Women in Business: Dougan Sees Changes in Legal Profession

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Patricia Dougan, an attorney with Community Legal Aid, started practicing law about 30 years ago.

“I realized when I was in college that I had a lot of  knowledge that would help people,” she says. “That was around the time that the mills had shut down and families were having a terrible time. I thought the best way to give them some help is to become a lawyer.”

In her early days as an attorney, one of the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judges required women to wear skirts or dresses to court.

She also encountered the good old boys network.

“I think they just got more respect in court,” Dougan says. “Don’t get me wrong. There were a few – maybe even more than a few – male attorneys who were welcoming and helpful. You could walk up to them in court and ask them, ‘Hey, how do I do this?’ or ‘What should I do here?’ and they would be more than helpful.”

There were others who didn’t “even think you were a fly on the wall.”

She got to know the attorneys who were helpful, but she didn’t have a female mentor in her field. Dougan believes that’s for a couple of reasons.

“When I got out of law school, I was in my 40s,” she says. “I had a family with kids at home to take care of.”

She didn’t go to many social gatherings. Dougan also opened her own practice, so she was more isolated.

“There were women that I knew, not necessarily long-term mentors, but I knew they were there,” she says. “I could ask them questions, go to them for guidance, pick up the phone.”

Dougan then worked for a domestic relations court judge and for the Mahoning County Division of Child Support before moving to legal aid.

The work appealed to her. Community Legal Aid provides legal services for lower-income families and individuals.

“The work we do, the people we help, the difference we make in the community,” she says. “We don’t always have as large an impact as we would like, but we’re certainly chiseling at it.”

Dougan primarily focuses on housing.

She believes things have changed a lot for women since she entered the profession. For sure, there are many more female lawyers.

“I think a lot of the good old boys network has aged out – retired, passed on – and younger attorneys are just accepting of female attorneys for the most part,” Dougan says.

While older generations didn’t always encourage their daughters to pursue careers, Dougan says that changed beginning with her generation, which urged their daughters to go for whatever they want.

As the number of women in different fields grows, more young women are encouraged and believe they can follow similar career paths.

“I think a lot of us, having come up through the ranks when it was so much more difficult, have been more than willing to reach back and give a hand up,” Dougan says.

For younger women in the legal profession, Dougan advises they seek advice when needed, always be as prepared as possible and if you think you can, go for it.

“Some young girls set their sights too low,” she says. “They need to trust themselves, have faith in themselves.”

Pictured at top: Attorney Patricia Dougan.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.