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February Book of the Month: Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers

Stories from Trailblazing Women LawyersStories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers: Lives in the Law
Written by Jill Norgren
Reviewed by Ruth Geos, Reference Librarian


Bracketed by the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment and the burst of voices and action from the #MeToo movement, Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers: Lives in the Law sketches in the period in between, when the blunt view of the profession was that law was exclusively a “guy’s game.” The 100 women interviewed though this oral history project of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession are lawyers, judges, Presidential cabinet members, law school deans, and civil rights pioneers who graduated from law school in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s—women who have become leaders in the profession, and models of achievement through persistence, daring, humor, and brilliance in a time that did not welcome their excellence or even their presence.

Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers draws from these detailed interviews to interweave their voices and stories, looking at the bigger story these women shared, starting with tales of childhood, their ambitions forward, barriers, job interviews, first legal position, and ultimately the personal and professional choices they made. Many of these women speak of their determined, mostly solitary way forward. They struggled with decisions about which sexist comment to challenge and which to let go, where to push and where to pull, when to marry, divorce, have children, what to wear and what to say, and how to best make use of their love of the law. Transcripts of the extensive interviews themselves (along with video interviews) are available online; the interviewers are also eminent women in the law.

It may be unbelievable to those of us in 2020 to hear that Harvard Law School did not admit women until 1950, and then deliberately failed to support them, with overt acts of humiliation, contempt, isolation, and complete disbelief that women could be real lawyers. It was not just Harvard, of course. Former New York Solicitor General Shirley Adelson Siegel was the only woman to graduate from Yale Law School in 1941. Shirley Hufstedler, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge and later Secretary of Education under Jimmy Carter, was one of two women at Stanford Law School in 1949. Even by the 1960s, only 10% of the class at UC Berkeley were women.

When it came to finding a job, the doors were closed, even for graduates of the most prestigious law schools. In 1949, Judge Hufstedler graduated fifth in her Stanford class. The Dean offered her a recommendation for a position as legal secretary. In 1952, Sandra Day O’Connor, also one of the best in her Stanford class, was also offered work as a legal secretary. In contrast, her classmate, William Rehnquist, was offered a position as a law clerk with a Justice on the Supreme Court.

Neither woman accepted the secretarial offer.

As Judge Hufstedler said: “What may startle people today is that nobody would hire a female lawyer. Nobody….”

Perhaps the most well-known trailblazer of this period, documented in film and books, is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

[W]hen I was a new justice on the court, for the 12 years that I sat together with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, invariably one lawyer or another would call me Justice O’Connor. They had been accustomed to a woman on the Court, and Justice O’Connor was THE woman, so if they heard a woman’s voice, well, that must be the lady justice, even though we don’t look alike, we don’t sound alike. But last year no one called Justice Sotomayor “Justice Ginsburg” or me “Justice Sotomayor” and I am certain that lawyers will perceive the differences among the three of us, and we will each have our individual identities.

Many other women speak here, including Pauline Schneider, the first female African-American president of the District of Columbia bar and the first female partner at Orrick; Dorothy Nelson, the first female dean of an accredited law school (the University of Southern California); Barbara Babcock, first woman appointed to the regular faculty at Stanford and a scholar of women in the law; Elizabeth Cabraser, who had early ambitions to be a professional drummer and became a renowned plaintiffs’ class action lawyer; Janet Reno, Attorney General in the Clinton administration; Judge Joan Dempsey Klein; Judge Dorothy Wright Nelson; and many other women who pushed the landmark line ever further ahead.

We are now up to the language of “electability,” but it bears looking back at the shadow of exclusion that was cast and is still with us, and the bold trailblazing of all these women, and more.


Related materials in the SF Law Library collection:


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January Book of the Month: Misfits, Merchants & Mayhem

Misfits, Merchants & MayhemMisfits, Merchants & Mayhem: Tales from San Francisco’s Historic Waterfront, 1849–1934
Written and Illustrated by Lee Bruno


Misfits, Merchants & Mayhem: Tales from San Francisco’s Historic Waterfront, 1849–1934 is an extraordinary book that explores San Francisco’s waterfront history by focusing on a variety of incredible individuals who marked the City’s formative years. Author Lee Bruno divides the period 1849–1934 into six chapters: the Gold Rush Era (1848–1855), the Comstock Load (1859–1870), the Gilded Age (1870–1900), the Great Earthquake & Fire (1906), the Jewel City (1907–1920), and the Jazz Age (1920–1934). Bruno focuses on several “movers and shakers” for each era, with vivid accompanying photographs and graphics for each person and time period.

