The International Language of Law

Victoria Eslinger holds court from Columbia to Cannes

Published in 2009 South Carolina Super Lawyers Magazine

If multiculturalism is the model of the new America, Victoria Eslinger is among its first citizens. "I add and subtract in French and multiply and divide in English," she says.

It's no wonder. Her grandmother was Spanish, her grandfather French, and she learned both languages, as well as English, from the crib. As an adult, Eslinger practiced American corporate law for the Paris office of an international firm during which she met her future husband, Rick Creswick, a New Jersey native and postdoctoral student studying theoretical physics in Holland. He's now a professor at the University of South Carolina.

It's all rather globally confusing, but that befits Eslinger, who's picked up Italian ("it's easy"), Portuguese ("I'm not as fluent"), Romanian and Catalan ("I can understand it"), and even a smattering of Japanese, German and Russian. 

She's so culturally at ease wherever she travels throughout Europe that she modestly sums up her talents with a shrug. "All the Romance languages are essentially the same."

Today, Eslinger practices law in the Columbia office of Nexsen Pruet, where she specializes in general and business litigation, labor and employment law and, naturally, the firm's international practice. Her trial experience covers cases ranging from workplace discrimination to whistleblower protection.

In the 1990s, she did transactional work in France and Spain for the Paris office of O'Melveny & Myers. She found the differences between professionals from the Colonies and the Old Countries went beyond language.

"The work approach was different," she says. The Americans saw the job as the basis of their existence, while the French and Spanish were more relaxed. She could see it at business lunches. The Yanks got right to the point while the French wanted to first exchange pleasantries.

As a result of the occasional cultural squabble, "the French lawyers and the Americans would both come to me to voice their frustrations with the other," she recalls with a chuckle. "They each saw me as one of them."

For the last quarter century, Eslinger has journeyed annually to another exotic locale where the natives speak their own language: Cambridge, Massachusetts. She's been on the faculty of the Harvard University Law School Intensive Trial Advocacy Course for 25 years. "I love it," she says. "I love the intensity of the program and the brilliance of the students."

In 2004, she was awarded the Compleat Lawyer Platinum Award from the University of South Carolina School of Law, her alma mater, in recognition of her professional and civic accomplishments over more than three decades of practice.

Eslinger's upbringing was as progressive as it was multicultural. Gender role stereotyping was a language she never picked up. "My parents forgot to tell us that there were some things that females aren't supposed to do," she says.

It certainly didn't come up in conversation while she was getting her pilot's license at the age of 15, joining her mom, dad and brother in the sky.

While still a law student in the early 1970s, she triggered Eslinger v. Thomas, a three-year battle to allow her to become the first female page in the South Carolina Legislature. Eslinger eventually won the case, but only by the time she was on the verge of graduation. While she never became a page herself, she opened the doors for others.

In 1995, a journalist, aware of Eslinger's own bruising experience in a male-dominated field, sought her comment after Shannon Faulkner left The Citadel. Faulkner, the first female cadet accepted at the legendary Charleston military academy, had voluntarily dropped out, precipitating a chorus of cheers from male cadets who'd never wanted her to join their class in the first place.

"Those fancy little boys who were so nasty to her," Eslinger was quoted as saying, "what were they so afraid of, anyway? Are they afraid that some woman's going to come along that's going to be faster or smarter?"

But since then, a bit of gender stereotyping has crept in to Elsinger's own family.

"When my oldest daughter was 10 and I took her to a doctor, she was flabbergasted," the lawyer recalls. "She said, 'Mommy, my doctor was a boy!' It was like she couldn't believe that boys could even be doctors."

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