Continuing Legal Education or, Schooling the Lawyers

| Mar 23, 2020
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“Sex is to gender as Male is to masculine and Female is to feminine.”–Justice Antonin Scalia

It’s probably common knowledge that lawyers are required to attend continuing legal education classes, to keep up to date regarding changes in the law, new causes of action, and other, newer, issues that force themselves to the fore. What you may not know that the classes, for the most part, are not taught by individuals well trained in the subject they are teaching. Mostly they are taught by individual lawyers or a panel of lawyers with similar experience and interest in the subject.

My legal career has revolved around my experiences of being transgender. I knew I was not unique, but saw that the trans community was subject to more discrimination in employment, housing and other kinds of accommodation than any other community I’d had knowledge of. I had access to various transgender publications, and absorbed everything written in them regarding transgender civil rights. In turn, I wrote my own analyses and articles that appeared in several community publications such as Tapestry and TransSisters.

When I enrolled in Temple Law, I was not really in a position to be stealth, having been in transition for only three years, so I resigned myself to being relatively out. I joined the LGBT law students group, and was asked to make a presentation to the student body discussing the transgender condition. It was in a question and answer format. Of course, I agreed to do it, and it was well received, as far as I could tell. I was later also involved in a similar panel discussion with a few other transgender people that took place at University of Penn Law.

And on a lark somewhere I also accepted an invitation to speak at the University at Buffalo Law School.

In second year at Temple I was nominated to Temple Law Review, which I accepted, because I had been carrying an idea around in my head and incubating it: an idea for applying Title VII to the transgender community, a repudiation of the seminal Holloway case which held that Title VII was inapplicable to our community. Law Review gave me the means to consolidate my thoughts into a cogent and useful argument. It took me the better part of the semester and even though the article was published in 1997, the reasoning behind it was eventually adopted by the EEOC in 2012. I also won a graduation prize for a thesis I wrote analyzing same-sex transgender marriage.

And then I graduated from Temple Law, and moved to Wilkes Barre to work as clerk for an appellate judge, and began my legal career in earnest. When my clerkship was finished a year later, I moved back to Philadelphia, (after a short trip to Montreal for a little snip and tuck), and opened my practice in the office suite of my old mentor with whom I’d worked with while still in school. I was admitted to the Pennsylvania and New Jersey bars. I advertised where the transgender community would see, and started doing name changes, changes to identification documents, even some administrative cases on behalf of transgender clients pursuing compensation for failure to hire and denial of service by retailers.

On occasion I would have a transgender client who had consulted with another lawyer that put them ill at ease, and then they found me available. The problems they expressed were misgendering, dead-naming, and a seeming lack of understanding as to proper office etiquette on the part of the office staff as to how the client should be treated.

A couple of years ago I also found myself sitting as a trustee on the board of the Woodbury Community Pride committee. This organization is an LGBTQ group that promotes inclusivity in the business community. I was the lone representative of the transgender community on board. But there were also two other lawyers sitting on the board who had an interest in pushing the awareness of the transgender community forward respectfully within the legal community. Neither one of them are civil rights attorneys – but if the right transgender-involved case presented itself, we would be interested. We came up with the idea of conducting a 2 hour CLE program sponsored by the Gloucester County Bar Association, geared toward addressing issues confronting the transgender client and on how to interact with transgender clients in a respectable manner.

We called the program Transgender 101 – Issues in Transition, and it was intended to be a primer to understanding and working successfully with transgender clients. Attendance was excellent, and the questions and comments of the attendees indicated a genuine curiosity and interest in learning more about the transgender community and how to serve the community respectfully. The program first explained to the attendees what it means and feels like to be transgender, and contrasting that with cisgender people by setting up different scenarios a transgender person might face in the course of a day and then soliciting feedback from the attendees. In particular, the Gavin Grimm case was in the forefront in the news, so there was plenty to contrast transgender vs. cisgender treatment in similar situations (i.e., bathroom issues), and spur lively discussion. The program itself was a success with many of the attendees approaching the panelists afterward for more discussion, or sharing their experience with transgender clients. The tenor of the group was decidedly positive.


The New Jersey CLE program went so well, I sought a venue for a similar legal seminar, a short, one-hour seminar, for a single presenter. Jenkins Law Library in downtown Philadelphia had such a resource: the opportunity to propose a program to fill one of the one hour slots available. I submitted my proposed seminar; it was accepted and scheduled.

The City crowd was different than the South Jersey crowd, perhaps because the urban crowd was more used to being aware of transgender people. But it was the nature of what they wanted to know that surprised me. I initially went through the concepts of misgendering and dead-naming, and moved onto what kinds of services would be helpful to their trans clients. When I started talking about name changes, amending ID documents such as driver’s licenses, passports, etc., they wanted to know the nuts and bolts of the process, as in a “how-to” tutorial. One hour turned out to be not enough time to answer all their questions.

In the end, the participants’ evaluations of the presentation were positive, especially comments on my knowledge of the subject matter. So I was satisfied with the experience. Everybody learned something that day.

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About the Author ()

Kristine Holt hails originally from Northwest Pennsylvania, where her career as a social worker was suddenly ended in 1992 when she was fired for transitioning on the job.  Seeking greener pastures, she relocated to Philadelphia to attend Temple Law school.  A couple years after she landed in Philly, a lawsuit she had filed against her employer came due, and she ultimately settled for enough funds to take that last step in her transition.  Thus proving that what goes around, comes around.

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