Misfits, Merchants & Mayhem is more than a historic journey of San Francisco, as many of the people discussed in this book exemplify the effect that the era’s laws had on their lives and opportunities. One example is William Leidesdorff Jr., who was born on St. Croix to a Danish plantation manager and a mixed-race mother. He left the West Indies and made a small fortune as a shipmaster in New Orleans, and planned to marry a local plantation owner’s daughter. However, when her family discovered he was part black, they canceled the approaching wedding and the bride died shortly after, allegedly of a broken heart. Leidesdorff left New Orleans for Yerba Buena when New Orleans adopted the Negro Seaman Act of 1822, which barred black people from holding maritime jobs. In Yerba Buena, Leidesdorff became a prominent citizen and business leader primed for the U.S. takeover of California. He died of meningitis just when gold was discovered near his property on the American River, but the battle over his estate raged for over 50 years with foreign relatives being barred from inheriting, conflicting international laws and new probate laws confounding the process, and even the U.S. government claiming ownership. San Francisco still has an alley named for him where his commercial shipping warehouse was located (the City’s first), and a plaque near the Ferry Building.

Another notable example is Lew Hing, who at age 12 came to San Francisco from China to work with his brother in a metal working shop in 1871. By 1878, he had saved enough money to open a cannery business. By trial and error, he learned the cannery business (his was located at the corner of Sacramento and Stockton streets) and he overcame the rampant discrimination against the Chinese and false accusations of opium smuggling to become one of the biggest fruit canners on the West Coast. Hing was ineligible for citizenship because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, but he was very much a member of the community and was instrumental in assisting the city after the 1906 earthquake.

By delving into the lives of each period’s notable figures, Misfits, Merchants & Mayhem reveals how these fascinating individuals transformed the city and helped shape it into what it is today. To read this book is to travel back in time, with the research, prose, and photographs providing a completely immersive experience.


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December Book of the Month: How to Become a Federal Criminal

how-to-become-a-federal-criminalHow to Become a Federal Criminal: An Illustrated Handbook for the Aspiring Offender
Written and Illustrated by Mike Chase
Reviewed by Courtney Nguyen, Reference Librarian


The road to hell may very well be paved with federal statutes and regulations, as demonstrated by our December Book of the Month, How to Become a Federal Criminal: An Illustrated Handbook for the Aspiring Offender by Mike Chase. As the title promises, this book enumerates (with pictures!) the seemingly endless ways anyone can descend into a life of crime, even by accident. Chase writes with his tongue firmly in cheek, but even without the rude humor the actual statutes, regulations, and congressional hearings are outrageous and absurd enough to amuse and shock everyone. Here you will find lurid accounts of the depraved Yellowstone Off-Leash Cat Walker, and those wayward souls who dress like postal workers—when they aren’t even postal workers. Divided into eight sections based on type of offenses, this book barely scratches the surface of the innumerable crimes proliferated by Congress and various federal agencies.

Chase, an attorney who also runs the popular Twitter account @CrimeADay, clearly revels in the madness of it all, writing with a mix of juvenile glee and genuine befuddlement over how ridiculous these crimes can be. But he includes more than just illustrations on how to mail a mongoose; it’s clear that he has put extensive time and research into his work. This “handbook” also serves as a simple and easy to understand primer on the basics of the criminal justice system and how to read a federal statute, useful for aspiring offenders and law-abiding folk alike. He explores how there came to be so many federal crimes—more than it’s conceivably possible to count—tracing the labyrinthine path from the three listed crimes in the Constitution to the thousands upon thousands of criminal statutes and rules carrying criminal penalties we have today. There are also brief summaries of some of the stranger cases that went to court (some involving margarine).

This book not only gives you endless facts to share at cocktail parties, but also leaves you with some important takeaways. Such as, don’t bother trying to modify the weather with your weather laser unless you’ve filled out the right forms first. Or how the only thing standing between you and a cell might be how properly you label that box of dead bees you want to mail. And don’t even think about leaving the country with a pocketful of nickels.

Find How to Become a Federal Criminal (along with our other criminal law materials) at the library today!


