It’s a little intimidating to walk into the Allred, Maroko & Goldberg conference room. It’s a familiar scene, but today the TV cameras and distraught clients aren’t present — it’s just me, Gloria and some questions. It was fascinating to speak with a woman so unapologetic about her life. Some of my queries left her bemused. Guilt over being a working mom? Crying on the job? She has no time for such things. Her answers and attitude were those of a woman focused on a much larger picture. Frankly, she took me by surprise. I suspect she does the same to her opponents.
After practicing law for 39 years, Ms. Allred has many laudable accomplishments under her belt, but her name and face are often associated with salacious cases that have captivated the public imagination. In recent years, she’s represented the mistresses of Tiger Woods and Anthony Weiner, and she’s been lampooned on The Simpsons and South Park for courting the press. Even her own website has a whiff of sensationalism, describing her as “the most famous woman attorney practicing law in the nation today.” While speaking with her, I realized that the by-any-means-necessary attitude fits her. And I wonder: Would a male lawyer who is as aggressive in his representation and unabashed about seeking publicity garner the same amount of vitriol? Interestingly, I doubt Gloria would pause to consider this, or even care. But it is clear that she cares about her clients. Her current representation of alleged victims of Bill Cosby has been criticized by some as hurting the cause. After my time with her, I’m not so sure.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Gloria Allred: In other words: To have a public trial; invite the women to sue. Agree to not assert the statue of limitations as a defense — which he could do — and let a judge and jury decide. The women would have their day in court. He would have his day in court. Or, if he doesn’t want to subject himself to public scrutiny, agree to confidential arbitration using retired judges and put $100 million into a fund. (It could be a different amount, there’s no magic to that number.) If the judges find, after hearing from the alleged victims and Mr. Cosby, that a preponderance of the evidence proves that he committed acts of sexual misconduct against these women, or drugged them, or both, an appropriate amount would be awarded by the judges, based on what the women could prove are their damages. Those are the two alternatives.
Those are two viable options. Is he going to accept either one? No, not likely. But could he? Yes. Have I had cases where potential defendants agreed that they would not assert the statute of limitations and agreed to mediation? Yes, I had a couple of cases like that last year. The defendants decided that they wanted to do the right thing legally, even though they were not required to do it. Those happened to be cases involving adult survivors of child sexual abuse. So, has it been done? Yes. Will he do it? He could. Is he going to do it? Probably not.
My goal is to achieve their goals. They wanted to have a voice; I helped empower them so they could speak out. It’s always helpful to know what rights you have, legally, and what rights you don’t have. My goal is to be supportive of them in any way that is possible for me to be supportive of them. I don’t think women should have to suffer in silence.
I’ve been practicing law for almost 39 years. Obviously, my life experience is a huge motivator in my desire to help women assert their rights. That’s why I do what I do. We all have a duty to help improve the condition of women, to help bring them into the mainstream of American life, as equal partners with men in each and every aspect of life. That’s what we do here. We think that if there are laws on the books, they’re there for a reason. And the people those laws were passed to protect should be able to use those laws for their protection. In many ways, we act as private attorneys general to help enforce rights. To vindicate rights where those rights exist. And, sometimes, we advocate for rights that don’t exist but should exist.
What she actually said is, “Who is the victim? Who’s the real victim?” In response to that, I invite her to come to my office, or any other place where she would like to meet, and speak with my clients, as well as any other women who allege that they are victims of Bill Cosby. Meet with them face to face, hear their stories, ask them any questions she would like, and then decide who the real victim or victims are. I think she would benefit from hearing from each and every one of these women. Then she could make an intelligent decision. I haven’t received any response on that.
We’ve done more women’s rights cases than any other private law firm in the nation over the past 39 years. We’ve won hundreds of millions of dollars for victims. This is what we do as a private law firm. This is what we want to do. Not only for women — we’ve asserted the rights of minorities, gays, lesbians. We’ve been pioneers in that area.
I wanted to go to law school after graduating from college, but, at that time, I couldn’t afford it and I was a single mother. So, I became a teacher and taught for six and a half years. Ultimately, I thought maybe I could help improve conditions in the schools by becoming a lawyer. That’s why I originally went to law school. But after I became an attorney, I felt like I had a duty to give back to women because it’s a very privileged position to be an attorney and a woman.
Only about seven percent. I felt that I was called on frequently. I did ask one professor, “Why do you always call on me?” He said, “I don’t think you’re tough enough yet.” After I started practicing, I saw him and I said, “Do you think I’m tough enough now?” And he said, “Yeah, I think you’re tough enough now.” [Laughs.]
It’s kind of a war that we’re in every day. You have to be tough to do what we do. We’re plaintiffs’ lawyers. We represent victims. We’re going up against the rich and the powerful and the famous, large institutions, government and corporations, and, you know, you have to meet power with power. If you don’t, you won’t get the best possible result for your client.
I don’t know. I went to an all-girls high school, and it was a remarkable high school. They said, “You girls are going to be the leaders in the future.” They really encouraged us to think of ourselves as leaders, which was something I hadn’t thought about before. I never would have thought that somebody from a row house, whose parents had an eighth-grade education and no money, could ever be a leader of anything. But they encouraged me to think, “Yes, absolutely. You girls are gonna be the ones, and you girls are gonna succeed, and you girls are gonna be there to help other people.”
