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
Articles emphasizing practical knowledge you
can't find in practice guides
Profiles of people who changed workers’
• Warren Schneider
• Marjory Harris
When I came to California in 1958, I had a license to practice law
Jettie, when you started practicing
law, there were not many women lawyers.
How did you get going? And what drew you to workers’ compensation
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
was a past President of Queen’s Bench and very active in National
Women Lawyers. She was also a retired State Compensation Insurance
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’
civil litigation, probate, divorce, and public service. Wanda was
active in all bar
association activities, including ones involving workers’ compensation.
stopped working for her, we remained close friends and attended many
organizational meetings together. She nominated me for office every
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
I told him I'd rather be a tenant in his building and get his referrals.
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
(CWL) and National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL), among others
discovering and trying to eliminate discrimination against women.
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
from admissions to tenure for professors. Some admitted and eliminated
for female admissions, among other discriminations. Since that time,
discrimination laws have been passed, but inequities are still being
by Queen’s Bench, CWL, NAWL, as well as local women’s
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
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
of injured workers wiped out in one legislative session. Everyone talks about
“the pendulum” having swung too far in one direction and inevitably
back toward the middle. Do you think that will happen, and how long will it
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
disability, with maybe job retraining in lieu of permanent disability if the
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
overburdened, and many workers don’t qualify for it anyway.
HARRIS: It seems to me that, even if the laws have changed, there are
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