A Trailblazer Looks Back
A popular rock n’ roll band of the late ‘60s to mid ‘70s, Three Dog Night entertained thousands of fans with their first gold record, “One,” and the catchphrase “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” For Liz Perry, that line probably played round and round her mind as she became the first woman attorney in Clark County when she was hired by her firm in 1976.
For Baby Boomers, maybe those memories abound. Inside shopping malls were the rage, as were long hair, disco, platform shoes, a united Vietnam, a Southern governor as President, Rocky, the American Bicentennial celebration and the undefeated Indiana college basketball team. Women lawyers, however, were still taboo.
They had a brief heyday in the ‘20s and ‘30s, but World War II changed the landscape of the career woman who became more of a housewife. Feminism staged a comeback in the ‘60s and ‘70s. That is when Irwin Landerholm decided that his firm should resemble the rest of America and hired a youthful, 25-year-old fresh out of University of Oregon Law School.
“Nobody thinks twice of a woman lawyer today,” says Liz, thinking back about those days 32 years ago. “Today more than 50 percent of law students are women. I came around just as women began making those career decisions. I remember that in the graduating class of 1974, there were only two or three women. In 1975, the graduating class was 10 percent, in 1976, 20%”.
“When I began my career, I recall that the legal community was very welcoming. One of the county judges decided to appoint me as defense attorney to an indigent defendant. I told him that I knew very little about criminal defense. He said, ‘I’ll teach you.’”
“Then I had a ‘Silence of the Lambs’ moment, when I entered the city jail and the doors clanged behind me,” she recalled, laughing at the memory. “Here I was, just me and the defendant. So I asked myself: ‘When did you make this life-turning decision?’ It turned out to be a harmless scene, of course. I think the individual was charged with a parole violation, and the judge just wanted to see who I was.”
Her decision was cast in book law when Liz turned 15. Coming from a family of teachers, she thought she was way too shy to stand in front of a classroom to lecture. Therefore, as an avid reader and problem-solver, Liz reasoned that law would be a logical fit. Indeed, it is.
As someone who keeps up with the ever-changing government laws involving elder law and the probate process, Liz has a niche that only a handful of folks practice in Clark County. The challenge is, she says, to keep up with the frequent law changes connected with Medicaid and to give accurate guidance to older couples trying to live a life comfortably.
“I find it very satisfying because you can give immediate help to folks who are usually distressed. Your battle is to help older couples with modest savings retain their dignity, home and assets, while providing the proper treatment for a spouse who has become ill.”
Unlike other areas of law where firms can become adversarial, in this specialized area professionals match notes to keep updated with the latest news and court decisions.
In the early days, pioneers were not welcome. “I remember looking for a job while I was still in law school,” Liz said. “I submitted a résumé to one particular law firm. A young associate answered my inquiry by saying that I shouldn’t pursue a career there since ‘we already hired our woman.’” Can you hear Martin Luther King turning over in his grave?
“We started with potluck dinners to discuss common issues. There were Danica Dodd, Linda Johnson, Marlene Hansen and Marcine Miles. We later formed the Vancouver chapter of the Washington Women Lawyers.
Liz recalled another awkward incident. “Back then the Clark County Bar Association held an annual golf day and dinner at the Royal Oaks Country Club. They chose Thursday, which was traditionally a men’s only day.
“Well, Linda was a very good golfer and she wanted to participate. She shows up and the club wouldn’t allow her to play. There was a bit of a fuss and the club threatened to call the police even though her father was a judge at the time,” Liz said, chuckling. “It all was settled. Let’s just say they never held their golf day on men’s days again!” As the oldest in a brood of six, Liz often plays the role of judge to her brothers and sisters. Easter Sunday included an egg hunt and dinner for 20 people. Liz was left to direct the activities while others complained. “Hey, people pay me good money for what I tell them,” she yelled. “Better take my advice. It’s free!”
Lately, the newly-appointed president of her firm spoils her five-year-old niece Helen, by collecting American Girl Dolls as gifts. While it takes her back to her childhood, Liz also finds the effort a good way to teach the next generation about history. She has purchased the American Indian doll, the colonial times doll and her next buy is the Great Depression doll.
Wonder if the collection includes the Great American Lawyer?
Reprinted from the Rider Report, a Publication of Rider & Associates, Inc. Reporting & Transcription Services
Elizabeth is admitted to practice law in the states of Washington and Oregon and before the U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington. She is a graduate of the University of Oregon (B.S., Economics, 1973) and the University of Oregon Law School (J.D., 1976). In connection with her studies, she is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Order of Coif honorary societies.
Elizabeth has served as Trustee for the Clark County Bar Association, Vice-chair of the Chinook Trail Association, President of Women In Action, and President of St. Helens Chapter of Washington Women Lawyers. She has also served on the Columbia River Mental Health Agency Board of Directors, SWIFT, The Columbian’s Advisory Board and Clark College Foundation. In 1991, she was honored by the YWCA as a “Woman of Achievement”.
Elizabeth is a frequent speaker in the community on the subjects of Medicaid and Estate planning.
805 Broadway, Suite 1000, Vancouver, WA 98660
Phone: (360) 816-2485 Fax (360) 816-2486
Elder Lawyer in Vancouver, WA – Elizabeth A. Perry Profile