NEW ORLEANS – As the first woman to serve on a reviewing bench in Louisiana, Jeannette Theriot Knoll, associate justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, recalls the tug of war between career and family. 

Knoll recently was interviewed by the Louisiana Bar Journal to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Louisiana State Bar Association (LSBA). She has been involved in the legal profession for more than 40 years.

“I was an attorney for 13 years before I was elected as the first woman to serve on a reviewing bench in the state,” Knoll said in the interview. “I just remember being extremely busy trying to meet the demands of my career at all levels while raising five active boys.”

Knoll said she served the Third Circuit for 14 years and was on the Louisiana Supreme Court for nearly 20 years. In that time, she has watched considerable changes in some areas, while other areas have been surprisingly similar.

As for challenges, Knoll said the budget is a major challenge for the courts, especially with respect to paying for criminal indigent defense.

“As to civil representation for the poor, Louisiana is one of, I believe, three states that do not provide funding to help them,” she said. “Civil legal aid for the poor comes primarily through pro bono work, and some federal grants that keep decreasing. Hopefully, this situation will improve as the legislature works to get our state’s fiscal house in order.”

Another challenge Knoll sees is the increased number of misconduct charges for new lawyers and that mentoring is imperative to avoid sanctions based on conduct. She offered advice for new lawyers on how to succeed in the profession.

“Maintain the highest standards of professionalism and ethics,” she said. “Be kind and courteous to your adversaries. Treat all courts with respect. Always be honest and do nothing that would impugn your integrity and good reputation. Work hard for your client, and always do your homework.”

As for considerable changes, Knoll told the Louisiana Bar Journal that she has witnessed and been a part of growing diversity in the court system. She said that prior to the 1974 Louisiana Constitution, women were not considered for the court unless they submitted a specific written request to be included.

“When I was elected in 1982, there were approximately 48 all-white male judges on the Louisiana Courts of Appeal and seven all-white male justices on the Louisiana Supreme Court,” she said. “When I was elected, I was the first female elected to the court of appeal. There were only a handful of female judges at the district court level in 1982. It is so delightful to see how diversity has progressed in our state.”

Another considerable change is technology and how it shapes the legal system, she noted. The changes amaze her.

“Technology has significantly impacted the processes that we use now,” she said. “Eventually, the Supreme Court will become paperless just as the federal courts are now. Most attorneys conduct legal research almost exclusively using a computer. The older members of the bench and bar find this new technology rather difficult, as we were not trained on how to use it and we were not exposed to it until very recently.”

Technology has been a great cost-saving and time-saving measure, she said, using less paper and requiring less storage space for books. All the same, she prefers more traditional methods.

“Since I am from the ‘old school,’ I still prefer my pen and pad and a book in my hand,” Knoll said.

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