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Who Was Your Mentor?

Therese and Barbara Lawless

Published in 2011 Northern California Super Lawyers magazine

Therese Lawless was a novice attorney 23 years ago when her sister, Barbara, a pioneer in California employment law, asked her to leave a large Boston practice and join her San Francisco firm. The sisters practice at Lawless & Lawless.

Barbara took me under her wing and taught me almost everything I know about being a trial lawyer. Some of it was sink or swim, but she was a very good teacher, showing me what we needed to do in establishing our claims. She’s a very ethical person. [Through] her interactions with clients, she modeled that for me: how it is important to be very upfront and candid with clients so that they don’t have unreasonable expectations.

There are 12 children in our family. Barbara’s number two; I’m number nine. My father [the late Judge William B. Lawless Jr.] was a lawyer and a judge and law school dean and a law school president. He was a judge on the New York Supreme Court, which is their trial level. He was a complete believer in the judicial process in this country, and [in] the three branches of government and the fact that we were lucky to have a Constitution to protect our rights. He would talk about that at the dinner table.

Barbara is a very humble person. When she has a weakness, she admits it. She also has the ability to laugh at herself, which I think is a wonderful trait for anyone to have. None of us are perfect.

In California, she was one of the pioneers when it comes to employment law. She’s had some significant cases, one of which … came out of the [state] Supreme Court [six] years ago, and sort of redefined how you could create a hostile work environment in a sexual discrimination case. I was really proud of her in going forward in that case, because the facts were so egregious, but the law was not as clearly defined as it was after that case came out.

At the end of the year, I’ll say to [Barbara], “Oh, you worked harder this year, you should take a little more.” And she’ll say, “No, no, you did this, you did that.” I think most partners don’t have that type of relationship.

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