Smart Girl Stories
Michelle Ross
Stories of inspiration from Smart Girl Stories across the globe. Attorney Michele L. Ross – The Gender Wall

Attorney Michele L. Ross – The Gender Wall

Attorney Michele L. Ross: The Gender Wall: How have you navigated the challenges of being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field?

The Gender Wall: How have you navigated the challenges of being a woman in a traditionally
male-dominated field?

After twenty-plus years as a practicing attorney, I continue to be amazed that women are still being asked this question. Why do I need to be labeled by my gender? Why can’t I just be a “smart”, “tough” and “tactical” litigator, like my male counterparts? It is 2024, and this question permeates my daily approach to the practice of law. I think to shine as a woman, there is an inherently higher expectation of performance.

Women are being judged against men with no objective criteria. Women need to be better, do better, perform better. Women need to have a better pedigree, better clients, and better presence.  For this reason, I approach and navigate gender challenges in the following manner:  I leave no room for error, strive to always over-prepare, and never underestimate my adversary.

The Courtroom Is Our Stage

As a litigator, the courtroom is our stage. My courtroom behavior is something that has definitely developed over time and has been heavily influenced by gender challenges.  I think as women it is critical to have a demonstrable presence in a court room.  Over the years I have established certain etiquettes that enable me to disarm my male adversary. 

First, I always get to court before my male adversary. Showing up early allows me to demonstrate an immediate presence, and I like the surprise element; no one wants to be the second to arrive. When arguing before a judge, I make sure I’m operating from a place of fact, not emotion. I often feel that women are criticized for being emotional, so I work very hard to keep emotion out of my delivery. I certainly have personality, and I try to be true to who I am when I articulate and engage, but I also maintain composure and formality in both my arguments and presentation.

Gender Stereotypes

I think that there is pressure to be even more stern than your male counterparts. I am often amazed at how candid and colloquial my adversaries are.  As a woman, I don’t feel I have this luxury. To the contrary, I feel the need to be in a mode that is taken seriously and respected from the minute I enter the courtroom. In this regard, I always wear pantsuits to court. Perhaps this is style, but on some level, I think it is a conscious choice that immediately challenges traditional stereotypes.  Again, this sets a tone and a presence before I even begin to speak. Because men have stereotypes about women, disarming them immediately gives me an advantage they aren’t expecting because of the prior assumptions that they made.

A Profession For Future Women To Come!

I hope that as time goes on, gender challenges in the legal profession will erode. However, I think in the interim, women need to realize that they do exist, and we should be embracing ways to continually forge ahead against these antiquated notions. The more trials women conduct as first chairs, the more cases women win, and the more female judges that preside in our state and federal courtrooms, the better women can collectively make this profession for future women to come!

Read more powerful stories on our Inspiration page, and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram!

About the Author:

Michele L. Ross is an experienced business attorney, commercial litigator, and the founder of M. Ross & Associates, LLC. Her firm is based in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, in Bergen County, and serves all of Northern New Jersey. Michele has represented a wide range of commercial clients in the transactional arena, as well as in a litigious setting. She has a track record of success in and out of the courtroom, earning her the honor of being named “Super Lawyers Rising Star” 5 years in a row.  Michele is also passionate about using her experience as a business leader and accomplished attorney to mentor the next generation of women who need help evolving in the legal industry.

Smart Girl

Smart Girl

Welcome to our Self Submission Stories. We are truly honored to have the opportunity to share these stories written by these Smart Girls. Every day we read about sacrifice, and triumph. If you'd like to share your Smart Girl Story, click the Join in the top menu. Let's read your story!


Smart Girl Stories shares stories of inspiration from writers across the globe.

We ask each writer to adhere to our Smart Girl Stories pledge. The views expressed in our articles are those of the author and are meant to spark conversation and inspire you. They don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of SmartGirl Stories. We are honored to share their stories, as well as yours. To learn more – visit us here.

Follow Me

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.