In today’s world of the 24-hour news cycle and the instantaneous publishing power of social media, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to judge what is fact from mere conjecture. At times, it feels like we live in a culture where jumping to conclusions and making broad generalizations has become de rigueur. The subject of this month’s edition of Women in the Law, San Francisco attorney Lori Andrus, is of the opinion that in order to succeed and to make strides, women need to be aware of this potential pitfall and become the most prepared and knowledgeable person in the room.
Ms. Andrus comes from a family ensconced in the law—her father is prominent attorney Vance Andrus, her uncle is also an attorney and her grandfather was a judge. That said, going to law school wasn’t a given for Lori despite her legal pedigree. It wasn’t until she began working on Capitol Hill as a congressional aid that Lori first considered attending law school. “While I was working in D.C., I began to look at the women around me and it appeared that the ones who were most content with their careers had law degrees.” So, with the intention of returning to D.C. after law school, Lori began to search for the right law school and did her due diligence. She decided on Duke Law School after reading an article which listed Duke Law in the number one position in a ranking of law schools based on several factors: the success of their female students both while in school and post-graduation; the number of women in professor positions; and the number of women on law review.
It was while at Duke that Lori made a connection that would change the course of her professional life—she met renowned attorney, Elizabeth Cabraser. Lori was hired by Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein as a summer associate during her second year of law school and was immediately impressed with Ms. Cabraser and how she not only took huge corporations to task, but she was a pioneer in equal pay litigation. After graduating from law school, Lori went on to work at Lieff Cabraser for seven years where she quickly climbed the ladder, making partner within five years - all thoughts of returning to Washington gone. Lori developed the drive to help others and be a voice to call out injustice; a drive that has continued to motivate her to this day.
While her time at Lieff Cabraser was extremely formative to her legal career, Lori knew it was time to move on and strike out on her own when 13 years ago, a lawyer friend asked her if she still saw herself at Lieff Cabraser in 20 years. “This question really struck a chord with me and I realized that while I loved working at Lieff Cabraser, it was too top heavy for me and that’s when I decided to start my own firm with my law partner, Jennie Lee Anderson.”
Since branching out on her own, Ms. Andrus has taken a special interest in equal pay and has fought to hold corporate America accountable in instances where women are paid less than men for the same work. Lori insists that equal pay is not simply a women’s issue, but rather it is an economic issue. “It’s wage theft—women’s work is not just cheap labor.” In order to become a leading expert in the field, Lori had to do extensive research on industry standards across many disciplines to uncover the average wages for both sexes, in addition to learning the gender makeup of these fields. She has made it her mission to arm herself with the facts and statistics to support her quest to alleviate gender inequality in the workplace
Through her work in Coates v. Farmers, Ms. Andrus was able to take on the third largest insurance company in the United States and negotiate a $4 million settlement on behalf of 300 attorneys who were all either former or current Farmers Insurance employees. It is through her work fighting for gender equality in the workplace, that Lori believes she has created significant and lasting change. When asked if she’s seen any substantial changes towards gender equality in the legal field since she began practicing, she responded that she does believe certain progress has been made, albeit slowly. “We’ve come a long way in recent decades, but we certainly haven’t come far enough. There are more women on the bench in both state and federal courts, which is a huge step in the right direction.” Lori maintains that societal viewpoints change when female judges are present in the court systems.
Ms. Andrus insists that the best weapon against sexism—both conscious and unconscious—is to be the best you can be at your job and be prepared, a resounding theme across interviewees in this series. When asked what advice she would give to the next generation of women entering the legal field, Lori says that women need to commit themselves to their principles and never work for a firm or company whose standards don’t align with their own.
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