State and federal appellate judges offer their advice for women considering a career on the bench.
Margaret McKeown, Judge, U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (1998–present)
Q: What was your path to the bench? And what was the most unexpected aspect of being a judge, once you were appointed?
There has to be this confluence of serendipity and professional excellence and timing for an appointment to happen. Lucky is the best way to describe it. I was the first woman partner, first woman on the executive committee, and first woman managing director at Perkins Coie in Seattle and Washington, D.C., where I specialized in high technology and antitrust work. I had an international and national practice that I loved. I served the community in diverse ways, through national board service on the Girl Scouts of the USA, the White House Fellows Foundation, and work with national and local bar associations. I was the first co-president of the statewide Washington Women Lawyers and one of the founders. I was not contemplating the bench. But then a judge in Washington asked whether I might consider applying for an opening on the Ninth Circuit, which made me consider whether I would enjoy serving as a judge. I threw my hat in the ring for what turned out to be a long and arduous process. It took three and a half years to go through the appointment process, which was a politically tumultuous time. While some would say that there is a script for a professional life leading to the federal bench, I did not follow any script and did what I felt passionate about; had I followed a script, I might never have done the pro bono women’s rights and civil rights cases I did in my career and that I was grilled about during the confirmation process.
Originally published in The Woman Advocate - ABA Litigation Section on March 26, 2014.
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