of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. A roundtable discussion was held on November 25, 2003, which all but Leslie Miller attended. Her comments were solicited at a later date.

Antoinette Stone: When you left law school in the 1970s, what were your expectations as women, and, from your present-day vantage point, how does reality compare to those expectations?

Kathleen O’Brien: I graduated in 1976 in a class at Penn that was twenty percent female. I knew there were not a lot of women lawyers at the firms yet so my expectation was that by the time I reached this age we’d be everywhere. To some extent, in the law firms, that’s not far from the truth. Yes, the predominant percentage of managing partners or chairmen are men, but at my firm, women hold twenty-six percent of the management positions. In the business world, it is not going the way I expected twenty-seven years ago. I still do not see a preponderance of women in senior executive positions in large corporations.

Antoinette Stone: Terri, what is your perspective as a federal prosecutor?

Terri Marinari: When I joined the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, there were only three women out of twenty-some lawyers. I quickly learned that the law enforcement community was not receptive to the concept of a female having the ability to try cases. That was tough initially. When I left three years later to go to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Peter Vaira was the U.S. Attorney, and he was very interested in bringing in more women attorneys, but I think there were three women out of thirty-eight in the criminal division. Now women are one-third of the office, thirty-four out of approximately 100. So we certainly have made strides. Current U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan has brought in Laurie Magid as essentially his right-hand person. She just joined the office as his executive assistant and obviously has an important position in the office. Then there’s Cathy Votaw, who is a section chief, and Faith Taylor and Linda Hoffa who are assistant chiefs of the criminal division. In terms of the judges, I would say I really have not perceived any antagonism for the most part in my cases, and I’ve appeared in front of many judges in the past twenty-three years.

Antoinette Stone: Beaty, what are your thoughts?

Beatrice O’Donnell: Just to pick up on Terri’s last point, I actually think the judges have been on the forefront of change, and I’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences. Last month, however, I was in court in Dauphin County, and there was a lot of talk about cake baking every time a woman attorney got up to the podium to make an oral argument. One of my partners was asked in the middle of her oral argument, apropos of nothing, on the record, “Do you cook? Are you a good cook?” That was very interesting, because I really thought that had all died, but this happened just last month.

I was so naïve when I became a lawyer it was absurd because there was a lot of discrimination around, it was very open, and people didn’t apologize for it. It was fact. My very first job clerking was for a gentleman who later became a quite prominent lawyer in Philadelphia, who said to my face, “It’s not that we don’t think you would be a good lawyer here, it’s just that you’re a woman, and I have a personal policy that we don’t hire women in our office.” That was in 1976 or 1977. But I just assumed that he was a Neanderthal and I thought, “Who would want to work for someone like that?” I just acted like this had nothing to do with my personal life, and I went on to get another position. I think that sort of naiveté helped me. All along the way people would say and do things, and I think a lot of other people might have been very insulted, but I just totally ignored it. Then I was fortunate enough to go to Duane Morris and meet Jane Dalton and Midge Rendell who had already opened the door. It really wasn’t an issue there. I will say, though, when I became a partner in 1985, I got calls from all over the city. People were very supportive—and I think shocked that it happened.


Antoinette Stone: Does everybody here know Spence Toll? He used to write a column in what was then The Shingle. I remember Amy Ginensky and I were made partners in our respective firms the same year, and we actually made it into Spence Toll’s Christmas column. We were probably the only women in Philadelphia that year who were named partners in large firms. So we were singled out to become part of Spence’s Christmas jingle highlighting significant events of the year.

Amy Ginensky: I think I took the same tack you did, Beaty, of blocking everything out. I really don’t remember sensing a lot of barriers on the way up. When I graduated from law school I clerked for Judge Clarence Newcomer, and he had two women clerks so I sort of thought that was normal. Then when I went to Dechert, I just don’t remember feeling like “this is odd,” at all. Occasionally, I would hear of some friction with a client or with a weird guy or lawyer, but if there was stuff, I just blocked it out.

Antoinette Stone: Hope, what has your experience been?

