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At 82, Doris Brin Walker is no shrinking violet. Then again, in her more than half-century in the law, she may have earned bragging rights. Throughout the Vietnam War, Walker represented conscientious objectors in front of the draft boards that wanted to send them off to war. And earlier, during the height of McCarthyism, she represented alleged and actual Communists in front of the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee. Walker remembers one case in particular that dragged on from the early ’60s to 1973. Then with Treuhaft & Walker in Oakland, Calif., Walker won naturalization for a man alleged to be a member of the Communist party of Switzerland. She says she won the case “partly due to the change in the political climate, and also because I was a very good lawyer.” Walker was a female attorney at a time when women were told they weren’t even supposed to be in the work force. No matter what the repercussions, the unabashedly left-wing attorney took case after case that held the potential to get her blacklisted. At one point, she was even subpoenaed to appear before the HUAC to answer the same questions her clients faced, including the infamous: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?” Walker said she built so much of her practice on some of the most politically unpopular areas of case work because when she decided to become a lawyer, she “wanted to make the world a better place for ordinary people.” When Walker attended classes at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law in the early 1940s, she was the only woman in her entire graduating class. Although she says she didn’t experience any overt discrimination at the law school, sexism found its way into classrooms in sometimes subtle ways. “One of the professors would greet the class each morning: ‘Good morning, gentlemen.’ ” Walker said. “ I didn’t take it personally because that’s the way it was. He wasn’t really ignoring me — well, he was ignoring me — but he didn’t mean anything by it. It was just his usual way and it was unusual to have a woman in his class.” Walker earned her LL.B. in 1942. But for women, World War II meant opportunity at home since the men were off fighting. “And I can tell you that the women who graduated before the war and those who graduated after me had a much more difficult time finding a job than I did,” she said. Walker landed a position as an enforcement attorney at the wartime Office of Price Administration and worked there until 1944. At the time, she said, most female law school graduates became law librarians or clerks for judges, or went into city and county government. It was hard to find a female trial lawyer. But Walker found that male peers, for the most part, accepted her as their equal. “Now, judges were a different matter. Some of the judges liked to tease, and I resented it. I remember the first time I went to court on an uncontested divorce,” she said. “And the judge, he looked down at me and he said, ‘Young woman, are you old enough to practice law?’ It was that kind of thing.” But things heated up in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Walker said that around that time women began to enter the law en masse. She said that while the relatively few women who graduated from law school in the early ’40s weren’t seen as a threat, these women were. “The court clerks would make passes at them. You see, that never happened to me, but it did happen to them,” she says. “Although I have to say that was also the period when not wearing a brassiere was part of asserting your feminine independence. So I felt a certain sympathy for some of the clerks.” She remembers the attitude of many male attorneys at the time: ” ‘They’re taking my job. … That’s a job a man should have.’ “ Walker said people also said things like, “She should have a family. Why doesn’t she stay home and take care of her husband and kids? And if she doesn’t have a husband and kids she should.” But despite the progress women have made in the legal profession, Walker said she wouldn’t want to practice law today. “Our attitude toward each other was very different. The cutthroat way people practice civil law today — or maybe even in the criminal bar — is just sad, it’s sad,” she said. “Because we fought every bit as hard for our clients. Felt every bit as strong a commitment, and were every bit as good lawyers — if not better. “It would be very depressing to practice law in today’s dog-eat-dog atmosphere. I have colleagues, friends, who are still practicing pretty much the same way I did. There are fewer and fewer who are doing it — but it can be done.”

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