Thought leadership from our experts

The Female Lawyer’s Role

Women’s professional ascension has been going on for a while, and in the legal field, it’s not different. The Brazilian Constitution established gender equality as a fundamental right and Presidential Decree 4377/2002 eliminated in theory, all sorts of discrimination against women. Throughout history, there is a clear presence of women in their fight for an equal position.

The first Women to graduate from Largo Sao Francisco’s Law School (FDUSP) (one of the most prestigious law schools in Brazil) was Maria Augusta Saraiva. In 1952, two female lawyers, Romy Medeiros da Fonseca and Orminda Barros presented to the Organization of American States (OAS) Interamerican Commission of Women’s, a project which had the goal of changing the judicial condition of women’s in Brazil. In 1957, Fonseca presented the law, which changed many articles of the 1916 Brazilian Civil Code, which restricted women’s freedom and placed themselves as their husband’s “property”.

Female lawyer Myrthes Gomes de Campos was the first to be accepted by the Brazilian’s Bar Association, and became well-known for having requested electoral registration with the argument that the Brazilian Constitution at that time didn’t specifically denied female voting rights. The request was denied and later only approved by President Getulio Vargas executive decree in 1932. Campos was also the first woman to act as counselor in public hearing and used her opening statement to mention the importance of women presence in judicial institutions. She also worked in the jurisprudence department of the Federal District Court of Appeals (which back then was Rio de Janeiro), and also acted as a regular correspondent for “Jornal Commercio”, publishing many articles which were a fundamental stone in jurisprudence and female liberty.

In the United States, the story wasn’t different. It was the 19th president Rutherford Hayes who approved a law which allowed for female lawyers to prosecute and defend cases in the US Supreme Court. At this point, no women were allowed so, because feelings such as shyness and delicacy were seen as “female characteristics”, which turned women “inadequate” for many occupations of civil life.

The mission of women, was seen then as taking “noble” roles such as being a mother and taking care of the house. In a never seen before situation, attorney Belva Lockwood- that then integrated a movement in favor of women’s right to vote-, was the first women to ever represent a client in a hearing in the US Supreme Court, but in the end, she received a unanimous negative decision.

Back in Brazil, nowadays, even though the majority of law schools have more and more female students than male counterparts, and many regions having more female lawyers registered at the Brazilian bar association (OAB), women’s are still a minority as judges and within the Brazilian law firms.

One example is Brazilian Supreme Court (the so-called “STF”), which throughout its entire history had only three female justices serving, Ellen Gracie (former Justice, and first women to serve as a Supreme Court Justice only in 2000), Rosa Weber and Carmen Lucia, the STF´s current chief justice.

At the Superior Tribunal de Justiça (the so-called “STJ”), Brazil’s second highest court, Eliana Calmon was the first women to serve as justice in 1999, and currently justices Nancy Andrighi, Laurita Vaz, Isabel Galotti, Maria Theresa de Assis Moura and Regina Helena Costa are members of STJ, alongside 28 male justices.

One of the largest acknowledgment of women’s ascension is that Brazil’s current chief Justice is a woman. Carmen Lucia Antunes Rocha, who already served as head prosecutor during Itamar Franco’s administration had an important role in many different important case such as Maria da Penha Law, Ficha Limpa Law, Mensalao, Provisory Sentence Execution, and many others. Another great woman evidence of success is the first woman to be appointed as attorney general of Brazil, Raquel Elias Ferreira Dodge.

Dodge is graduated from the University of Brasilia, with a Master’s Degree by Harvard University. She acted in many important corruption cases such as Caixa de Pandora Operation, which arrested then Federal District Governor Jose Roberto Arruda, and also served as coordinator of the criminal department of the Attorney General’s office, where she defended the Maria da Penha Law. Her name is tied with the defense of human rights, minorities, environmental issues and fight to corruption. Dodge is also linked to Car Wash Operation, which investigates corruption scandals.

Truth need to be said, that the fight has had certain success. We need to remember that in the beginning, when women left their “housewife” role to search for professional liberty, they faced that many law firms opted for not hiring women in their teams, mainly for believing women weren’t qualified enough, and specially in the United States Supreme Court, the belief was that women couldn’t handle cases in a rational manner because they were the “fragile” gender.

Because of this, when finally became lawyers, most women acted in family law due to the lack of opportunities and the “familiarity” with this subject. Currently, women have been working in important positions in the most varied sections of law, including Infrastructure, Aviation, Tax, Labor, Sports, Corporate and many others.

We need to realize society’s evolution in customs and habits. In this sense, the legal framework needs to follow and be the guardian of the values of the new times. It is crucial that women continue in their demands for the improvement and to grow their roles and rights before the society including, gender equality, making sure that does not mean to masculinize women.

In fact, there is a lot to mention when it comes to the effectiveness of gender equality laws which not only give access to same job positions, but as the same salary as their male counterparts.

There is also the fight in criminal law, where there still are many conditions which need to be met in police stations and jails, since harassment wasn’t extinguished, even though there are many rules about it. We are still waiting for the presidential sanction in law project about the importune type of crime what will avoid legal loopholes to correct certain permissive understandings, not to say the polemic use of the term “masculinity” employed in legal documents for public tender of the Military Police of Parana, what makes us to understand that the issue of female empowerment is yet a lot to be debated.

In a general way, it is also necessary to investigate which Women Lawyers’ rights aren’t being followed and punish those cases and people. Moreover, it is a clear necessity to improve regulation about women’s rights in the Brazilian Bar Code.

The fight for equal representation in the judicial world is far from over, but there is no way to deny its role is even more clear in daily life, especially in the academic, public and corporate environment. There is a tendency for even more female presence on all fields and studies of law. Nevertheless, there are still many issues to address about the “pre-historic” prejudice against women in judiciary, legislative and executive powers. Such prejudice is no longer adequate and does not conform to the modern times and even less with the civilized times we all hope for, where men and women may be protagonists of their stories, prosper and have a real quality of life.