Kelly M. Dermody, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein
Kelly M. Dermody, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein (Jason Doiy)

SAN FRANCISCO — At a panel discussion about gender discrimination in the law Tuesday night, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers described what happened when she observed aloud during a hearing in a large, multiparty antitrust case that it was “interesting” that no women had come to the podium to handle arguments. 

At the next hearing in the case, Gonzalez Rogers said, women argued on behalf of all the parties.

“Once in a while a few words from the judge can help,” Gonzalez Rogers said to a group of more than 250 lawyers in the ceremonial courtroom of the federal courthouse. The Obama appointee was joined by three other leading figures in the Bay Area legal community—Kelly Dermody of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, Paul Grewal of Facebook Inc., and Annette Hurst of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe—as part of a roundtable discussion. The program, entitled “He Said What?: Tackling Unprofessional Conduct Towards Women Attorneys,” was presented by the Northern District’s Women Attorneys Advocacy Project.

Tuesday night’s panel focused on giving young, female, and diverse attorneys tips for dealing with discriminatory conduct that they might face at various stages in the course of civil litigation. But aside from the practice tips, the panel members highlighted the power that clients and judges have to address inappropriate conduct by lawyers on their payrolls and in their courtrooms.

Hurst noted that early in her career she was allowed to handle a key cross-examination during a bench trial after the judge asked “When is Ms. Hurst going to get to do something?” Hurst said in that case, firm partners had advocated for her having a larger role, but the client was skeptical of giving responsibility to a young, female lawyer “When a judge says something like that,” said Hurst, it can be “the ammunition [senior attorneys] need to overcome client objections.”

Dermody added that in the complex multi-party cases that she often handles, it’s not uncommon for men to rush to the podium at oral argument—even in instances where there’s a prior agreement that a women will take the lead on a certain issue. Dermody said she’s seen that happen “countless times” to even her partner Elizabeth Cabraser, one of the leading figures in the plaintiffs bar.

“I think this is a real issue not just in the law but in all types of professions where a woman’s voice and authority is questioned,” Dermody said.

Throughout the discussion, panelists—but Gonzalez Rogers in particular—referenced an order issued by Grewal In his prior role as a magistrate judge that sanctioned a male lawyer for making sexist remarks to opposing counsel during a deposition.

Grewal, who now heads litigation for Facebook, said that it’s up to clients to use the “power of the purse” to root out “boorish” behavior by their outside counsel. He said that there has to be an expectation that outside counsel avoid bullying and discriminatory behavior. If they can’t live up to that expectation, he said they should be told “You’re going to get fired and you’re never going to get work from us again.”  

Originally published on The Recorder. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.