Adrienne G., (2L)
In lieu of their February general meeting, the Women Law Students Association (WLSA) recently helped sponsor and host the Minnesota Women Lawyers event Hot Topics in Criminal Law, featuring a distinguished panel of female attorneys who have practiced and made great strides in the criminal law field.
The panel included:*
Elizabeth Cutter, a Senior Assistant Hennepin County Attorney in the Violent Crimes Division. She currently supervises felony domestic abuse cases and trained local, national and international law enforcement in the area of domestic violence prosecution.
Carolina Lamas, who is the Executive Director of the Neighborhood Justice Center, Inc., a non-profit firm that provides comprehensive criminal defense services for low-income persons, especially in communities of color. As a trial lawyer both for NJC and the Ramsey County Public Defender’s Office, she has devoted her practice to the vigorous defense of the constitutional rights of her clients.
Cynthia Vermeulen, who carries a long list of credentials, including work as a City Prosecutor, a County Public Defender, and a long-time participant in the Guardian as Litem program. She currently owns and operates her own firm, Vermulen Law Office in (COUNTY)
Rebecca Weisenberger (moderator), a senior associate at Dorsey & Whitney’s Trial Group and Construction and Design, White Collar Crime and Antitrust practice groups. She practices mostly in construction and franchise/dealership disputes and white collar crime defense.
*Panel biographical information provided by event program flyer
These four women provided valuable insight to the practice of criminal law, especially as a female, and discussed topics ranging from some of the frustrations of working in the legal field as women to where to best find a job.
According to the panel, public trust of women lawyers, especially trial lawyers, is still not equal to that of men: female, private defense attorneys usually have to rely on public contracts in order to sustain their businesses, while male attorneys in the same field can generally rely on entirely private work. Additionally, they have pointed out that women are less likely to be immediately recognized as the lawyer by new clients, and have been misidentified as the interpreter, secretary, or even the girlfriend of the “actual” lawyer.
Despite these challenges, these women have worked hard to earn the respect of the legal community, and as such have earned respect on behalf of women lawyers and law students as a whole. They strongly encouraged female law students and new attorneys to get involved in organizations like WLSA and MWL, as those communities provide support by other women facing the same challenges in their own work.
The panel wrapped up by offering advice to aspiring female lawyers who are interested in the criminal field:
Elizabeth: Don’t be afraid to volunteer! It’s easy, and you build relationships and experience. Don’t be afraid to go out-of-state, either, or out of the metro area. More rural counties have very few women lawyers, and need them. Smaller counties also offer a much broader range of legal experiences.
Carolina: The important thing is to get court exposure while in law school. One of the main things looked for in applicants for jobs in defense work is experience.
Cynthia: Don’t “hang out your shingle” right away. Start with informational interviews in the areas that interest you, and then go for an internship or a clerkship. Immerse yourself; you might have to overdose a little to find out if something interests you. It’s very important to take the time to find out, because if it turns you’re not interested but you get a job before you figure it out, your job will always terrify you.
Thank you to the panel members and all women lawyers paving the way to gender equality and success in legal practice!