A series of articles emphasizing practical
knowledge you can't find in practice guides
and interviews with experts who share
their techniques for effective and efficient
case management


How To Do It: Articles, Interviews &
Practice Tips

Articles emphasizing practical knowledge you can't find in practice guides

People Who Made A Difference
Profiles of people who changed workers’ compensation law.

White Papers

Letters to the Editors

Meet the Editors
• Warren Schneider
• Marjory Harris





The Interview

Jettie, when you started practicing
law, there were not many women lawyers.
How did you get going? And what drew you to workers’ compensation practice?

SELVIG: When I came to California in 1958, I had a license to practice law in
Arkansas, but not in California. I took a job as secretary to Melvin Belli. That was a
20-hour-a-day job and left me no time to study for the bar exam. After six months of
non-stop typing, I went to work as a secretary for Bill and Wanda Lahanier. Wanda
was a past President of Queen’s Bench and very active in National Association of
Women Lawyers. She was also a retired State Compensation Insurance Fund
lawyer who had gone into private practice on the Applicant's side.

I spent a year in their office and learned a lot about workers’ compensation law,
civil litigation, probate, divorce, and public service. Wanda was active in all bar
association activities, including ones involving workers’ compensation. Although I
stopped working for her, we remained close friends and attended many
organizational meetings together. She nominated me for office every chance she
got. She also mentored me on my workers’ compensation cases when I got stuck.

Just before I got my license, I went to work for Bill Choulos at the Belli Building. When
I was admitted to the California bar in June of 1961, Mr. Belli offered me an attorney's
position. I told him I'd rather be a tenant in his building and get his referrals. He
agreed, and since I had a year's experience with Wanda, he referred me workers’ compensation cases. They were the lowest paid cases and no one else wanted to do them. I also was referred divorce cases that did not pay well, if at all.

I built a personal injury and probate practice that supported my habit of doing workers’ compensation cases. I felt there was a great need for workers to have representation.

HARRIS: You have
always been very active
in helping other women lawyers. Past president of the National Association of Women Lawyers, Queen’s Bench, and Queen’s Bench Foundation, for example. Is there still a need for this type of organization, or has male chauvinism been overcome in the practice of law?

SELVIG: We've come a long way, but Queen's Bench, California Women Lawyers
(CWL) and National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL), among others are still
discovering and trying to eliminate discrimination against women. Women’s Equity
Action League
, of which I was California President, sprung up in the 60s and filed
lawsuits to try to eliminate discrimination against women in the various universities,
from admissions to tenure for professors. Some admitted and eliminated quotas
for female admissions, among other discriminations. Since that time, many anti-
discrimination laws have been passed, but inequities are still being pointed out
by Queen’s Bench, CWL, NAWL, as well as local women’s bar associations.

HARRIS: There is a new study out which claims that women don't make as
much as men not because of prejudice directed at women in the workplace,
but because of other reasons emanating from the women themselves,
such as desire to spend time raising children, unavailability for certain male
bonding rituals, etc. What is your reaction to that theory of why women don't
earn as much?

SELVIG: Those things are part of the problem, but we must continue to work for equality, regardless of why it exists.

HARRIS: You are in the process of winding down your law practice. Are you
relieved that you're getting out before SB 899 really affects your caseload?

SELVIG: It was never easy to face a new client and explain to him or her that the law did not provide enough benefits to allow them to meet their expenses. I am retiring because of age, not the changes in the law. I will continue to pursue avenues that
will give relief to our workers who are injured on the job.

HARRIS: We are currently witnessing around 30 years of advances in the rights
of injured workers wiped out in one legislative session. Everyone talks about
“the pendulum” having swung too far in one direction and inevitably swinging
back toward the middle. Do you think that will happen, and how long will it take?

SELVIG: I fear it will not. Nothing has been done in 17 months, and a lot of workers injured affected by SB 899 cannot be helped.

HARRIS: Or will some new system replace workers’ compensation, such as universal health coverage, and use of state disability in lieu of temporary
disability, with maybe job retraining in lieu of permanent disability if the injured
worker cannot return to his or her usual and customary job?

SELVIG: Taxpayers will probably have to help, but employers should also contribute. Insurance companies should not be allowed such high profits. Many injured
workers can never return to work, regardless of training. SSDI is already
overburdened, and many workers don’t qualify for it anyway.

HARRIS: It seems to me that, even if the laws have changed, there are still
certain basic principles to practicing law which have not, and should not,
change. I am thinking of such things as basic ethics, civility, reliability.
Do you have any advice for beginning practitioners?

SELVIG: Changes in the law should never change our basic principles

HARRIS: Will you continue to mentor new attorneys?

SELVIG: Yes, I will continue to mentor, if I can in view of the new laws. I hope we can still continue to help injured workers – they need us more than most clients.

Top of Page

People Who Made a Difference
In an ongoing series of profiles on people
who made a difference in workers’ compensation law, Marjory Harris interviews
Jettie Pierce Selvig, Esq. During a long and
remarkable career in litigation and public
service work for many organizations, including
President of California Applicants' Attorneys Association, Ms. Selvig was a mentor to
attorneys and a role model for women
lawyers as they struggled to gain standing in
the legal profession.
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