Women in the Law

Firm's Rejection Created Opportunity for Roe v. Wade Lawyer

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Sarah Weddington may never have taken the case setting a landmark precedent on the right to abortion if her job interview with a Dallas law firm had gone more smoothly.

The law firm had never interviewed a woman for an associate position, Weddington told an ABA awards luncheon on Sunday, and the interviewers were curious.

They wondered how Weddington would be able to get home in time to cook dinner, since lawyers often have to work late. They also remarked that they wouldn’t be able to cuss her out as they did the male lawyers in the firm.

Weddington didn’t get the job. That freed her up to represent a woman seeking an abortion. Weddington was only 26 years old when she argued Roe v. Wade before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1973, the court ruled in her favor.

Years later, Weddington told the audience, she was an assistant to President Jimmy Carter advising him on women’s issues and judicial appointments. A senior partner at the Dallas firm that rejected Weddington wanted to be a federal judge, yet the firm had not made much progress on women’s issues. This time, the decision was up to Weddington. The partner did not get the nod.

The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession gave Weddington a special award on Sunday, and it also gave five other trailblazing lawyers its Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award. If there was any controversy surrounding recognition of the abortion-rights lawyer, it wasn’t apparent during the luncheon. The audience delivered enthusiastic standing ovations to every award winner.

The other winners: former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White; Judge Ann Claire Williams of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; retired Air Force Col. Linda Strite Murnane; Ruth Cooper Burg, the first woman judge on the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals; and Brooklyn Law School professor Roberta Karmel, the first female commissioner on the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Weddington wasn’t the only award recipient who had trouble landing a first job with a law firm. Karmel received only one call back after her campus interviews. She was told she didn’t get the job because “we’ve already hired a woman.”

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