Barbara Babcock


On her book Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz

Cover Interview of January 25, 2011


I have two rather large wishes for this book—first that Clara Foltz’s purposeful life will inspire female lawyers and their male allies in the project of re-structuring the legal profession to accommodate the lives of women.

Second, I hope that understanding the history and original purpose of public defense will give support to the current movement to provide an effective lawyer for every accused person and in Foltz’s words, to achieve “free justice.”

When I graduated from law school in 1963, only three percent of the nation’s law students were women.  We thought we had few predecessors, little history, no heroines.  But it turns out that we just didn’t know about our foremothers in the law.  Today we are recovering the experiences of the first wave of women lawyers.

To subsequent generations, the message of Clara Foltz and the rest of the pioneering generation is, first, to embrace feminism, and to think about the impact of your choices and achievements on those who follow.

The pioneers would add that male allies are essential to success, and advise working closely with men of like mind—and developing as well as discovering such men.

Finally, the first wave women lawyers would advise both men and women to throw themselves into causes greater than their own advancement, to live fully, and to find pleasure in their work.

On the criminal justice front, I wish the book to provide arguments and inspiration for the public defender movement.  Though the movement has flourished in that it is now the major channel for defense services in the United States, it has also flagged because in times of recession the funding drops below what is adequate for investigation and preparation.  At a time when ineffective assistance of counsel is still a major problem, Clara Foltz’s constitutional and practical arguments for public defense are fresh and relevant, and indeed much needed.

© 2010 Barbara Babcock