Early in Anita Hotchkiss’s law career, she was assigned to tackle a particularly grisly case. At a nearby plant that specialized in manufacturing industrial cleaning appliances, an employee got his arm stuck in a massive washing machine, maiming the limb and resulting in a lawsuit. Anita arrived at the scene to take photos and get to the bottom of what happened. Unbeknownst to her, her work was being watched by a skeptical eye.
Shortly after she returned to the office, Anita’s senior partner received a phone call from the client:
“How dare you send a secretary to do this job!” he barked.
Anita, head held high, chose not to react with quite the same bite. She was no stranger to the perception that women “don’t belong” in the law field. In jest, her partners offered a modification to her wardrobe: a bright yellow button that read, “I AM A LAWYER.”
For Anita and many other determined women in the seventies, the idea that a woman could not do a “man’s job” only fueled their fire. Her choice to become a lawyer was not swayed by the hundreds of hypermasculine skeptics but rather her love for learning, bettering people’s lives, and finding solutions to complex problems. Much like Anita, her daughter, Kirsten, was captivated by the idea that she could walk into bizarre situations and be the person in charge of solving each problem. But before committing to a law career, neither woman considered entering the field an option. Anita was a single stay-at-home mother with two young daughters and a part-time position as a librarian. Law school wasn’t in the cards until she was put in a position that forced her to provide entirely for herself and her family. Kirsten was an ambitious student with an original trajectory in journalism and an ongoing resistance toward law, due to her outdated childhood belief that a mother is supposed to stay home. Once the decision was made, however, something just clicked.
“I had to take care of the children, make sure they were provided for. I had a family,” Anita explains. “When I decided to go to law school, I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing, but I went ahead and did it anyway. After the first class, I said, ‘Oh, boy, I should have been here all along.’”
“I didn’t have the same ‘aha moment’ as Mom,” Kirsten laughs. “It wasn’t until my second year, in my labor relations class, that I noticed the case studies really piqued my interest. I realized what kinds of unusual cases I could be dealing with every day, and that’s what got me really into it.”
Since committing to law, Anita and Kirsten have customized their practices to make an impact in their respective fields. Anita is a trial lawyer in private practice, a partner with Goldberg Segalla. She represents pharmaceutical companies and deals with mass tort product liability and medical malpractice cases. Kirsten works in-house for American Express Global Business Travel as the vice president of global employee relations and employment counsel. While her mother works with several clients, Kirsten works for one company, investigating employee complaints and adjusting practices to avoid future issues. Not only does the type of work for each woman differ, but their journeys also differ greatly.
Starting law school about ten years after her mother, Kirsten discovered that there was now an influx of women entering the field—her class was about 30 percent female—as well as several doors open to her after graduation. She recalls a time when simply wearing a pantsuit inside the courthouse was considered bold and progressive. Now, while the glass ceiling “still has to be broken,” women are thought of as valuable, resourceful entities in law. Anita has found through many cases that being a woman engenders a sense of approachability for jurors and witnesses. People feel more inclined to talk to someone they don’t feel threatened by—a mother, a daughter.
For both Anita and Kirsten, the fight for women’s rights never ends. Throughout the years, they have noticed incredible change, and they strive to continue learning, growing, and mentoring women everywhere. In short, they’re role models. Kirsten, with a compassionate eye, has guided numerous employees through workplace challenges with the goal of “rehabilitating employees” to restore harmony in the workplace. Anita, who never plans on slowing down, has just earned another bachelor’s degree in art history and Italian—a project she undertook just to “give her brain some extra TLC.” She’ll be continuing on to graduate school in the fall.
The successes of Anita and Kirsten showcase the ability of women as multitaskers, autonomous leaders, and paragons of change. Since Kirsten’s time, the percentage of women finishing law school has increased to about half the average graduating class. Soon, there will be an abundance of women in law, never needing to brandish the yellow “I AM A LAWYER” badge again.
Meyner and Landis LLP:
“Kirsten is bright, delightful, and extremely well versed in all areas of employment law. Her level of experience, strategic thinking, and pragmatic approach make her a leader in her field. We have been most fortunate to be able to partner with Kirsten.”