New Hampshire’s female lawyers, judges reflect on 100 years of progress

  • Associate Justice Carol Ann Conboy (center) remains seated as the room gives her a standing ovation for her service on the New Hampshire Supreme Court during a gala Thursday honoring the first 100 years of women lawyers in New Hampshire. The event was held at the Grappone Center in Concord. Conboy will retire this summer. ELIZABETH FRANTZ photos / Monitor staff

  • Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court Linda Dalianis is acknowledged by the crowd during a gala honoring the first 100 years of women lawyers in New Hampshire at the Grappone Center in Concord on Thursday evening, June 1, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Some of the first 100 female lawyers to be admitted to the bar in New Hampshire mingle before a group photo is taken Thursday in Concord.

  • U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster (left to right), Leslie Nixon, U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan and former U.S. Attorney Emily Gray Rice mingle during a gala honoring the first 100 years of women lawyers in New Hampshire at the Grappone Center in Concord on Thursday evening, June 1, 2017. The first New Hampshire female lawyer was admitted to the bar in 1917. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Mary Susan Leahy is acknowledged by the crowd during a gala honoring the first 100 years of women lawyers in New Hampshire at the Grappone Center in Concord on Thursday evening, June 1, 2017. Leahy was admitted to the bar in 1970 and was the 40th woman to do so in New Hampshire. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Attorney Jennifer Parent speaks during a gala honoring the first 100 years of women lawyers in New Hampshire at the Grappone Center in Concord on Thursday. The first New Hampshire female lawyer was admitted to the bar in 1917. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/2/2017 11:10:03 PM

When attorney Ellen Arnold went to her first district court hearing in the late 1970s and stood up next to her male client, the judge looked right past her.

“The judge said, ‘Sir, you should really have a lawyer with you,’ ” recalled Arnold, a longtime New Hampshire attorney who now works as an in-house lawyer for Dartmouth College.

Four decades later, you’d be hard-pressed to find a judge shocked to see a female lawyer, as the gender divide among attorneys and judges has dwindled in the Granite State. Back in 1977, the New Hampshire Bar Association had only accepted 100 female lawyers in the previous 60 years. In 2017, the bar association has 1,877 active female members, about 35 percent of all active attorneys in the state.

“There are more of us, and that population is reflected throughout the state, not just in the legal community, but in public service as well,” Arnold said. “We’ve come a long way, but that doesn’t mean there’s not more work to do.”

The first female lawyer admitted to the bar was Agnes Winifred McLaughlin in 1917, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that a profession that had once been exclusively for men was suddenly getting an infusion of women in New Hampshire and around the country.

Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court Linda Dalianis became the 50th female lawyer to practice in New Hampshire in October 1974.

“As it happened, I caught the wave,” she said. “Before that, it was catch as catch can. The timing was very fortunate for me.”

Since 1974, Dalianis has broken many gender barriers in the state judiciary; she’s the first woman to serve on the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the first female chief justice.

Dalianis was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2000, and Justice Carol Ann Conboy joined her on the bench in 2009.

They and other female lawyers and judges reflected on the progress women have made at a celebration of 100 years of female attorneys in New Hampshire, held Thursday night in Concord.

“It was intended as a celebration,” said attorney Jennifer Parent, one of the event organizers. “Look at what diversity has brought to our profession.”

Dalianis said the field has changed dramatically since she started, when she was the only woman in her all-male law firm.

“The men there were openminded and – which at the time was somewhat necessary – protective,” she said. “I had good backup, I had good mentors, I had good case assignments.”

But around the state, it wasn’t unusual to hear slights directed at female lawyers because of their gender.

Comments like “she is a good woman lawyer or she is a bad woman lawyer” were commonplace, Dalianis remembered.

“Now, and for a long time, it’s been, ‘she is a good lawyer’ or ‘she is not a good lawyer,’ ” she added. “I tried to ignore gender to the extent I could. I knew I was an oddity but I wanted to fit in.”

Criminal defense attorney Cathy Green remembered that in the early days, women were considered a novelty in the courtroom.

“There were no other women that were regularly appearing in court for criminal defense cases,” she said. “People would come into court to watch and see how women performed.”

Still, being one of a select few had its perks, Green added.

“It was an advantage in many ways,” she said. “You never had to fight to get attention.”

Thursday’s event make an impression on Green, who said she thought a lot about the women who had paved the way for her and many other attorneys to practice.

“It really hit me during the event how wonderful those first women were and how difficult it must have been,” she said.

However, Green said she would still like to see more progress on the state’s judiciary.

“Certainly we need more women judges,” she said.

Since making the move to the bench, Dalianis said she has mostly been treated with respect.

“People don’t mess with judges, no matter what gender they happen to be,” she said.

As much as Thursday night’s celebration was an acknowledgment of the achievements of female attorneys and judges in New Hampshire, there is still nearly a two-to-one a gender gap in the law profession.

“Personally, I’m waiting for the day where we no longer say ‘the first woman’ and you fill in the blank,” Parent said. “Where it’s normal to have women on our highest court, normal to have equity partners and lead counsel on million dollar cases.”

Dalianis agrees, saying the way forward is to keep building on the achievements of the past few decades.

“We need to continue to do quality work, we need to persevere without being strident,” she said. “We need to just not give up, because there has been huge progress over the past 40 years, huge.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)




Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2019 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy