Renée Rothauge is helping female attorneys improve trial skills one seminar at a time
Published in 2019 Oregon Super Lawyers Magazine on July 18, 2019
When Renée Rothauge started as a business litigator in the early 1990s, her firm thought she should consider switching to trusts and estates. But on her first rotation, she washed out within two days. “I was working on something,” she remembers, “and I fell asleep. When I woke up, I went to the partner and told him, ‘You have to let me go back to the litigation group. … Look at the drool on the paper!’”
She has since become one of the state’s top business litigators, with a focus on breach of contract, trademark and patent disputes. But one thing was nagging at her.
“I was waiting to see more women in trial in lead roles,” she says.
Obviously she knew trials were becoming rarer nationwide, but it was more than that. “The statistics showed more women coming out of law school,” she says, “and yet I kept waiting and waiting [for more female trial lawyers]. I turned 50 and realized I wasn’t seeing them at the rate I would have expected.”
That’s why, in 2014, Rothauge and her colleague Lisa Kaner founded the Women’s Trial Academy, an annual two-day mock trial program in which up to a dozen female attorneys play roles on both defense and plaintiff teams. Rothauge describes it as a boot camp for young female litigators.
The trials are based on a case involving defamation that Rothauge previously tried. Student-attorneys come prepared to make openings, closings and cross-examinations. They’re coached and critiqued by seasoned litigators who donate their time. The crew last April included Judge Janie Wilson, Judge Karin Immergut, Lisa Kaner, Jane Paulson, Julie Vacura, Dayna Christian, Heather Bowman, Laura Dominic and Judy Snyder.
“It’s an intensive, personal, confidential process,” Rothauge says. “Everything gets laid bare. … We focus on how you handle a significant problem at trial. How do you deal with a really difficult witness, for instance.” So how do you? “Prepare, prepare, prepare,” Rothauge says. “And if something happens that you didn’t prepare for, the most important thing to do is breathe.”
One critical lesson that often comes out of Women’s Trial Academy: being a woman in court can sometimes be an advantage. “My research suggests that jurors connect with women,” Routhage says. “I think it’s something that we naturally have an affinity for. I can’t explain it. But my anecdotal data suggests that women do have a strength that they need to deploy appropriately at trial.”
As a kid, Rothauge loved Perry Mason, and when she was 13 she asked one of her father’s friends—the only attorney her family knew—if he thought she’d make a good trial lawyer. He said yes. She never turned back. After getting her JD from Willamette University in 1990, Rothauge worked at Garvey Schubert Barer, then Bullivant Houser Bailey, and for the past nine years Markowitz Herbold.
One of Rothauge’s inspirations is her current firm’s co-founder Barrie Herbold, who passed away from cancer in 2001.
“She was a woman who had her name on a door,” Rothauge says. “A female trial attorney with her own firm. That was completely unheard of. And she was active in developing Oregon Women Lawyers. Her legacy is huge. There’s a ton of women who would not be where they are today but for her mentorship and her leadership.”
In her honor, Rothauge and fellow shareholder Laura Salerno Owens established the Herbold Women’s Forum in 2017, which features guest speakers and discussion to help mentor the firm’s young trial attorneys.
An awareness of the legacy of trailblazers comes through at the Women’s Trial Academy. “It’s so inspiring,” Rothauge says, “to watch them sit with rapt attention for hours listening to all of the women coaches who come to share their experience and their wisdom, to give them coaching on their styles. It’s a really beautiful process.”
Women’s Trial Academy bullet points:
• Requirement: Three to six years of civil litigation
• Cost: $225
• Class size: Up to 12 students
• Made possible with: Support from Oregon Women Lawyers
• Scholarships: Available for legal aid lawyers
• Next seminar: Fall 2020
• If interested: Contact [email protected]