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November Book of the Month: Separate

SeparateSeparate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation
By Steve Luxenberg

Reviewed by Aaron Parsons, Reference Librarian


In Separate, author Steve Luxenberg examines the social and historical upheaval that encompassed the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction-era United States and that culminated in the ignominious 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation. Luxenberg begins by tracing the history of the separate but equal doctrine from the northern railroads where Jim Crow laws took hold before the Civil War—dispelling the myth that they originated in the post-war south. He goes on to recount the lives of several of the era’s important figures, including plaintiff Homer Plessy, Justice John Marshall Harlan (the lone dissenter in Plessy), Henry Billings Brown (the opinion’s author), Albion W. Tourgée (Plessy’s lawyer), and Frederick Douglass, leading to their fateful intersection in the Plessy case. The abomination of the Jim Crow laws persisted unabated until 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education, though they were continually challenged by abolitionists such as Tourgée and the wider Civil Rights movement. Separate helps the reader understand the lives and motivations that shaped both sides of the racial and equality struggles during a dark chapter of our nation’s history—struggles that continue to shape our striving “to form a more perfect union.”


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September Book of the Month: The President’s House

President's HouseThe President’s House
By William Seale

Reviewed by Tony Pelczynski, Reference Assistant


The President’s House, by independent historian William Seale, is an engaging—if initially imposing—two-volume history of the White House. Running chronologically through America’s Presidential line, from George Washington (who commissioned the construction of the White House, but never actually lived in it) to George H.W. Bush, the book covers the gamut of White House history in entertaining detail. Housed in a sturdy and handsome slipcase, and running to just over 1200 pages, Seale has written an enlightening history of what just might be the most recognizable residence in the world.

Seale, editor of the journal White House History, is eminently qualified to take on the topic: in addition to researching and writing about historic buildings, he restores them. Seale is clearly interested in the White House from (quite literally) the ground up. And while the subject matter and length of the book may seem off-putting to those outside the presumably limited circle of hardcore White House history buffs, Seale’s lively prose and storytelling keep the reader absorbed. While the focus is on the structure itself, the book’s scope necessarily expands beyond (or, more to the point, into) the White House’s walls, taking into account the lives of the men and women who have lived and worked under the White House’s roof: the Presidents and their families, of course, but also the gardeners, cooks, maintenance workers, and others who have historically kept the place running, day-to-day.

As both residence and locus of Presidential power, the White House has always stood alone, symbolically: while the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court building may arguably be equally recognizable structures, they both represent collective democratic institutions. The White House is, uniquely, the home of a single (albeit enormously important) individual and his family. Seale’s expansive history continually reminds the reader that the White House is, first and foremost, just that: an actual American home, filled with the messiness and unpredictability of human life that term implies. Over the years, the building has hosted births, deaths, weddings, funerals, and any number of other milestones of human happiness and suffering, to say nothing of the physical upheavals that the structure itself has endured over the years.

At the same time, the White House has always functioned as something of a national museum and political stage. Even those who have never set foot inside the building can conjure a mental image of the Oval Office, or (as is more likely) one of its many cinematic or television iterations. Perhaps because of the White House’s fixity in the American imagination, various presidents and their spouses have, to varying degrees, attempted to stamp the abode with their own personalities and identities, frequently to less than unanimous critical acclaim (recall here Melania Trump’s much-derided minimalist Christmas displays). Seale does a fine job of surveying the various changes the White House and its décor have undergone over the years, none more extensive than President Truman’s “down to the studs” renovations.

Seale ends The President’s House at the George H.W. Bush administration, although he does include a too-brief epilogue touching on the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush years. At 80 years old, Seale may be done writing on the topic, but his book leaves the reader hoping for at least one more update covering the last two Presidential administrations. While its current occupant has reportedly proclaimed the White House to be “a real dump,” given the care and attention to detail that Seale has so clearly poured into his book, one gets the impression that the author feels very, very differently on the subject. Update or no, The President’s House will likely remain the definitive history of this most symbolic of American residences for years to come.


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September Book of the Month: The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Judicial Behavior

Oxford Handbook of U.S. Judicial BehaviorThe Oxford Handbook of U.S. Judicial Behavior
Edited by Lee Epstein and Stefanie S. Lindquist

Reviewed by Ruth Geos, Reference Librarian


Attorneys use their skills and experience to focus on advocacy of their claims or defenses: briefing the law and the facts of the case to the court in the most advantageous way, arguing the merits and demonstrating how both precedent and public policy goals support their position. The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Judicial Behavior offers another perspective, using social science empirical analysis to look at the dynamics of judicial decision-making beyond the law of the case. In asking other kinds of questions, these studies see the process of judicial decision-making as taking place with a larger institutional, social, and constitutional construct, subject to internal and external influences. Over a wide range of inquiries, the authors assess studies that measure the personal, psychological, financial, institutional, historical, and political influences that impact judicial behavior and ultimately, judicial decision-making.

By poking behind the curtain of the law in this way, a very different look at the courts is presented: how the courts function both as gatekeepers and reciprocal partners in public policy, with hints for the rest of us to glean along the way as to what might strengthen a case, settlement, an oral argument, or a petition for certiorari.

