What Makes a Feminist Law Firm?

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An article in  today’s  New York Lawyer, entitled  Forming A “Feminist Law Practice,”  describes an unusual Canadian law firm:  

While more women may be starting their own firms, Galldin Liew of Ottawa has taken the unique step of calling itself a “feminist law practice.”  *  * *

Karin Galldin, 31, and Jamie Liew, 30, who graduated from the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law in 2005, said none of their past employers embodied the kind of environment they wanted from a law firm.

“We feel very strongly that we’d like to be an all-service shop as much as we can be for women in the community so they are not getting bounced around from lawyer to lawyer,” Galldin said. “We’d like to be able to get them a full and complete opportunity and appropriate representation instead of saying we only do X and Y. So holistic service is very important to us.”

Both lawyers said they made a commitment to give back to the community, so they serve on boards of local organizations and conduct free workshops, such as “What the Eff Am I Signing? Clever Girls’ Guide to Copyright Contract Law.” * * *

In order to be true to their feminist philosophy, Liew said she does not defend men in criminal cases, the exception being smaller infractions that do not involve violence.

The firm’s feminist policy is included in its retainer so all clients understand the philosophy, Galldin said. There is no shortage of criminal defense firms in Ottawa willing to represent men in cases involving violence, but Galldin said her firm avoids such cases in order to avoid any conflicts. For example, the firm wants to avoid a situation of defending men in criminal cases in the event one of the firm’s female clients turns out to be on the opposite side of the case.

“Because we want to use law as a tool for women, we have decided that, in particular areas of our practice, so as to never be in conflict, we won’t represent men,” Galldin said.

The article quotes this blog’s own Ann Bartow, saying,  ”I haven’t seen too many that identify as feminists, but definitely there is a trend of women starting their own firms and trying to carve out a niche and trying to leverage gender as something that helps them stand out a little bit.”  

The full article is available here  (free registration required – sorry).  Thanks to Feminist Law Prof Marie Newman for pointing out the article.  It raises so many questions.  

What makes a law firm “feminist,” as opposed to a firm where feminists work?  Is there enough demand for “feminist” private-sector lawyers so that a “feminist” firms can survive?  There are more  all-women firms now than there were in 1980, for example, when  Levine, Kuriloff and Polan  became the first all-female law firm in New Haven, Connecticut, but they are not exactly common.   It makes me wonder about the long-term viability of a feminist law firm as a business model.  But I’m crossing my feminist fingers anyway, and wishing long, happy, successful and fulfilling legal careers for Ms. Galldin and Ms. Liew.  

-Bridget Crawford

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0 Responses to What Makes a Feminist Law Firm?

  1. barbara burke says:

    Isn’t it encouraging that these two attorneys (demographically Third-Wave feminists) outwardly embrace the word “feminist” in describing their practice? How many of us – students and professors – have witnessed our female colleagues reject the F word out of fear of being labeled a radical or a subversive?
    In critiquing Third-Wave feminists, one of my law professors commented to me, “How can there be any hope in a political movement that cannot even say its name?” I read this article and thought, “There is hope.”

  2. I am very excited about the idea of a feminist law firm. I am unsure, however, about the way these two feminists are creating their ‘mission.’ I take issue with the fact that the lawyers will not represent men unless in nonviolent cases. A sincere feminist issue is men who are victims of domestic abuse. Merely because it is uncommon does not make it unworthy of help or representation. I would love to see feminist law firms! The ways that the mission or vision are directed are crucial to credibility and in ensuring that clients trust that your ‘brand’ of feminism is what they’re looking for. Merely because a law practice calls itself feminist does not make it so.

    In response to barbara burke, I absolutely love that people are grasping onto feminism as an identity and a valid movement. I know that I have worked very hard to make sure to find and create safe spaces where my feminist identity is open and understood. Sometimes this isn’t possible and I commend these feminists for doing so.

  3. revoltinghag says:

    I am very glad to know there are feminist law professors and also that there are some firms that call themselves “feminist.” I sure wish I could have found one with all the legal battles I have fought through the EEOC and the Illinois Department of Human Resources. My experiences were less than rewarding in many respects.
    And because of all that I have gone through with the legal system and discrimination and sexual harassment and retaliation, I would like to start an organization to help people who have been in my shoes and write a book about all the blind walls that I have bumped into…also how the legal system actually functions in these cases…and also how companies and institutions have so-called sexual harassment policies but merely pay lip service to them…then go on their merry way–business as usual.
    My efforts to realize my ambitions has been thwarted because of an injury I received while on my job, so since I am currently unable to figure out how to go about following my ambitions, I started a blog which documents 7 years of job harassment, discrimination, and retaliation at the hands of the University of Illinois. I also plan to include EEOC depositions where my boss admits to setting me up to be injured, and piles of correspondence between me and the University and even the governor of the state of Illinois–since that is the end of the “chain of command.” I documented all that happened to me and other wimmin, but no one did anything about it.
    If you want to read about it, you can go to http://pentheselia.blogspot.com.
    If you have any questions of if I can be of some help to you, I welcome the chance to be of service