Congratulations, Brenda! We’ve reprinted the article below.
Reprinted with permission of Trial (March 2014)
Copyright American Association for Justice,
formerly Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA®)
Gender equity in the law
March 2014, Volume 50, No. 3
Sidebar: Brenda Fulmer: Working hard and staying true
Courtney L. Davenport
When trial lawyer Brenda Fulmer of West Palm Beach, Fla., took a job as a runner at a law firm to help pay for college at 17, becoming a lawyer was not her dream. But after working as a secretary and paralegal over the next several years, she realized she would be good at running the show. Through hard work and networking, Fulmer now plays a prominent role in the male-dominated world of mass torts.
When the firm hired Fulmer as an associate, there were almost no women handling mass tort litigation, and they were often relegated to grunt work with no decision-making authority. Fulmer spent many days reviewing documents in a warehouse to prove she was willing to do the time-consuming tasks. The hard work paid off—she rose from the warehouse to the courthouse and has been heavily involved in thousands of mass tort cases. She said although the barriers have diminished in the last decade, women still often face a men’s-club mentality.
“Many firms are a little behind the times for accepting women into the ranks. If you look at many women involved in mass torts, they are usually doing a lot of the heavy lifting and maybe not getting all the credit they deserve,” she said. “It’s kind of sad because if you look at mass torts, women are disproportionately impacted by medical devices, yet female litigators are not well represented. If you are dealing with women’s issues and women’s bodies, it would benefit the client to have a woman’s perspective.”
Fulmer said there are many opportunities for female litigators to meet and help each other. They hold caucuses at seminars and conventions, trading tips on everything from breaking through the glass ceiling to balancing a career with personal life, including raising children. Fulmer is also an active member of several organizations and has been a frequent moderator and speaker for AAJ on various topics relating to mass torts. She often speaks to consumer groups on drug and medical device safety issues. She says these speaking engagements give female lawyers greater exposure and significant networking opportunities.
“For the type of work we do, it’s important to have a fertile referral base. So many lawyers are gifted marketers, so it’s really important to develop a radius of influence among people with whom you have a connection,” she said. “It’s generally easier to get to know other women, so these meetings are a good way to start networking.”
Fulmer participated in AAJ’s Leadership Academy, which is aimed at increasing diversity within the association’s leadership. The experience proved invaluable: She came out of the training with a better appreciation for the leadership skills she brings to the table and how to work with other personalities.
“We all run around in this little bubble and know only one way to do things. If you haven’t been exposed to larger groups of people, you don’t understand other people and how to work with them,” said Fulmer. “The academy focused on knowing who you are and what your style is for managing and how you deal with other people’s styles.”
Despite her busy schedule, Fulmer is a volunteer with several charities and has been a foster parent and exchange-student host. When she was young, her family’s home was destroyed by a tornado, and the family spent several months relying on others for clothes and shelter. The experience engendered understanding and sympathy for those going through hard times. That includes families affected by Sept. 11: As part of Trial Lawyers Care, Fulmer represented two families who lost loved ones, and that was her most rewarding professional experience.
Fulmer’s success as a trial lawyer is based on hard work and perseverance. But the advice she would give women graduating from law school applies in all aspects of life.
“It is really important to figure out who you are and the most effective way to be true to yourself,” she said. “It is too easy for women to feel they have to fit a stereotype, whether it’s to do all the work in the office or to be overly aggressive. There is a lot of pressure to change who we are, but if we work hard and prove ourselves, the fact that we are female is not a barrier.”