Hope Comisky: I was the first woman who clerked for Judge McGlynn, who was wonderful and a fabulous mentor. When I got to Dilworth Paxson, there were no women partners. I understand before that, Dolores Sloviter was a partner, but there were no woman partners when I got there. The interesting thing about my experience at Dilworth was that there were very few women in litigation when I got there. There were women in the corporate department and in trusts and estates, but a woman litigator was a unique individual at that time. So you had to prove that you really belonged in that department, in addition to proving yourself as a lawyer. But the firm was very supportive. I had had my first child and was working there part time, when they made me a partner with my class, and that was a big deal. I never had problems with assignments, but I was very aware of the fact that I was a woman in the litigation department in this firm that was just recently, at least with the current management, dealing with women partners.

Antoinette Stone: Did you feel like an oddity?

Hope Comisky: I felt when I went part time that I was being “looked at,” that this was a situation where I could make it very helpful for people coming after me or I could really make it hard, depending on how it worked out, because people were struggling with the whole concept. They did not have a policy; it was a case-by-case situation. I think it’s more difficult in litigation than in other disciplines because you have less control of your own schedule and calendar. I was lucky that the people I was working with were very supportive. Also, it’s a two-way street, and if you insist you’re not going to do anything on a Friday then it’s never going to work because you obviously have to be flexible. Then I moved to Anderson Kill, which is a New York-based firm. I had gone back to work full time because I was managing the Philadelphia office. It was too much to do, and I made myself totally miserable since I had three children by that time. I had to go back to work part time, and I came to Pepper Hamilton. Even though they had all of these women who had gone before me, Pepper never had had a partner who worked part time. When I joined they made me a regular partner, not of counsel.

Antoinette Stone: Janet, have you been at Pepper your entire career?

Janet Perry: No, I’ve had a completely checkered career, different from anybody else who is here. I graduated from law school in 1975 and then clerked for Judge Spaeth who was a very early employer of women law clerks. In fact, he had the only women law clerks on the Superior Court at that time. Then I went on to Pepper, and I never really thought about it too much in terms of whether I was going to be at a disadvantage. The time when it became difficult for me was when I had my daughter and wanted to work part-time, which I did. It was 1978 or 1979. There was no policy for or against; nobody really did it too much at that time. After working part time for a couple of years, I got an opportunity to teach. I spent the next seventeen years teaching first at Villanova and then at Penn Law School. It wasn’t until my daughter was in college that I went back to Pepper. So it’s the family business that really first raised my consciousness.

Of course, silly little things happened in the practice, like one time when we were representing a company from the Midwest. I remember going out to lunch with the clients and one of them said, “Well, I’ve never seen an attorney-ette before,” but I didn’t take that seriously. The person that I was working with obviously didn’t ever think like that, and I really have not had that many bad experiences.


Beatrice O’Donnell: I clerked in Berks County, and I have lots of stories. There were only eight women lawyers out of about 300 in the whole county bar. I actually was mistaken for a juror once. I was standing next to the judge in his chambers when a lawyer came in to see him. They were having a discussion on some esoteric legal point, and in the middle of the argument the lawyer said, “Your Honor, I really don’t think it’s appropriate to have a juror here.” And the judge said, “I certainly wouldn’t either.” And the guy said, “Well, what is she doing here?” The judge said, “She is my law clerk.” I could go on for hours with the Berks County stories. I think women really have the best of all worlds here in Philadelphia.

Antoinette Stone: Judge Tucker, you are, of course, on the federal bench, but before that you were on the state court bench in Philadelphia and then before that in the District Attorney’s Office.

Judge Petrese Tucker: I was listening to your experience in the prosecutor’s office. My experience was a little different. There were many more women in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, but the women were not in supervisory positions. I was in the prosecutor’s office seven years and, over time, things changed a little bit. Once I got on the state bench I know Montgomery County had only a few women judges. It was mostly male and all white, and then Philadelphia right next door being so diverse was really interesting. On the federal bench I’ve had really great experiences. My colleagues are older and mostly male, but we often eat lunch together, and the women help to sensitize the men. Before me, Judge Brody and Judge Shapiro were the only women judges. Judge Shapiro has always recognized everyone’s birthday. She brings a cake and writes a poem that she puts to music. The talk is who’s going to take over when she leaves. I think we should get a male judge to do it. You know, there is nothing “ultra-feminine” about Judge Shapiro. No one thinks any less of her as a judge because she remembers birthdays in that way. Also, I think if you assume that everything around you is OK, it will be OK. Don’t be oversensitive about things that people do and say, and just look at it as their own ignorance. That’s something you learn.

Amy Ginensky: That’s really an amazing story. I think it shows a lot of confidence for Judge Shapiro to do that. It’s such a “woman’s role,” but that’s naturally who she is. And to say, “I don’t care if you think I’m being too much of a woman. This is who I am. I want to do this.” She was actually the first woman partner at Dechert, and I think she got that kind of foundation at the firm. That’s part of the reason why I didn’t feel very uneasy when I got there because Judge Shapiro had done it.

Judge Petrese Tucker: Both Norma Shapiro and Anita Brody stayed home for a number of years with their children, and that was really what women did then. It’s so different now. I went back to work after six weeks.

Janet Perry: Judge Shapiro likes to tell the story about how she became a federal judge. She was working part time at Dechert when she had her children and became a member of the Lower Merion School Board. She ran for election and became president of the Board. She said it was because she was staying home with her children and working part time doing school board things that she got her entrée into being a federal judge. She attributes that to her becoming a federal judge.

Antoinette Stone: Judge Tucker, since you’ve been on the bench, in state court and then in federal court, have you noticed any difference in the way the lawyers treat women attorneys?

Judge Petrese Tucker: I think in state court, things are a lot different, “down and dirty,” if you want to use that expression. But I think federal court is a lot more civilized. Every once in a while some rudeness breaks out, but I do think people are a lot more respectful in federal court, overall.

Antoinette Stone: I think in general people are on their best behavior in court because they are being watched so they tend to save their other behavior for the hallways or the deposition room. Has anyone noticed any change in the way women are regarded or dealt with outside the courtroom by male colleagues?

Hope Comisky: I observed an argument within the past year where there was a male attorney arguing on one side with a female attorney. The male attorney kept referring to the female attorney as “she,” never mentioning her name. The judge, a federal court judge, wouldn’t hear about that. He was very concerned and read this guy the riot act, saying words to the effect of “in my courtroom everybody’s going to be respectful of each other. This attorney has a name and if you’re going to talk about her I want you to use her name.” I thought that was wonderful because the tenor of what the attorney was saying was really degrading. And the judge put a stop to it.

Antoinette Stone: What about outside the courtroom?

Kathleen O’Brien: As a business lawyer I always wanted to have a judge with me so that someone would say, “All right, play nicely now, you know, there are rules,” but there are no rules. There’s just you, your client, and the other side and their lawyer. I think things have changed over the years. When I was a second- or third-year associate, I was in charge of selling an airport. So I’m sitting there, and the people who want to buy the airport are across the table, and they start off by doing the classic sort of demeaning, “So, honey, how long have you been out of school?” I decided, well, being nice certainly wasn’t going to work in this situation. So they put themselves way down in a hole by taking that kind of slap early on. But it’s changed a lot. There are tons of women now, accountants or lawyers, in these kinds of deals so people don’t assume you’re there to get coffee or make copies, which they used to do because you were the only female.

Something we haven’t talked about is how it can help to be female. I was the first woman lawyer in our business department and if you were coming in that year as one of the white male associates, people sort of mixed up your names periodically. Whether you had a beard or didn’t, it didn’t matter, you were all sort of the same make. But they remembered my name and that was good as long as you took it as an opportunity. People would say, “Oh, I haven’t worked with her yet, I’ve only worked with the guys,” and they’d give you a chance.


Beatrice O’Donnell: I actually think it was an advantage early on to be a woman in litigation because there were absolutely no expectations that you had any idea what you were doing. And since I was totally naïve and couldn’t listen to these people’s negative energy I would just carry on, and literally they would underestimate me every step of the way, assuming I wouldn’t be able to try the case. Then I’d go in the courtroom and they’d say, “Oh no, this isn’t the woman I’ve had the case with for the last three years. What’s happened to her? She’s had a personality transplant.” I think really I was underestimated over and over and over again, and it wasn’t because I was trying to create some image. It was just that they had their expectations, and I was going along ignoring what they were. So, in that sense I do think that it was a plus.

Antoinette Stone: What about managing a career in litigation at the same time as a family?

Hope Comisky: I actually think it is easier to manage a career and a family as a corporate lawyer than as a litigator.

Beatrice O’Donnell: I think a lot of the women have left litigation or don’t want to come into litigation because of the perception that the hours and the travel are so demanding that it’s very difficult to work part time. I just assumed there would be lots and lots of women litigators and women litigation partners, and we’ve had trouble keeping women in our group because they don’t want the demands of the litigation practice and they’ll do other things. They’ll go into business or even to bankruptcy or corporate but they don’t want to stay in litigation.

