Overcoming Obstacles and Paving the Way: Roxanne Barton Conlin – By: Alicia Johnson
In my opinion, one of the best examples of success and the hard work it takes to get there is Roxanne Conlin. She is a prominent attorney in Iowa. She is an advocate for women. She is a defender of civil rights. She is a rescuer of unwanted, abandoned animals. She is a wife. She is a mother. She is a grandmother. She is my friend. Because of her determination and hard work and meeting obstacles head on, she not only is very successful, but has made the way easier for girls our age who have similar goals and dreams. I had the opportunity to interview Roxanne and ask her some questions about her success and how she achieved it.
- When did you first know you wanted to become a lawyer and why? I first thought of being a lawyer when I was a sophomore in high school at the suggestion of a nun, Sister Katrine Johnson. My original goal was to go to Hollywood and become a movie star. She was appalled and pretty sure that I might actually do that. She suggested that being a lawyer would give me the opportunity to use my dramatic flare as well as my brain. She did not mention and I did not realize that I would face serious ongoing debilitating discrimination in law school and in the early years of my practice of law.
- What was the reaction of people close to you and how did they help you? Both of my parents were very supportive, but could not provide any kind of financial assistance. They provided encouragement and faith, but I had to work several jobs in order to pay my living expenses.
- What was the first step you took to reach your goal? I took the LSAT and got a good score. I was at the time only 18 years old and nearly done with college. I was qualified for a program that permitted me to finish my last year of college while doing my first year of law school. That is what permitted me to graduate from law school at the age of 21.
- What were the biggest obstacles you encountered in reaching your goal? Sex discrimination. Professors in law school told me directly that I had no right to be there and that I was taking a place that belonged to a man. I experienced blatant discrimination from my colleagues as well as from the professors. When I tried to get a job, I was specifically again told that women could not be lawyers and that men would not take advice from women and of course at that point people who did business were men. It was very discouraging. I did get a job but my original employer wanted me to hide under my desk and sign my letters R.B. Conlin and take every possible step to assure that no one knew that I was actually a woman.
- How did you overcome those obstacles? I tried to be the very best lawyer that I could be. I insisted on being treated with respect and just beat the tar out of the people against whom I tried cases.
- What advice could you give someone who has similar goals today? I believe that it is much easier today for a woman to reach any goal that she might set. Though discrimination still exists, it is not as great a problem as it was almost 40 years ago when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. My advice to any person who has a goal is to seek it without ceasing, to never give up and to roll with the punches because there will always be punches to roll with.