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Giving women a face in the courtroom

Words by Tess Becker

Women have come a long way in all different industries and facets of life, but there is still a lot of room to grow. Take the realm of law for example. According to the Florida Bar women make up around 38% of Bar membership but are nowhere near proportionately represented in law firm partnerships, judgeships, or law school deans.

This is something that the two women behind Themis: Trial By Women wanted to address. 

Themis is a trial group under the law firm Hale & Monico that is the world’s first women-founded, women-led trial attorney group and was founded by Allyson West and Kelly Olivier. 

“Women attorneys are uniquely suited to serve as trial lawyers, applying empathy, humility, focus, dedication, and a deep understanding of client needs,” Allyson tells Smiley News. “We noticed that in Chicagoland, and throughout other communities in the United States there is a lack of legal representation for women, by women.”

They came up with the idea last year. It was a way for them to continue working at Hale & Monico while being able to work on a project that they were very passionate about. 

“It speaks to our passions and is kind of similar to what Smiley Movement is all about – we want to make a little change in our area of the universe, which is to hopefully creates a safe space for women, both attorneys, and clients,” Kelly tells Smiley News.

Kelly and Allyson are both already trial lawyers who take cases through litigation and other legal processes but through Themis, they, among other associates, would be taking a specific focus on cases involving women.

“This specialty group would be a focused group where we represent female clients or individuals bringing in action on behalf of another woman and we would take that case through litigation from start to finish,” Allyson says. “And if a trial is where it goes, that's where we would take it.”

The pair have been working together for over a decade, and even though they’re veteran trial lawyers, at this point they still felt like they didn’t get the respect they deserve in the courtroom, and in came the idea for Themis.

“We just started talking about how we were getting we're feeling really tired and really rundown and as we started talking, we realized that even though we've been practicing lawyers, trial lawyers, specifically in the courtroom for over 10 years, we still sometimes will get confused for the court reporter,” Kelly says. “We often were only the women in the room frequently and we wanted to change that.”

Kelly explains how she and her male counterpart were in a trial together on a medical malpractice lawsuit case involving a woman losing her baby.

A female juror approached Kelly when the trial concluded and shared that at one point during the trial she had been upset because she felt she was being mansplained about the female body during the male lawyer’s examination of a male expert witness. After that experience, Kelly went back to Allyson and that's when they started talking more about how women attorneys should be representing female clients.

“After I had that experience, I had a lightbulb click because Allyson and I had already been having these conversations," Kelly says. "I went back to Allyson and I said, ‘you know women attorneys should be representing female clients.’”

Through Themis, the pair just wants to help women find a way to be represented in trials and the courtroom.

“I think that this is important because while women are making up 50% or more of law students becoming or wanting to become a lawyer, the number goes down and down and down as it gets to litigation as it gets to trial attorneys,” Allyson says.

A safe space for representation

With that, they also want to create a safe space where people can feel represented, and understood with a level of care and empathy that might not be readily available with other trial groups. 

“Who's to say that there's not a woman somewhere else saying I have something that I need help with? I have a lawsuit that I can bring but I'm too afraid to reach out or speak out because I don't see myself represented,” Allyson says. “I don't see a face in that room that I think I can connect with.

“So I think back to the safe space.”

Themis is open to all types of gender identities including trans-women and non-binary or gender-nonconforming individuals. They just want to serve as a space where people can be represented.

The women are taking up their first case under Themis in the coming summer.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Gender Equality. ¨

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs