U.S. Supreme Court

Ginsburg: If Male, I'd Be a Retired Partner

It wasn’t only former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who, famously, had trouble finding work as a lawyer after graduating at the top of her class from a renowned law school back in the day when law practice was almost exclusively a male domain.

Her female colleague on the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, recently told an audience at an Atlanta synagogue that she would be a retired law partner today if she’d been able to land a corporate law firm job after graduating from Columbia Law School in 1959, notes a lengthy Legal Times profile. Ginsburg, only the second woman to be appointed to the court, remains its only female member.

But in characteristic fashion, Ginsburg found a way to benefit from this and other disadvantages of being a female lawyer—some of which she didn’t even recognize at the time, because they were so commonplace and culturally accepted. As the “men only” interview sign-up lists and lack of restrooms for women in the vicinity of law school classrooms were eventually rectified, the job she did find after graduating, teaching at Rutgers School of Law in New Jersey and then at Columbia, gave her time to pursue civil rights work as well and eventually led to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The lesson is that you never know in life whether something is going to work out to your advantage,” she says, “even if it seems to be a terrible impediment.”

In 1952, when O’Connor graduated from Stanford Law School, most big law firms didn’t hire women, notes an Associated Press article written when O’Connor announced her retirement. One did, however, offer O’Connor a job—as a secretary.

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