Leading by Example
The four women Texas Supreme Court justices discuss overcoming obstacles and forging ahead.
Edited by Adam Faderewski
Above: Texas Supreme Court Justices Eva Guzman, Debra Lehrmann,
Jane Bland, and Rebeca Aizpuru Huddle. Photos courtesy of The Texas
The National Association of Women Judges hosted the four women justices of the Texas Supreme Court—Eva Guzman, Debra Lehrmann, Jane Bland, and Rebeca Aizpuru Huddle—in a discussion panel on January 21 via Zoom moderated by Judge Maria Salas-Mendoza, of the 120th Judicial District Court in El Paso. The panel, Supreme Women: A Quartet of Justices Making Texas History, focused on the role of women in leadership, overcoming obstacles and impostor syndrome, diversity and equity, and career advice. Below is a snapshot of the discussion.
Justices Guzman and Lehrmann were asked about their leadership styles and whether women need to have a different leadership style than men.
“I don’t think women need different leadership qualities,” Guzman said. “I think that you grow into a style and it’s important to think, What type of leader do I want to be and what kind of legacy do I want as a leader.”
Guzman said her leadership style is more democratic and embraces collective success and pride while promoting individual creativity and accomplishments.
Lehrmann said it is important for all parties to view themselves in a way that results in a better product for everyone. “It is still important to always work collaboratively to get the best ideas from everyone involved—competing ideas that are going to be the best result for everybody.”
Leaders learn through collaboration and cooperation and use that to further a goal by employing a number of different techniques, Guzman said.
“Leaders are made,” Guzman said. “They have the heart of a servant
and they bring out the best in those around them. There are a lot of
younger women and lawyers looking at us, so we lead by example.”
Diversity and Equity
Justices Bland and Lehrmann discussed diversity and equity, including the current historic composition of the Texas Supreme Court.
Lehrmann commented on the collegial nature of the court, where all of her colleagues are conscientious, hardworking people. “We work together very well,” Lehrmann said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t challenge each other or disagree. It’s always done in a very respectful and collegial manner.”
Bland agreed the justices all work together and communicate well even when they disagree.
Lehrmann said that diversity is good for many reasons. “When you have a diverse group of people working together, then we all bring our own perspectives, our own sense of the world, our own sense of reality, our own view of things,” Lehrmann said.
To encourage or achieve diversity, Bland said it may be upon the person in the position to appoint someone to reach beyond the names proffered to them.
“Some people for various reasons might not consider that they ought
to be the person to have that job, or the chairmanship of the committee,
or the role on the board,” Bland said. “I encourage you when you are in
a position for naming someone to fill a role that you don’t just look at
the stuff that lands on your desk but you do a little bit of outreach
Unethical Conduct Toward Women as Lawyers, Judges, and Justices
Justices Huddle and Lehrmann spoke about unethical behavior.
Lehrmann said she hasn’t seen any disrespect directed toward her or Justice Guzman during their time together on the Supreme Court. As a trial judge, Lehrmann said she encountered unprofessional conduct, but she didn’t believe it was because she was a woman.
Huddle said she hasn’t experienced unprofessional or unethical conduct during her time as a judge. She did cite an instance early in her career when a more experienced lawyer chided her for “wasting time” and “not knowing how things were supposed to work” during a deposition.
“I was really frazzled and had only taken a handful of depositions before that,” Huddle said. She added that she knew that her duty to her client was more important than the awkwardness she was experiencing.
Huddle said the experienced attorney wrote a letter to the managing partner at the firm complaining about her “terrible behavior.”
“I was mortified to read the letter,” Huddle said. “I thought, Am I going to get into trouble?”
Huddle was relieved after talking to the managing partner, who said the only conclusion he could draw from the letter was that Huddle was gutting opposing counsel’s case.
“I try to address less-than-stellar behavior by being really good on the merits and building a reputation for doing good work in a really professional way,” Huddle said. “Over time, people who may have been inclined to misbehave know you or know that you’re not someone they can take advantage of.”
Lehrmann credited the pioneering women of Texas law for paving the way and taking those hard steps for equal recognition.
“So many women before us proved that women are very, very capable of
doing this work, and do so in an exceptional manner,” Lehrmann said.
“We’re all very grateful for those women who came before us.”
Justices Guzman and Huddle talked about overcoming their own obstacles and how attorneys and judges can overcome theirs.
Guzman said sometimes young lawyers can lack confidence, especially when first starting out in their careers. “I had to be very deliberate in taking steps to overcome those instances when I felt I just wasn’t confident in that next move,” Guzman said. “That includes seeking out people who provide the type of support that might help in overcoming that; being very intentional and purposeful about building a resume that was worthy of the position I sought.”
Huddle said a lingering obstacle that every lawyer faces is time management. She said for many years she fretted over having a crowded calendar and worried about being able to grow in her profession while still having time to take part in her kids’ activities.
“For me, that has always been a challenge and I don’t think it’s going away,” Huddle said. “I have been pretty deliberate in managing it so that it doesn’t in turn become a new source of anxiety.”
To keep time management from becoming a source of anxiety, Huddle
said, attorneys sometimes have to say “no” to a worthy cause because it
might not fit at the time. She also emphasized being easy on yourself
and having space to say, I don’t have to do everything every day or
Justices Bland and Huddle gave advice on how to overcome impostor syndrome and how to create a positive from it.
Bland emphasized that it is normal to feel impostor syndrome. She encouraged attorneys to acknowledge that they can do difficult things and to remove obstacles that can create that anxiety.
“We evaluate others differently than we evaluate ourselves,” Bland said. “Usually, we are harder on other people than we are on ourselves, but I think impostor syndrome is an exception to that. It may help us to be more charitable to others who are struggling in their role and judging their capabilities and qualifications for it.”
Huddle said she disagreed with the term “impostor syndrome,” as the syndrome designation gives a sense of permanence or indicates there is something wrong. She said newness or lack of experience is what leads to that anxiety.
“The first year of a new anything is going to be hard,” Huddle said. “Give yourself a break to work hard and work through to get experience.”
She added that the gravity of the task at hand is something that leads to feeling inadequate.
“I sort of shudder to think about folks who don’t get nervous when
they’re going to a big important hearing or deciding a big case,” Huddle
said. “We should all feel the weight of what we’re doing and the
importance of our job.”
Planning for the Future
The four justices each provided advice to law students and young lawyers for planning their careers.
Guzman: “None of us could have anticipated a year ago what 2020 would be like and the challenges we would face as a judiciary, as lawyers, and as law students. Some of the things that we learned we will be able to carry into the future. For younger lawyers and law students, be flexible, be willing to learn, and be willing to adapt to changing circumstances—and be willing to use your network.”
Lehrmann: “We’re only human; we can only do what we can do. Sometimes we just have to let some things go so that the things we really care about can turn out the way we want them to. Don’t think you have to have your whole life planned out in front of you. Part of being your best is letting go sometimes and realizing that you don’t have to be everything to every person all the time.”
Bland: “Loneliness is a killer. To law students and trial judges, your work is stressful and it’s work that can be done alone. Reach out to your colleagues, even if you feel uncomfortable doing it. Be that glue kid who spends some time forging friendships on the bench or in your law school class. I’m very grateful for everything that trial judges and all the judges in Texas have done to navigate this year.”
Huddle: “Things in law, as in life, don’t always go according to plan. Try to stay nimble so that you feel ready to take an opportunity that you might not have planned. Trust yourself to know that you’ll be able to judge a good opportunity for you if one presents itself. Think big.” TBJ