What a Successful Woman in a Male Dominated Field has to Say

I interviewed Cassie Dallas, a mentor, lawyer and new mom, to ask her about her experience as a woman working in the legal field. She had an interesting perspective on succeeding as a woman in a world that tends to be a "boys club."

Image Via U.S News

 

Cassie is a partner at Thompson, Coe, Cousins, and Irons. The focus of her practice is on appeals and mandamus proceedings in Texas state and federal courts. She also has broad experience representing individual and corporate defendants at all stages of litigation. Before joining Thompson Coe, she served as a law clerk to Justice Michael Massengale of the First Court of Appeals of Texas.

Her Campus SMU: Please describe your undergrad experience.

Cassie Dallas: I attended Southwestern University from the Fall of 2004 through the Spring of 2007. I enjoyed college, and I loved being at Southwestern. I liked how small my classes were, and I felt like the small size of the university overall was a good fit for me at the time. That said, I was really busy in college and I don’t think I had the same experience as most of my peers. I graduated a year early; I was a double major; I waited tables part-time and I had several internships over my three years in undergrad. All that work made the experience go by really fast, and I think, looking back, I would have benefited from slowing down a little bit.

HCSMU: Please describe your law school experience.

CD: I went to Texas Tech School of Law. I really liked law school. The experience was challenging, but it was one of the first times in my life that I didn't have a thousand things demanding my attention. I got to focus on school and friendships, and that was great.

HCSMU: What was the path that got you to your first job?

CD: I graduated from Tech at a terrible time — Spring of 2010. The economy was terrible and jobs were hard to come by, even for people at the top of their class, because law firm hiring contracted significantly between the crash at the end of 2008 and the summer/fall of 2009 when most rising 3Ls (third-year law school students) get job offers. I felt lucky to have a job offer at the end of my 2L summer to work at a law firm in Austin, but in the Spring of 2010, they called and deferred my start date to January 2011. That was not especially uncommon at the time, but still a shock. 

Several months later, about a week after I took the Bar Exam, they called to rescind my offer. I was pretty devastated and left scrambling. About another week later, a friend forwarded a job posting for a briefing attorney position at the First District Court of Appeals in Houston. I applied, thinking that I was a long-shot for the job. But I got an interview, and a few days later a job offer. I still feel super lucky to have landed that gig, and I will forever be indebted to Justice Massengale for choosing me among all the applicants for that job.

HCSMU: What is one of your proudest accomplishments regarding work in your field?

CD: Not long after joining Thompson Coe, I was given the opportunity to argue an appeal before the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas. The appellate issues weren’t especially difficult, but I was really nervous and doubted my ability to do it. I was really proud of myself for accepting the challenge, presenting a solid oral argument and ultimately winning the appeal.

HCSMU: Do you feel like your experience was different than your male counterparts?

CD: I think being a relatively young woman in this profession — one that is still predominately male and older — is just different from being a male. Thankfully, I cannot say that I’ve missed out on opportunities to similarly situated male attorneys, but I also don’t think that any of them have been mistaken for a paralegal in court or been called “honey” by opposing counsel.

HCSMU: Have you ever felt a time where you felt out of place because of your gender? If so, please describe an experience.

CD: There have been some uncomfortable moments over the years: some inappropriate jokes and condescending superiors. I would say, on the whole, that the places I’ve worked have been extremely professional environments, but it’s almost unavoidable that a client will say something inappropriate or that you’ll have to deal with situations where you’re the odd man/woman out.  

HCSMU: Would you change the way women are looked at in your industry? If so, how?

CD: I think the legal profession is working to make the culture of the profession one that accommodates women throughout their careers and lives, but I think old stereotypes are hard to erase, and I don’t think that all firms or all lawyers are invested in that process. Ultimately I think re-shaping what the profession, and in particular litigation practice, looks like is just going to take a while.

HCSMU: How would you describe your experience in your career field?

CD: When I was thinking about going to law school, I interned for solo family law practioner. She told me that one of her mentors frequently reminded her that, “They call it law practice for a reason: You’re never perfect at it.” I thought it was hokey at the time, and I still do, but it’s also true. I have been practicing law since the Fall of 2010. I still feel like I’m just getting started in this career. I have definitely had some ups and downs, as well as some doubts, but on the whole, I like being an attorney and the work that I do.

HCSMU: Do you believe there is a difference between raising a family and working for men and women? If so, please explain.

CD: Well, sure. I think there are different expectations for moms  —some of those expectations are self-inflicted, but they’re also societal. Those different expectations translate into different challenges for working moms. One thing I’ve been reading about lately, as well as working on with my partner (who is a great dad and husband) is our household “mental load,” i.e., all the tasks, and errands, and scheduling, etc. that go into running a household. Because we both work outside the house and both take an active role in parenting and running the household, splitting the mental load tasks more equitably is a necessity and keeps me from having to carry that mental burden (in addition to all my other responsibilities) alone.

HCSMU: What is your advice to women who will be entering male-dominated fields such as law, engineering, politics, business, etc...?

CD: I think law schools graduates are more than 50 percent women, and that among new attorneys, women are over 50 percent. So demographically, the face of law practice is changing. But a lot of women still struggle to stay in it after kids. I think there are so many ways to make it work, but I also think it’s a given that women have to work hard... really hard. You have to build trust and relationships with your supervisors, put in the time and hours. You also have to make sure that you’re in a firm/environment that will to work with you and be flexible as you figure out how to juggle life and work (especially after kids). 

And, you have to be willing to take risks for yourself and your career.

 

Cassie's advice has helped me already; the advice regarding law being "practice" and no one is every perfect at it, can be applied to every field, so always keep that in mind. Knowing people who have accomplished similar things you would want to accomplish works as a huge motivator. I urge everyone reading this to take risks in their career and push the limits of what you are comfortable with and already know. Go out and make your life happen, don't wait for someone else to make it happen for you.