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The notion of excluding one half of a potential client base is a frightening prospect for any lawyer. But some attorneys are willing to risk those odds and focus solely on women’s legal issues as the market grows for such work. From hormone replacement therapy to breast cancer, from birth control to surgical procedures, women’s issues have helped some attorneys discover a concept that physicians have known for years: Women want to hire other women to deal with women’s cases. In New York, Kramer & Dunleavy is concentrating on hormone-replacement litigation and breast cancer diagnosis cases, two areas that its attorneys say are ripe for their plaintiffs’ practice that represents women almost exclusively. Partner Lenore Kramer explained that she had some concerns about narrowing her practice to just women’s issues when she and Denise M. Dunleavy opened their office in downtown Manhattan two years ago. “I was afraid there’d be some big juicy labor law case with a man who falls from the scaffold,” Kramer said. “What if I didn’t want to turn away 50% of the business?” Although the firm doesn’t refuse to represent men, it evidently has ample work handling women’s cases. Since 2002, Kramer & Dunleavy has evolved from a firm focused mainly on representing sex-crime victims suing for negligent security to one now concentrating on medical cases. Women’s law section Lundylaw in Philadelphia, an 11-attorney plaintiffs’ firm, also saw the need to have women deal with women’s legal matters. It hired Diane L. Hockstein last month to head its women’s law section. Hockstein works solely on breast, uterine and cervical cancer cases and hormone replacement therapy suits. Managing partner Marvin Lundy said women clients can reach a certain “comfort level” with women lawyers, especially because of the delicate nature of the cases. “I think they’re more understanding, more empathetic,” he said. Promoting those relationships can be effective marketing, said Lynn Luker of Lynn Luker & Associates in New Orleans. Luker, whose practice concentrates on corporate defense, saw such a strategy while she worked for Adams and Reese, a 260-attorney Southern firm. The firm frequently called upon her to deal with legal matters for clients that had “highly placed women,” she said. “Law firms want to market to a client. If the client is a woman, and the firm has a woman lawyer, it makes sense to use that as part of the marketing effort,” Luker said. But while such efforts may help more women participate in firm business, if the placement is not based on the attorney’s competence, the client and ultimately the firm suffer. Said Luker: “It’s a problem if a woman is being used just for face time with a client.” Working at her own practice since 1999, Luker sees the potential of marketing her business as a woman’s firm. It recently hired a female lawyer who practices criminal defense. The mother of one of the firm’s clients, a teenager, told Luker that she was grateful to have two “grandmotherly” attorneys working on her child’s case. “There is a market out there for parents who want a maternal type of lawyer for their children,” Luker said, adding, to her dismay, that she thought she looked “very hip” the day they met with the client. Whether the attorney-client dynamic of women representing women leads to better results in the courtroom is unclear. Firms that decide to put a woman attorney at the counsel’s table, particularly in women’s health cases, with the idea that the jury will be more sympathetic to an all-woman plaintiff’s effort, may be under a mistaken assumption. “There are definitely some myths out there about the positive effects of trying to plant certain demographic stereotypes on the trial team to achieve an advantage,” said Jim Dobson, director of jury research and analytical graphics for Doar, a litigation support company based in New York. If the lead attorney is not the most competent attorney, regardless of gender, juries see through the “window dressing,” as Dobson calls it. Receptive clients Still, potential clients seem to like the idea. A recent “women’s firm” marketing effort at Kramer & Dunleavy, which used radio advertisements to reach the public, proved a good use of its budget, Kramer said. The firm directed some of those ads at women who had taken hormone-replacement therapy and suspected a link to breast cancer. Kramer & Dunleavy is hoping to attract plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking class action status it is preparing to file in New Jersey against drug makers. Dozens of similar suits across the county are pending, despite some predictions that any connection between the therapy and breast cancer is too tenuous for the actions to survive. The suits followed a study in 2002, which some argued was flawed, that indicated women who underwent the therapy showed an increase in incidents of breast cancer, stroke and other problems. Dunleavy, who in 1991 won a $4.5 million verdict against a silicone breast implant manufacturer, said that she “sat on the fence” about pursuing hormone replacement therapy litigation, but decided to move forward as the statute of limitations loomed. Hockstein, with Lundylaw, also has several hormone replacement therapy cases. President of Philadelphia’s chapter of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, she has represented plaintiffs in uterine and cervical cancer cases and was hired by Lundylaw primarily to pursue hormone litigation. She said she never tires of representing clients from only one-half of the gender pool. “It fills up my day,” she remarked. “I don’t know how I could find time for anything else.” Jones’ e-mail address is [email protected].

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