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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Are Fictional Female Lawyers Men in Skirts?

A few years ago I attended a supper for Saskatchewan lawyers with over 25 years in the profession. Speaking after the meal was a woman lawyer about recruitment and retention of young lawyers. She said younger lawyers are seeking a better balance in life between work and the rest of life than lawyers of our generation.

My generation of lawyers saw a major influx of women. My graduating class in 1975 was 1/3 women and the proportion has steadily grown in Canadian law schools to just over half of current law students.

The speaker said that the women lawyers, such as herself, who graduated in the 1970’s and 1980’s and stayed in the practice of law did not find a way to be lawyers different from men. She summed up her generation of women lawyers as “men in skirts”.

Do women lawyers practise law, especially in private practice, differently from male lawyers? At least in the structure of real life Canadian law firms I have not observed significant differences.

I am not going to venture further into the treacherous waters of real life gender issues. Her comments did inspire me to take a look at whether the fictional female lawyers I have read practise law as “men in skirts”.

Victoria Lord of the Solomon and Lord mysteries of Paul Levine is definitely a “man in a skirt”. She dresses like men in conservative suits of grey, blue and black. She is, as noted in my review of The Deep Blue Alibi, a “solid, diligent litigator”. She follows the rules and works hard. She is indistinguishable from male lawyers.

Fellow Floridian, Lily Belle Cleary, in the mysteries of Claire Matturro is just as clearly not a “man in a skirt”. She is flamboyant in personality, dress and language. She does not try to look like a male lawyer so she can be considered professional. She is not solemn in an effort to appear dignified.

I think the cover of Matturro’s book, Skinny Dipping which accompanies this post, is wonderfully stylish and perfectly reflects Lily Belle.

Maggie “McFierce” McPherson, former spouse of Mickey Haller, in the legal mysteries of Michael Connelly is a hard driving prosecutor. From the books I think of her as a “man in a skirt” as she sought out and earned a reputation of being as tough as any male assistant district attorney.

Barclay Reid, in Murder One by Robert Dugoni, is the managing partner of a large Seattle law firm. She is a classic male executive partner with her smooth in charge approach to running the firm.

Moving to Canada, in the books of Robert Rotenberg set in Toronto there have been a pair of prominent female lawyers.

Nancy Parrish is a single woman who is a defence counsel. I see her tending toward a “man in a skirt”. She is so hard working that she spends most evenings alone lacking the time to establish dating relationships.

Crown Prosecutor, Jennifer Raglan, was not a “man in a skirt”. She prosecuted well but is not trying to show she worked like the men. She had a spouse and children. She fully participated in family activities. (My comments are in the past tense as she is murdered in a suburban Toronto motel in the latest book, Stranglehold, waiting for her detective lover.)

Female readers will have to tell me if some of the character traits I associate with traditional male lawyers are actually female characteristics.

I will be watching in real life and fiction to see if the women lawyers of my sons generation can find a different approach to law so that they do not describe themselves as “men in skirts” a generation into the future.

20 comments:

  1. Really interesting, Bill: Just the kind of crime fiction post I enjoy from you - law-based and informative and intriguing.

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    1. Moira: Thanks for the kind and generous words.

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  2. Bill - You raise such an interesting question! I think there definitely are fictional female lawyers (and 'McFierce' is one of them) who are 'men in skirts.' But I think that the diversity of today's crime fiction also reflects the diversity in the way female lawyer characters are drawn. For instance, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir's Thóra Gudmundsdóttir isn't at all (at least in my opinion) a 'man in a skirt.' Neither is Perri O'Shaughnessy's Nina Reilly. But then, that's fine with me. There's a lot of diversity among real-life female lawyers too.

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    1. Margot: Thanks for your comment and adding two more fictional female lawyers. I had thought of Thora but did not feel ready to discuss lawyers outside common law legal systems.

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  3. I think the male/female divide is erroneous. Personalities and work styles in both women and men are as varied as are cultures. Some people work a certain way, others pursue their assignments in other ways.

    Many men these days in the U.S. stay home with their children and are very nurturing. Are they women in pants? No. They are fulfilling their full roles as fathers, which children deserve.

    When I of women friends have worked very hard on projects or writing from morning until night, even doing all-nighters putting everything else aside, including communicating with friends, I am not abdicating my womanhood, which is a cliched word anyway.

    Let's open up these stereotypes and see that human personality is a vast area, that gender roles have changed, that work styles vary and that we have adapted.