Amy Ginensky: We have a lot of women litigation partners who have had families and have managed it. My own personal experience has been that I have been able to manage it since so often I set the schedule. I can’t schedule the trial, a court hearing or a real emergency, but usually I can look ahead and say, “OK, there’s a parent-teacher conference or there’s a game that one of us has to be at. My husband can’t do it so I’ll schedule around it,” and I think a lot of lawyers have found that it works out.

Kathleen O’Brien: The economics govern the deal. On my business card I have not just my office number but also my cell phone number and my home phone number because if a client needs to talk to me about their deal it could be ten at night, it could be Saturday morning, it could be whenever. You’re in the deal so you really don’t know day to day where you’re going to be and whether you can get coverage, which is a challenge.

Antoinette Stone: I remember a situation in a case I was trying in Allentown before Judge Cahn. At one point in the trial, he said, “OK, this is what we’re going to do. We’re staying here, and we’re going to finish this expert if it takes going until midnight.” At the time, I was a single mother, and even though I had a babysitter she certainly expected me to come home before midnight. So I said, “Well, Your Honor, that’s fine, but let me make a telephone call because I have a child-care issue.” And then he relented and said maybe he had been too harsh. But after court was adjourned for the day, two male lawyers came up to me and said, “I’m so glad you said that, we have child-care issues, too, but we didn’t want to say anything.”

Judge Petrese Tucker: Let me ask a question about sharing child-care responsibilities. What are your thoughts on that? I can tell you my husband didn’t really share. We probably are all fortunate enough to have nannies, or some type of help, but as far as dinner and things like games are concerned, is it equal or do you still find as a woman you have the primary responsibility for child care?

Amy Ginensky: I’m unusual. My husband takes at least equal responsibility, plus he’s unusual in that he likes to do the laundry.

Janet Perry: That actually is part of the reason that Barbara Mather [at Pepper] was able to work. Her husband was a partner at Montgomery McCracken but he went home to stay with the kids. They made life decisions. They said, “We’re both partners in big law firms. We’re going to do two things. We’re going to do family and we’re going to do work. And we don’t do a lot of other things.” They did that very well.

Hope Comisky: I think, to be balanced, that is very unusual. It’s typically more the woman’s and not the man’s responsibility. The men want the kids, but they don’t stay home. That’s what happens, and I think that’s part of what I’ve seen with people dropping out of the profession. It’s very hard for women to juggle all of that in a private firm setting.

Judge Petrese Tucker: That’s one of the reasons I went to the District Attorney’s Office. It was good for me because the hours were more regular, and it permitted me to practice law the way I wanted to practice law. I’ve always been on that same route in state court, then in federal court. I never really thought about any alternatives because of the long hours.

Hope Comisky: A large part of the problem, I think, is a combination of the demands of parenthood and the demands of the profession, which I think have changed dramatically since I got out of law school. It’s not just the billable hours requirement, but also the pressure on people at our level to bring in business, to keep business, to service the business and also to engage in firm management in some way. It’s just very, very difficult to do all of that well.

Terri Marinari: I think my experience, my job, has been so demanding over the years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, that my husband was forced to take a much bigger role in my daughter’s life. I recollect going back to work seven weeks after I had her because I had a trial that was waiting for me. I have very vivid recollections about my husband transporting my daughter to the basement of the federal building so I could nurse her at ten o’clock at night. Early on, he got very used to my schedule and has been very active.

Antoinette Stone: I can quite honestly say that up until at least the mid-1980s, I never saw a day-care center in Center City, and now they seem to be everywhere. Not only that, but you actually see young male lawyers running around with strollers and babies in their arms, which you never saw before.

Kathleen O’Brien: I don’t know about you, but at Montgomery McCracken we get asked by young women coming through the interview process what child-care accommodations we have. It was a selling point when we moved from the Parkway over to the old Fidelity Building when they really wanted tenants. The bank has its own emergency day-care in the building, and they made that part of our lease. There’s a fee associated with it, but it was part of the lease negotiation. I remember thinking, I can’t believe I’ve lived to see this day.

Antoinette Stone: I started out in private practice at Fox Rothschild. When I got there, there were no women partners at all. Robin Matlin and I were the first women partners. But even though the firm thought it was very family friendly, it had no experience with maternity leave and demands outside the firm and scheduling and things like that. So when I became pregnant, they really had to make it up out of whole cloth.

