Anyone who knows me well knows a few key things about me: I’m a “runner,” though post age 50, I use that term very loosely. I have a dysfunctional relationship with Miracle Whip, of which I am not proud but as substances go, it seems relatively harmless. In my former professional life I was an “electronic journalist” (read “radio-TV reporter”). Riveting, I know.
Finally, I am an unapologetic believer in, and admirer of, women lawyers. Young female lawyers out there have some amazingly strong role models to look to and to learn from, if they pay attention and ask the important questions. Thus, taking full advantage of items three and four above, this column is to congratulate, honor and pick the brain of Indiana’s first female federal bankruptcy court judge, the Honorable Robyn Moberly. Special thanks for her candor, wit and leadership.
On how it feels…
“I feel like the luckiest person in the world! As is often said, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. But, career opportunities are a lot about timing and about things outside of one’s control. I know I was prepared for this opportunity, but you never know when, or if, it might happen.
You also have the variable of who is making the ultimate decision on your future. You may or may not ‘click’ with that person. There are many people well qualified for most jobs but only one person gets it, so it has to depend upon whether the decision-makers feel a good connection with you and whether you’re on your toes the day of the interview. I feel quite fortunate that the stars aligned for me.”
On “the learning curve” of a new position...
“I have tackled this new learning curve just as I did when I was first elected to the state trial bench and was assigned to a criminal court. I read everything I can get my hands on, and each time a new issue comes before me, I learn it thoroughly because I know it will come up again and again. Lawyers will forgive you if you don’t know the answer the first time when you’re new, but they expect you to learn it and get it right.
I have a wonderfully smart law clerk, Pat Marshall, who worked for Judge Metz for 16 years. As Judge Metz said, Pat was his gift to me. She and I have already developed a good friendship and working relationship. My years as a state trial judge have been a big advantage too. It’s surprising how similar being a bankruptcy judge and being a state trial judge are.”
On the attainability of the federal bench for women…
“The Southern District of Indiana has proven to be increasingly open to women. During my career, I’ve noticed that issues reach a tipping point, and then quickly become the norm. Jobs that were outside the reach of women rather have suddenly become widely attainable and no longer a novelty. Certainly the strength of the females on the federal bench before me opened the door for all women.
On the issue of gender equity in the profession of law…1
“I wish I had the answer! I’ve met with members of several firms who are trying very hard to figure this one out themselves. I believe there is a sincere desire to recruit and retain talented women but the law firm model almost exclusively rewards hours billed and collected. I’ve noticed that young male attorneys are changing their attitudes toward time with their families, so it’s surely an issue that is beginning to cross the genders. As more women are the decision-makers in business, they are hiring female attorneys. When you’re the rainmaker, you’re in control. I’d really encourage women to learn practice development skills because when you own the book of business, you can name the tune.”
On this being (perhaps) the position she will retire from….
“I read a funny quote from Chris Rock where he said that girlfriends are always auditioning, trying to be their best, all of the time. But, wives are like Supreme Court Justices: they do whatever the heck they want. 2
I think it’s useful to spend one’s career ‘auditioning’ and being the best you can be on each individual day. Even though I’m now writing the last chapter of my career, I hope I’ll always be ‘auditioning’ and never feel ‘entitled.’”
1 Current ABA President Laurel Bellows has made this a focus of her year as president, noting the troubling statistic that although woman account for nearly half of law students and hold more than half of this nation’s judicial clerkships, the percentage of women equity partners is holding static at 16 percent or less.
2 Two things on this from the author: 1) men do it too 2) it is difficult at best to propose legislation that will affect this.