These Women Are A Team

(L)HowsBusinessAnd you can’t miss it if you have any dealings with them. Martha Howard owns the law practice behind the gorgeous roses next to the Inverness post office. Dakota Whitney works with Marty about 12 hours/week, perfect for a mom with two young boys. Dino Williams, the office manager and legal assistant, greases the wheels and complains only that those climbing roses seem eager to climb through the front door. Dakota describes Dino as the backbone of the office and “the best math-mind” among them.

Marty is our local attorney in estate planning which means wills, trusts, associated taxes and probate. Sometimes, she does elder law, addressing the needs of older adults, some of whom cannot afford nursing home care without qualifying for Medi-Cal. How these specialties emerged, how Marty went to law school to become a criminal lawyer but ended up with a Masters in Tax Law had to do with too many drunk drivers and the wish to work more at home to be with her young son. By 1980, she was firmly ensconced in West Marin. The rose-adorned building she’s occupied since 1986 came to her when an upscale dress shop decamped. Marty points out that most of their clients are in their 60’s and 70’s. (According to a Forbes survey, 35% of adults actually have some form of estate plan.) Marty loves the intellectual challenge of her work and really doesn’t love the unavoidable feeling of never being completely finished. There is always more work and more detail, and yet another pressing problem to address.

Dakota went to law school at a time when women were more and more present, in class and in practice. For seven years, she worked for a big firm in the City where she felt very content, even walking to work from Telegraph Hill. When she got pregnant with her first child “everything changed in a second.” So, the growing family came back to Inverness where Dakota was raised, and she’s never looked back. She reflected about life at that big law firm where she worked on complex business litigation: how the young associates worked together with real joy and friendship; and how you hoped not to be assigned to work for one of the partners who were notorious task masters. For women, even then around the turn of the last century, after so much discussion, after such big cultural shifts, the majority of young women associates did not choose the path to partnership. Dakota looked at the lives of both male and female partners and just didn’t want those lives for herself. She agrees with Marty that intellectual challenges are important and adds that the inevitably personal interactions also make her very happy to be doing this work which is often critical to clients’ well being.

Marty and Dakota and Dino are aware that women’s lives in the legal profession continue to change. Big firms still have few women at the top, but no one any longer says, “Oh, you’re a lady lawyer, huh?” The days when judges and lawyers all “knew each other” and were all male, are past. And women often run our bar associations, and they fill 46% of law school classes. All-female law firms are no longer unheard of, and in West Marin, we have one of our own. So stop by and smell those gorgeous pink roses!