Some of the statistical rigor presented can be dense, but there is much to appreciate in the methodology, especially in the narratives that are caught in the same sociological net. One fascinating example of a study protocol is the use of plagiarism detection software to evaluate how much content of a lower court opinion or content from amicus briefs are included in Supreme Court opinions as a means of tracking influence from these sources. Meta-analysis from another study shows that ideology is a better predictor of votes at the Supreme Court level than at either the District Court or Circuit Court level. Descriptions about the workings of the courts, and particularly the U.S. Supreme Court, offer compelling inside-views, such as the expanded role of Supreme Court law clerks (who have their own law clerk dining room), describing the “cert pool,” established in the 1970s, by which petitions for certiorari are reviewed initially not by the Justices themselves but by a shared pool of law clerks for six of the eight justices (Justices Alito and Gorsuch currently opting out of the pool). Another chapter considers the influences that may have come to bear on Chief Justice Roberts when he shifted his initial position with the conservatives on the court, to join in the vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act. And a made-for-movie story is that of Chief Justice Burger wanting his childhood friend, Harry Blackmun, on the court, which didn’t turn out well for them, but opened a study into the significance of common social backgrounds.

The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Judicial Behavior is perhaps not the kind of book to read cover-to-cover, but it has treasures to ponder, along with an introduction to a new way of thinking about our court system—and the litigation we lay at its door.


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August Book of the Month: Untangling Fear in Lawyering

Untangling Fear in LawyeringUntangling Fear in Lawyering: A Four-Step Journey Toward Powerful Advocacy
By Heidi K. Brown

Reviewed by Andrea Woods, Reference Librarian


This refreshing new book from Heidi K. Brown—litigator, author, professor, and Law Library MCLE presenter on August 9th—soundly dispenses with the tired conventional wisdom surrounding how to handle fear, and instead invites lawyers to distill and untangle their fear. When a new attorney feels daunted at the prospect of facing a cantankerous judge or a 1L worries about an intimidating professor’s use of the Socratic method, the typical advice is to simply “push through” fears, or “fake it till you make it.” But in Untangling Fear in Lawyering: A Four-Step Journey Toward Powerful Advocacy, Brown challenges this approach as being at best, phenomenally unhelpful, and at worst, highly destructive to a lawyer’s on-the-job performance and mental health. Fear is not a weakness, and it is not a motivator. Rather than downplay fear, Brown acknowledges that fear in lawyering is very real and very legitimate—lawyers face stressful situations marked by emotional clients, tight deadlines, and enormous consequences for even a small mistake. In fact, the entire legal profession is a culture built around fear, and lawyers adopt these rights-of-passage as a badge of honor. Brown sees how the culture of fear leads to anxiety, depression, and burnout, and can drive excellent lawyers away from the profession. She posits that legal education and practice can be improved by radically changing how we approach fear.

Brown proposes that we try to understand fear, to tease apart the perceived threats from reality. With self-awareness, we can use specific strategies to manage fear, rather than simply attempting to squelch it with pithy sayings that only wind up amplifying it. She explores the science of fight-or-flight as well as the tangled knot of emotions—shame, rejection, unworthiness, or the false bravado that hides a scarcity mindset—so that we can start to unpack fear’s grip and develop confidence. Next, Brown delves into how other professions approach fear, citing that medical and journalism curricula actively teach students what to do when they make a mistake in their future vocation. Similarly, in the realm of professional sports, the mental and emotional training that athletes receive is instructive on how to stop the onslaught of negative, destructive thought patterns. Brown follows with a four-step program that will cultivate true strength and courage in lawyering, in which we untangle fear, mentally reboot, channel our inner athlete, and build a culture of fortitude. She includes exercises to guide us through this process of learning how to stop repressing fear, and instead, to grow in spite of it. Finally, appendices set forth checklists, teaching strategies for educators, and ideas for law firm managers, and a comprehensive bibliography lists suggested further reading on numerous related topics.

Not only is Untangling Fear essential reading for a lawyer’s own personal growth, but it is also an important assessment of the dysfunctional culture for which the entire legal profession is renowned. As the legal industry continues to study the mental health and substance abuse problems that are all too common among lawyers, Brown makes clear that understanding fear and the emotions that surround it is critical to improving the overall health and culture of the profession.


Untangling Fear in Lawyering was generously donated to the Law Library by author Heidi K. Brown during our May Book Drive. Ms. Brown will be presenting The Introverted Lawyer MCLE program on Friday, August 9th from 12–1 as part of the Library’s Lunchtime Speaker Series.