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    1. Kathy D.: Well said. I was at a Power in Law Conference last fall focused on women lawyers. From the presentations I did not get the impression that women lawyers would conclude gender roles have really changed.

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  4. Very interesting post, Bill. I would imagine that pictures of women lawyers in fiction would be as varied as the authors who write about them, because they would be coming from their ideas of what they see or would like to see. Being a woman in a profession that is primarily held by men (programming, systems analysis), and older, which also makes a difference, this topic is often on my mind.

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  5. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I would be interested if women of your generation in programming, systems analysis consider themselves "men in skirts".

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    1. Well, definitely not me. I don't have that much drive, I have just been lucky, in the right place at the right time. I actually did not start out in programming, and I started out in mini-computers. And I got my start in database programming, which is now is much demand. Nowadays you have to know so many different areas of computer technology to be competitive. But I love my job and I feel so lucky to have it for the next few years.

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    2. TracyK: Thank you for sharing your experience. It added to the post. You are a fortunate person to be able to say you love your job.

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  6. Can't everyone, women and men, just excel at their jobs without any gender-stereotypical references? People who are good at their professions are good at them -- no matter what they wear and what personality traits they exhibit.

    Let's look at what they say and do and at "the content of their character," as Dr. King said, and forget the superficial issues. That doesn't count.

    If someone discovers the cure to AIDS, succeeds in overturning the death penalty in a case or in a state, performs success heart surgery, writes a superb book or song, or raises happy children, organizes community activities, protests inequality, whatever. What they do and say is what matters.

    I remember years ago a woman public defender who wore a suit and had rose tattoos, which were visible. She was very effective and got charges quickly dismissed against a group of people who were exercising their freedom of speech. Isn't that what matters?

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    1. Kathy D: Thanks for your passionate comment. I agree we should judge people by performance.

      What I understood from my colleague's comment that women lawyers of her generation were "men in skirts" is that they did not try to be different from male lawyers. They did not establish practices that dealt with the balance of work and family in a way that was adapted to women. She was certainly not thinking the male lawyers of that generation, which include me, had legal practices that were balanced.



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  7. A lot more men nowadays are staying home with the children while their spouses work, often because of who earns the higher income. Many do most of the chores because they're at home; many enjoy spending this quality time with their young children. Do I think they're "women in pants"? Nope. I think they're good fathers -- and their children will blossom because of it and their spouses are probably relieved and glad.

    Change in roles is good. It advances everyone. It opens up outlooks. All good.

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  8. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I appreciate there is a change in Western World society on family roles. I hope you do not think it unfair but I may do a post on the question of "women in pants".

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  9. I read this blog post with interest. I worked as a family lawyer here in London for a number of years before leaving the law and turning to writing.

    As well as writing legal handbooks, I am the author of the Alicia Allen Investigates legal crime series featuring Alicia Allen, the slightly unconventional Anglo-Italian private client lawyer based in London, who becomes embroiled in each case through the course of her work as a solicitor.

    Although there are an equal number of male and female graduates entering the legal profession (there may in fact be slightly more females) the law is still "perceived" by many as being one of the male dominated professions and I have encountered a number of women who have felt the need to be very assertive to compete in this world so as to move up the career ladder.

    I wouldn't regard Alicia as a "man in a skirt" but I have obviously used my own legal experiences and legal background in her creation so I would be very interested in what you think of her.
    http://celiaconrad.blogspot.co.uk/

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    1. Celia: Thanks for the comment. I would be interested in reading Alicia. I will keep an eye out in Canadian bookstores. I have not read many mysteries with English lawyers and am sure I have not read any featuring solicitors.

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    2. Many thanks for the reply. I would be very interested in your "take" on my female protagonist, Alicia Allen, bearing in mind her legal background.

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    3. If you would like to read "A Model Murder" (Alicia Allen Investigates Book 1) please let me know and I would be delighted to send you an Ebook version.

      Also "Murder in Hand" will be available for free on the Amazon KDP Giveaway on 13/14 December.

      As a fellow lawyer I would value your opinion. All the latest reviews for the books can be found at http://celiaconrad.blogspot.co.uk/

      Many thanks, Celia

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    4. Celia: My normal practice has been to read paper books rather than Ebooks. I would be glad to make an exception for A Model Murder. You can send me an Ebook version at my email address which is in my full profile. Thanks.

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