Meet a Legal Trailblazer
Girl Scouts played a huge role in shaping who Christine Curtis, an attorney and women’s rights activist, would become.
“I’m very achievement oriented, and Girl Scouts had a role in establishing the norms of behavior. It helped make me more assertive,” she says, adding, “Girl Scouts bolstered the idea that you—an autonomous young lady—could go out and achieve things.”
That was a big deal in a small town in Ohio in the 1950s.
After attending Yale and Vassar, Christine got married and had children before going to law school in 1968.
“Women, upon marriage, had no legal rights, and I decided law was the best way to look to the future,” she explained, adding that her children were top of mind in that decision. “The Equal Pay Act was only enacted in 1963, so before that, women weren’t hired for employment outside the home, and if they were, they weren’t paid fairly. There was no expectation of fairness. I had two young daughters, and I wanted to make the world better for them.”
Because of the many young men drafted for the Vietnam War, Stanford Law School wasn’t sure it would have enough students in attendance.
“I was accepted in the spring as part of the regular class, but in September they added extra women.”
Still, even with the additions, the hallways were a sea of men in ties.
“There had never been a woman dean, there were no women professors, and we were constantly asked by our classmates why we were taking a place of a man when we couldn’t even get hired after graduation,” she says of the time.
Like today, law firms back then often hired from a pool of former interns. Christine quickly discovered that although the white-shoe San Francisco firms were not hiring women, the white-shoe Manhattan firms were.
One firm actually tried to conduct an interview with Christine in a hotel room. “This was fall of 1970. It wasn’t until 1987 that the Supreme Court said law firms were held to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that they weren’t private entities. There was no redress for sexual harassment back then.”
She eventually landed a job in the litigation department of a prestigious Manhattan firm, where she did antitrust work. Christine wasn’t the first woman at the firm, but the only other woman had handled family law, which was considered more of a “women’s issue.” Being a trailblazer came with some frustrations.
“I represented Tiffany & Co., but the president came by to thank the lawyers, and they didn’t introduce him to me,” she says.
After she left the firm, she heard that it had held monthly attorney meetings, but because they took place in the all-male Sky Club, she hadn’t been invited.
When she left the firm, she went on to work for Ruth Bader Ginsberg—the now iconic U.S. Supreme Court Justice—at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I was angry, and it was a ‘to the barricades’ impulse,” she says of her decision to champion women’s legal rights. “The first real recognition of legal female equality in this country was Ginsberg’s case, Reed vs. Reed, in 1971,” she explains.
For the rest of her career, Christine—who now serves as of counsel for Lebow and Sokolow—would move between law firms doing large class-action cases and legislative lobbying on behalf of women; her heart remains firmly in defending women’s rights and being at the forefront of law that would protect them.
“I just never found private practice,” she says, “as satisfying as working on policy.”