96-year-old Jack B. Weinstein, a senior federal judge in Brooklyn, recently addressed the issue of the lack of female lawyers, and their infrequency in holding prominent roles in the courtroom.
The New York Times reported that judges usually publish a set of rules of conduct for lawyers who appear in their courtrooms. Judge Weinstein has used this setup to instead address the issue that is of growing concern in courtrooms – the lack of women in leading roles.
Over the years, Judge Weinstein often encouraged women and minorities in the legal profession to try and participate more actively in court, but a recent New York State Bar Association report was the catalyst for him to put it in actual effect in his courtroom.
The report found that female lawyers appear less frequently in court, and when they are present, it is less likely that they are there in the capacity of a prominent role.
Thus, Judge Weinstein has taken to issuing his own court ruling in order to address this issue.
“I’ve been doing this on my own for some time, but not in a systematic way,” Judge Weinstein said. “It’s particularly important because we have so few trials these days so some of the youngsters don’t get the same training they used to. It’s important for everyone, and for the litigation process, that the upcoming generation understands the fundamentals and just gets up on their feet.”
The New York Times also reported that “while acknowledging that lawyers, not judges, should be the ultimate arbiters of who stands up to speak on behalf of a client, Judge Weinstein’s revised rule sheet now says that ‘junior members of legal teams’ are ‘invited to argue motions they have helped prepare and to question witnesses with whom they have worked.’”
The rule sheet published by Judge Weinstein mentions that the decision was made after the release of “studies of underrepresentation of female attorneys and minorities.” The sheet also notes that Judge Weinstein is “amenable to permitting a number of lawyers to argue for one party if this creates an opportunity for a junior lawyer to participate.”
Judge Weinstein’s new rule has made echoes all around New York, and has been praised by female lawyers in the state.
“There isn’t, and hasn’t been, a great deal of representation in federal court with respect to women lawyers, so it’s great that Judge Weinstein has embarked on doing something that will increase the role of women in federal court,” said Sara J. Gozo, the former President of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association.
Shira A. Scheindlin, a former federal judge in Manhattan who is now in private practice, had written in a past New York Times opinion post that in her over 20 years of serving on the bench, the equality of the gender dynamics in her courtrooms had barely changed over that period of time.
“The talking was almost always done by white men,” Judge Scheindlin noted. “It was a rare day when a woman had a lead role – even though women have made up about half of law school graduates since the early 1990s.”
On Judge Weinstein’s move, Judge Scheindlin is hopeful. Judge Weinstein is “such an icon and so respected,” Judge Scheindlin said, “that maybe other judges will follow. I’m hoping his choosing to do this will jump-start others to do the same.”
Precedent is the key to legal proceedings, but now in terms of the courtroom, one esteemed judge is doing his part to foster the type of precedent that he hopes will help shift the momentum of gender equity for the future of law.
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