This week I had the opportunity to interview Claire J. Rauscher. Claire is a partner with Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice in Charlotte, North Carolina. She concentrates her practice in the area of white-collar defense. Prior to joining Womble Carlyle, she had her own law firm and later became the first Executive Director of the Federal Defenders of Western North Carolina from 2005 to 2011. Before relocating to Charlotte, North Carolina in 1994, she was an assistant federal defender and assistant public defender in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Besides her current law practice, she also is an adjunct professor at Wake Forest Law School and Charlotte School of Law as well as a frequent speaker at continuing legal education and trial advocacy programs. I met Claire through some mutual friends and always look forward to connecting with her at national women’s events. She is truly committed to supporting women in the field and has made huge strides to break the glass ceiling for women in North Carolina in the white-collar field. I know I enjoyed learning more about Claire’s vast criminal defense experience and I hope you’ll love getting to know Claire Rauscher as much as I have.
What are the most striking changes for women criminal lawyers that you have witnessed during over 30 years of practice in the field?
First of all, there are more women in the criminal practice than ever before, especially in federal court. When I started practicing in federal courts, there were very few women criminal defense attorneys and a few female prosecutors. Second, women are beginning to create their own referral networks. This development is long overdue and will continue to assist female practitioners in their practice growth.
You have extensive experience practicing in both the public and private sectors of criminal defense and in fact served as the Executive Director of the Federal Defenders of Western North Carolina after having had your own private practice for years, how have these vastly different practices shaped the lawyer that you are today?
I have a true appreciation for the struggles that women practitioners face in the private sector. Women have to prove themselves every day and work hard to get referrals and well-paying work whereas men can easily rely on their own networks. I also understand why many women prefer to be in public defender offices where they receive a set salary with benefits and they can do the work they enjoy without having to worry about the next case coming through the door. My experiences have made me truly appreciative of where I am today and I don’t take it for granted.
What would you tell a young female lawyer deciding whether to pursue a public sector job compared to a private sector job?
I would suggest they start out in the public sector since that is where you can obtain a lot of experience in a short amount of time. Public sector jobs provide an instant network of contacts that can be helpful when transitioning to the private sector.
Your practice is now largely focused on white-collar defense, what do you think are the challenges and obstacles that women face in the white-collar field and what do you think women need to be doing more of to break through?
Unfortunately, most in house counsel and general counsel do not immediately think of women attorneys when they are facing white-collar problems. Most firm white-collar practice groups are headed by men. Men also seem to do a better job of self-promotion regarding their results. Women need to be better at public relations and selling themselves and their results. It is not something that most of us do well. We need to be more proactive in promoting ourselves and our colleagues. We need to create strong networking groups in our areas of expertise and refer work to one another whenever possible. Only when the corporate community sees and hears about more women in the field (and their successes) will these obstacles be overcome.
Aside from hard work, what do you attribute to your success?
I love what I do. I think my enthusiasm and interest in my work is obvious to others and has led to my success. Recently, my daughter told me that she wanted to find a career path like mine because she never saw me not want to go to work in the morning. When she said that to me, I was so proud and gratified to be able to provide that type of example for her – and it made realize how much I really do enjoy the work!
Of the women criminal defense attorneys that you know and admire what made them stand out to you? Why did they inspire you?
When I was first hired at the public defender’s office in Philadelphia, the head of training and the then first assistant (now head defender) were women. Both had been criminal defense attorneys for years and were willing to share their experiences and lend support whenever needed. They were my cheerleaders and made me feel like I could win every case I tried. Their confidence in my abilities empowered me to push through the large dockets and difficult moments. I recognized if they were able to be successful in a system almost exclusively dominated by men (at the time), I could certainly plow through a system weighted against the indigent clients and fight for just results.
As an example, one day I was before a judge who told my client’s mother not to listen to me because I did not know what was in the best interest of her son. I was so angry after having spent an entire week being belittled by this judge, that I threw my files into the air and stormed out of the courtroom. When the deputy came out to tell me to come back in the courtroom, I refused until the judge apologized. To make a long story short, when I got back to the office, I told the head defender what happened. She immediately picked up the phone and called the judge. She demanded that he apologize and fully defended me. It was a day I won’t forget (the judge did make a half-ass apology the next day). She took on a powerful judge that could have taken some action against me and/or the office but she fought for me and what was right.
What has been your most effective business development initiative?
Going to (non-legal) women’s events. I get to meet women from other industries and am able to tell them about what I do without competing with other lawyers.
What is your proudest moment in representing a client?
Successfully defending a client in a capital case. There is no greater pressure and no greater reward than saving a life.
Best advice you ever received?
Keep your overhead low and you will be able to create a sustainable practice through the good and bad times.
Moment you knew you had made it?
When I was preparing to leave my position as a federal public defender and a bidding war began involving a number of firms. I ultimately had the opportunity to join my current firm as a partner.
One thing people who know you don’t know about you?
Many people know that I am a Division I Volleyball official but most people don’t know that I am truly a sports-aholic. I am an avid fantasy football player. I don’t play in money leagues but enjoy playing for pride. I can out-talk most men about sports!