There are always trade-offs you have to make. I don’t think I’m having it all. I don’t pretend to lead a balanced life. I’m a workaholic. I work constantly. I love my work, and I love helping women. I’m just racing against the clock all the time because I know how much need there is, and I want to meet that need to the extent that I can. I don’t judge other people on how they live their lives. This is what I love to do. This is what there’s a need for me to do. And this is what I feel there’s a duty for me to do.
When I went to law school, she was in her teens. And I do remember she said, “When I grow up, I’ll be home with milk and cookies when my children come home from school.” But she became a lawyer. I think most women put far too much guilt on themselves. It’s unearned and undeserved.
I think my daughter turned out very well. So, I don’t feel like I made poor decisions. I always say she’s my best work.
Me, miss out on something? No. I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. If I didn’t want to do this, I wouldn’t do it. And I do it every day — I do it Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, nights, weekends.
It takes a personal toll for me not to be able to help my clients when they need help. That’s stressful.
No, retirement is not something I would ever want to do. And there’s nobody in my firm who ever thinks that I would do that. There’s nobody in my firm who can remember the last time I took a vacation, so there’s nobody who thinks that I’m going to be retiring.
Yes. My father worked all the time, so I’m very much like him. He worked six days a week, and on the seventh he got ready for the next six. He was a door-to-door salesman. My mother was a full-time homemaker. I really owe so much to them.
My great aunt Rachel, who, as far as I know, was the first female cardiologist at the Children’s Heart Hospital in Philadelphia. For some reason, unknown to me, she believed in me and encouraged me. She was the only woman I knew growing up who didn’t cook and didn’t care. She was completely independent and wasn’t married…which was unusual. I think she was the only woman of her age that I knew who wasn’t married.
The only lawyer I knew was my uncle Isaac. I called him when I was thinking about going to law school he asked, “Why do you want to go?” I said, “Well, because I’d like to seek justice.” He replied, with a laugh, “Then you shouldn’t go into law because there’s no justice there. All you can do is minimize the injustice.” Which, of course, he was right about. He suggested that if I wanted to think about justice, maybe I should study philosophy. But, ultimately, I went to law school. I’m glad I did.
My mission is to be supportive of their mission. Our clients are almost always the underdogs. They may not have an obvious suit, but they’re getting their voice out there. Sometimes we reach a confidential settlement before a lawsuit is filed, and nobody even knows about it. Sometimes there’s no lawsuit, but they want to have a voice, and that’s okay, too.
We don’t look down our nose at them, or anybody else. We’re not there to be judgmental of women and what they have to do to survive. If there’s a legal claim for them and we can help, we will. It’s as simple as that. If they’ve been adult film stars, you know, women have to do what they have to do to survive. A lot of them are supporting children. A lot of them can’t make decent money elsewhere. Which is really more of a statement about how far women have to go to earn decent money.
As a civil-rights attorney, a lot of what I do is not going to be popular by definition. We still have a long way to go in advancing the cause of women. So if you look at the walls, you know, the suffragettes behind you, trying to win the right to vote wasn’t popular. They had to make a lot of sacrifices.
Well, the answer is, I do not sit there and say, “Is it going to be popular if I do this?” That’s not what I do. I’m a civil-rights attorney. My duty is to my client.
There’s no alternative if you’re gonna do what I’m gonna do. I’m paraphrasing, which I shouldn’t, but there was a suffragist who once said something to the effect of, “Women who are unwilling to risk the displeasure of men will never achieve anything for women’s rights.” So, I’m willing to risk it. I don’t care. I’m not running for office. They can’t hire me. They can’t fire me. They can’t rent me. They can’t lease me. They can’t buy me. They can only give me justice — that’s all.
Cried? No. I don’t think it’s a good use of my time or energy.
The reality of practicing law is that you’d better be willing to be truly committed to it. If you want to succeed, you have to put in the time and the effort. This is not a nine-to-five job if you want to succeed. There really is no room in the profession for mediocre lawyers. If you want to succeed, you have to make that commitment to your clients and to your firm.
It’s like a lawyer once said, “It’s my last case, my present case and my next case.” I’m really proudest of my clients, because they’re very courageous. They’re up against the odds. It’s my job to empower them — to empower women — and help them to know that they have more courage and more strength to work against injustice than they ever realized. And also help them pass that along, in their families and in their workplaces. I’ve seen a lot of progress in the past 39 years, but we still have a long way to go. We’re fooling ourselves if we think we don’t. Hope is a child’s word. We have to actually work to win change. It’s really important to help the typical woman out there — the waitress, the factory worker, the single mom, the woman who’s trying to advance in her corporation who’s sexually harassed, the woman who’s raped.
I really don’t think about those. Disappointments are sometimes a product of unrealistic expectations, so I try to have realistic expectations. You have to understand that when you’re in a battle for civil rights, it’s going to be a long battle. There will be two steps forward and one step back. That’s just the way it’s going to be. All you can do is your very best and, you know, that’s what we do.
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