Yesterday I was included in a program at the Women In Construction (WIC) Annual Conference in Washington, DC. It was a great day, and there was a lot on the program that complements the Best Friends at the Bar project.
Maybe that is because I started as a construction lawyer more than 30 years ago, and that is where I experienced many of the things that I write about and speak about today. Being a woman construction lawyer in the late 1970’s—when there were precious few of us—taught us a lot about supporting each other, learning to fit into a man’s world, and the value of a sense of humor. Those subjects were addressed in the conference yesterday, especially when the video interview of Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, by Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, was played. You might remember that I blogged about that interview last week.
That many years ago, when there were so few women in construction law, you could hear the glass ceiling shatter, and we rejoiced together when it did. It was a great practice, and if I hadn’t needed a flexible schedule to care for children and keep the home fires burning, I probably would still be in it. However, according to the leadership in most firms at that time, litigation required a full-time schedule. Funny…..today there are many women litigators on part-time schedules, but 30 years ago, it was not a sign of the time. So, I transitioned my practice to other interesting things, but, to this day, I never drive over a bridge or see a construction crane without getting a thrill from the old days.
Some of you are scratching your heads and wondering what construction law is all about. Let me help you with that. Construction lawyers represent owners, prime contractors, subcontractors, sureties, engineers and architects on projects from residential housing developments to huge government infrastructure projects. Some of the projects I worked on were subway construction projects—mass transit was in its early stages then—road construction projects and a fascinating Corps of Engineers project that involved building a really big and really cool earthfill dam and reservoir in Northern California. The client on that project was one of the largest design/build firms in the world, and I was the first woman lawyer to work on one of their projects. Yes, hard hat, suit, stockings and heals can be a fashion statement—at least in those days. It was exciting work!
Well, even though I moved on to other things, a few of my colleagues from those early days are still moving that practice forward—-and very well, I might add. One of them, Barbara Werther, partner at Ober|Kaler, founded the Women in Construction Conference in 2006, and it is a big success. She is a leader in the field of construction law, and she puts together an impressive array of lawyers, owners, lenders, engineers, contractors and consultants each year for a highly professional conference.
Hats off—-hard hats, that is!— to the women construction lawyers who are still shaking things up in one of the last bastions of male dominance. They do it so well!
If you are interested in construction law, keep your eyes open for the Women in Construction Conference next year. See you there!