First Person Singular: Judy Harris, 64, Washington, Lawyer, Reed Smith


Lawyer Judy Harris of Reed Smith in Washington. (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
January 24, 2013

When I was a kid, my mom used to always say to my sister and me: “Pam, you are so sweet, caring and sensitive, you ought to be a doctor. And Judy, you have such a big mouth, you should be a lawyer.” My sister is now a doctor; I am a lawyer. Whenever people would say to her, “Oh, my God, you must be so proud of your girls,” she would say, “Better they were my son-in-laws.”

When I was at Yale, I competed in a prize trial; Hillary Clinton was my adviser. I was the first woman to win. But I must tell you how I won. The trial is a big deal. They invite a prominent judge. There’s always a surprise witness the day of the trial. My folks arrive very, very early, plop themselves in the center seats of the center row of this large auditorium. Six hours in,

it’s my turn to cross-examine, and in comes the surprise witness. And all of a sudden, I hear, “Judy, Judy.” I turn around, and it’s my mother. She says, in a quite loud voice, “Judy, you ought to get your hair cut like the girl over there; it would be so cute.” Next thing I know, I hear, “Miss Harris, it’s your witness.” I am about to pass, but then I do this little mental calculation and walk over to the witness. “Just one question: Do you think I should get my hair cut like that girl over there?” The place cracked up. I am convinced that’s why I won.

When I graduated, everyone wanted to hire me [because of the prize], but no one would let me litigate. I couldn’t get a job at a real firm doing litigation because I was a woman. I do worry that people don’t realize this wasn’t very long ago and take it for granted. I felt like I was carrying all of womanhood in a backpack as I trudged onward. If I threw in the towel, no woman would ever get a job again.

In ’96, I decided I was going to stay home for the summer with the kids and think about what to do next. One day, I was literally baking cookies. I heard my 13-year-old son on the phone with a friend. The friend must have heard me and asked, “Is that your mom?” Danny says, “Yeah, that’s my mother. My mom used to be this big-shot lawyer, and now she’s our maid.” When he hung up, I said: “Daniel, look, I am doing this for you. If you don’t like it, I am so out of here!” We had this long conversation, and he said, “Mom, I’ve always been so proud of you.” My kids were genuinely bewildered that they could be so proud of something and I could walk away from it. I know that I am the happiest when I was working, so I went right back and made them proud — and myself happy.

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