From no women to all women

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

It took nearly 50 years, but the leadership of the law journals at the University of Michigan Law School has gone from no women to all women. And the woman who started it all couldn't be happier.

"I think it's wonderful!" says Washington, D.C., attorney Sally Katzen, class of 1967.

Women are now or will be the editors-in-chief of the six student led law journals at the University of Michigan Law School. Dayna Zolle, Michigan Law Review; Emma Cox, Michigan Journal of Law Reform; Emily Gilman, Michigan Journal of Race and Law; Julia Stuebing, Michigan Journal of International Law; Sarah Cork, Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review (MTTLR); and Greer Donley and Gina Myers-Schulz, Michigan Journal of Gender and Law are the students.

Katzen was the first woman editor-in-chief of the Law Review in 1966, while Margaret Houy, '79, was the first woman editor-in-chief of the Law Reform in 1978 In the 1940s two women were listed as managing editor and acting editor-in-chief of the Law Review in 1944 and 1945: Katharine Loomis, '38, and Mary Jane Plumer, '45.

Katzen didn't necessarily have the Law Review on her radarscope when she started school, but jumped at the chance to compete for the job when it arose.

"At the end of the first year, it was the top 30 students in a class of 400 who were invited to try out for the Law Review," she says. "There was an editorial board that was selected by the outgoing officers. I was selected to be Editor in Chief, which was a surprise to me. It was announced at a luncheon and I was both astounded and slightly overwhelmed."

While today having a young woman step into a demanding role wouldn't raise an eyebrow, in 1964 it was front page news.

"It was big news and I got a lot of press coverage and interviews," Katzen says. "There was a five or six page photo spread of me and Time had an article that said I typified modern American feminism, which was a bit over the top as far as I was concerned."

Some of the coverage, in retrospect, was less than serious and respectful. A headline in her hometown paper referred to Katzen as a "Local Lawyer Lass."

"If they were ever condescending, I didn't even see it. I just felt like they were celebrating my success," she says.

Katzen was also grateful that the university and the law school were totally supportive.

"The faculty was very happy that they had a 'girl' Editor in Chief," she says. "The Communications Department treated it as big stuff. There hadn't been a 'girl" Editor in Chief since the mid 1940s at Yale, when all the boys had gone off to war."

But not everyone on campus was smiling.

Some of the pressure and criticism Katzen faced came from what today would be considered an unusual direction. As her law education progressed the war in Vietnam was heating up and the U-M campus was one of the places where the topic stirred strong emotions. Student deferments were one way that young men avoided being drafted.

"One of the reactions that greeted me at Michigan (Law School) was, 'some guy is dying in Vietnam because you have taken his place here,' " she says. "That's a direct quote from some of the people."

Another attitude faced by Katzen and many young women who attended universities in that era was that they weren't serious students, but were just trolling for spouses.

"A common assumption was that I was looking for a "MRS" degree rather than a JD. That I was not serious about being a lawyer and was shopping for a suitable husband," she says.

"As it turned out, I did very well in law school and was soon viewed by most of the law school community as someone who was taking it very seriously."

Many of those attitudes and prejudices were still prevalent when it became time for Katzen to look for a job.

"I had interviewed at a number of law firms during my second year of law school and was told that I couldn't do corporate work because no corporate executive would take advice from a girl," she says. "I was told I couldn't do litigation because I'd have to travel and share a room with another associate. Or that the partners' wives would be offended by my traveling with their husbands. There a number of firms that simply said they weren't prepared to hire girls."

But not every organization was so hidebound and stubborn.

"Fortunately, at least some firms thought it would be a good idea to hire a young woman," Katzen says. "Given my record in law school, I was well-situated to land at one of those firms. That was Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering. I was the first girl associate and I was the first girl partner, although at that point in the '70s I think we had become women."

As her career winds down, she now walks the corridors of power in the nation's capital.

"The Podesta Group is a government relations/public relations firm. I'm a senior adviser there, consulting with clients to help them navigate the executive branch," Katzen says. "I also teach three days a week at the NYU Law School."

She is happy to see young women playing an increasingly important role in the legal profession and following up on the hard-won successes of the trailblazers. But she acknowledges that some of those youngsters may know little of the early struggles.

"I feel a little bit like my mother, who would say, 'You don't know what it was like,' " she says.

But at the end of the day, Katzen says that the important thing is the progress itself and that it continues with a new generation of torchbearers.

"Part of me takes great pleasure that these young women are not intimidated and see life as full of opportunities," she says. "It's fine that they don't focus on the barriers and obstacles that were overcome. They should be forward looking and full of hope. Part of me does sort of smile and say, 'We have come a long way, baby!'

Published: Mon, May 27, 2013