WLC Hosts U.S. Sen. McCaskill for Address on Women in Law and Politics

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill decided at a young age that she would serve in the public sector—and that law training would be essential to her success. McCaskill recently shared her professional journey during a talk on “Women in the Law and Politics,” sponsored by the law school’s Women’s Law Caucus. 

Elected in 2006 as the first woman to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate, McCaskill had previously served in public office as the first female prosecutor in Jackson County, Mo., followed by terms as state auditor and state representative.  

McCaskill says that by the age of 12 she knew she wanted to hold elective office. “I wanted to become the first woman governor of the state of Missouri,” McCaskill recalls. A native of Columbia, Mo., she earned both her B.A. and J.D. at the University of Missouri. 

“Thirty-four years ago I graduated from law school,” she says. “For all of those 34 years … I have relied on my training as a lawyer to be the lynchpin of my success, ” McCaskill says. 

Being a female attorney three decades ago presented unique challenges, the Senator says. She recalled one instance in which a judge required her, then a young assistant prosecutor, to change from pants into a skirt before he would allow her to practice law in his courtroom.   

While women lawyers have gained respect over the years, McCaskill says there are still too few women running major law firms and serving as plaintiff attorneys in high profile cases. 

“We have miles to go before we rest, before we can get to equality in terms of the way the law appears to the world and in terms of who is working at the tables of justice trying to find justice for all who seek it,” she says. 

McCaskill encouraged women students to embrace risk-taking in order to achieve greater career success and personal happiness. She also urged students to step outside their comfort zones—often. 

“I can’t recommend it highly enough,” McCaskill says. “Once you’ve done it, you get more comfortable with risk, it becomes more of a friend to you and you realize that’s where happiness is. Because ultimately, if you’re risking something it’s because you want something, you’re reaching for something.” 

McCaskill also cautioned students that true success only comes by doing work for which one is passionate. “You can only be excellent at what you do if you love it. I’ve not made a lot of money being an elected official … but I’ve been deliriously happy with my career choice because I’ve been challenged every day and I love the work.” 

In a final bit of advice to women law students, McCaskill says raising a family in the public eye wasn’t easy, but the rewards far outweighed the difficulties. During her career, she was married, divorced and re-married, and raised three children as a single mother. Now, she’s a grandmother. 

“I believe you can manage a demanding career and still be a terrific mother,” she says. “I don’t doubt that any of you, men and women, can handle a lot as you face the world—and boy do we need you.” 

By Janet Edwards