Janet Perry: I don’t know exactly the numbers but in the past couple of years our new associates have been at least fifty percent female, maybe more. And yet as you go up the ranks that number goes down, so it’s still difficult in some way to get to the top.

Amy Ginensky: I don’t think a lot of people look at us and say, “Wow, I want to be like that.”

Janet Perry: I have heard associates say, “Look at that woman partner. She doesn’t spend any time with her children. She’s never at home. I don’t want to be like her.” So, they look sometimes at the “success” stories and say, “that’s not for me.” And that’s OK if it’s a choice, but what worries me is this: Couldn’t there be some success stories that operate their lives a little differently? Take Hope Comisky for example. Hope works four days a week. Why can’t there be more examples like that? I’m not totally convinced that you can’t work part time and be a success. You have to take fewer matters, but you can still handle them. I think there’s a resistance, and I don’t even mean part time necessarily, I mean just sensible time. I can’t think that anyone would look at you, Hope, and say, “I don’t want to be like you,” but I think there are certain success stories that people do not want to replicate.

Antoinette Stone: If you look at the percentages of women who were in law schools in my class, I think our class was about thirty percent. You don’t see anywhere near that among women litigation partners, especially equity partners, not even close. And the percentages in law school have only gone up since I graduated.

Terri Marinari: Don’t you think there is a perception, at least among young females, that they do not want to work as hard as we work, that perhaps women have to work harder than men to achieve the same success? I was a little concerned when my daughter said a number of years ago that she does not want to have my life. She was very clear on it.

Leslie Miller: I think things have changed for the better for women, thanks in part to those of us who paved the way. The young women entering the legal profession today have choices we never had that they take for granted. I am not sure they are all doing their fair share. I also see young women entering the profession who don’t necessarily want to pursue the life we have pursued. They are taking alternative, less-stressful paths. I think some of us who graduated in the 1970s wanted to make a difference. There were fewer of us so we were under greater scrutiny, and I think this gave us a greater sense of obligation.

Antoinette Stone: What was your professional life like when you graduated from law school?

Leslie Miller: I was one of two women at Labrum & Doak, and I thought I wanted to stay on the partnership track. I had no mentor, however, and it soon was clear to me that any success I would achieve would be on my own. I put up with a fair amount of bad treatment. I remember a senior partner once said to me, “Hitch up your skirt and do whatever you have to do. Just get that case settled.” I was introduced to a judge as “the new broad we just hired.” I just had to compartmentalize that kind of thing to block it out. I was also careful to keep my personal life separate. I was never “one of the boys,” and I never wanted to be. Today, women are fully part of the landscape. We bring a different perspective. I think we’re more practical, we’re problem-solvers and consensus builders.

Antoinette Stone: What advice do you have for women graduating from law school today?

Leslie Miller: I think the practice of law is a wonderfully satisfying way to make a living. Women graduating today are lucky to have lots more choices. They should try to find a niche where they can do something they love. I predict that women who are leaving the profession today will return with renewed confidence. I hope confidence will cause them to not only take advantage of the greater opportunities that are available to them but also feel the obligation to make the world a different, better place. Future generations will be the beneficiaries of what we have done.

The women who participated in this discussion have been “successful” by almost any definition, and their perspective is largely positive. Lest the younger generation of women lawyers accuse them of being blind to the continuing need for change, I freely acknowledge that true equality still eludes us. Many of us were oblivious to the “glass ceiling” in the 1970s because few women had advanced sufficiently to bump their heads against it. Several generations later, too many of us continue to prove that it is still impenetrable. Many offices in which we work have not yet figured out how to reconcile the conflicting demands of parenthood and the business world. Even in 2004, men of all ages are still flummoxed at the notion that women can do anything they can do. This may be especially true in the traditionally “cowboy” specialties like trying cases and making deals. The unwillingness to give up gender stereotypes manifests itself in a reluctance on the part of clients to send business to women, the assumption that women can’t or don’t want management positions and (the big one) real difficulty in accepting the idea that women are entitled to earn as much as or more than men. We may not hear the crude jokes or thoughtless insults as frequently as we did twenty-five years ago, but the task of changing hundreds of years of imprinting is a monumental one. Today’s generation may find it hard to believe that the current climate is a big improvement over what it was in the 1970s.