I would have to take off my shoes and socks to accurately count the number of times I’ve shown up at a deposition and been asked, “Are you the court reporter?” Now, if I wanted to, I could accept this a compliment. Virtually 100 percent of the court reporters I’ve associated with are smart, witty, entertaining, beautiful, and overall delightful. But I don’t. Instead, I get irritated. I get irritated that there is not one male attorney in Wisconsin who has had this question asked of him when arriving for a deposition.
So why get all bent out of shape about it? Just brush it off to ignorance and go on with your day, you say. But, it’s just not that easy. You see, this is the stereotype: It’s more likely that I’m the court reporter than it is I’m the lawyer. That’s what, “Are you the court reporter?” embodies. Think about it. The assumption is not made because I have a bubbly personality. The assumption is not made because I’m wearing nice shoes. The assumption is not made because I’m pulling a rolling bag. The assumption exists because of my gender – because I’m a woman.
I’d bet a chocolate cookie that all my women lawyer friends understand what it’s like to see the surprise on a person’s face every time you tell a stranger you’re a lawyer. It doesn’t matter if I’m telling my nurse, an acquaintance at a social event, or someone at the swim-up bar in Mexico. There’s always this sincere shock in their face that I’ve just told them I’m an attorney. Every time this happens, it creates an invisible cut.
A favorite writer of mine, Lindy West, once wrote, “it does things to you to always come in second.” That resonates with me. When you realize that no matter how important the case, no matter how big the file, and no matter how expensive the suit, when the assumption continues to be that you’re the court reporter – not litigation counsel – it indeed does something to you. You develop a sort of edge when you don’t get the benefit of the doubt that you’re the lawyer in charge.
You develop a sort of edge when you don’t get the benefit of the doubt that you’re the lawyer in charge.
When this happens and I get all bent out of shape, I think to myself: I wonder what it was like to be in this profession 20 or 30 years ago? Those women have real grit. Shouldn’t we be to the point that this presumption is now gone? When I go up 39 floors to take a deposition, the person at the front desk shouldn’t just assume I’m the court reporter, right? That’s what the front-desk person used to do. Now, that worker should assume that I’m the lawyer in charge. Not true. This is institutional subordination at its worst.
Gratefully, I stand on the shoulders of every woman lawyer who came before me. And there’s been a lot of them – great ones. And yet, I’m perpetually frustrated to think that there’s still all this work to be done on gender assumptions in the legal field. Over the last decade, I’ve been blessed to get to know a lot of feisty women lawyers in Wisconsin. I suspect we share this similar story – but we’ll continue to fight.