To celebrate Women’s History Month, two student organizations at the University of South Carolina School of Law (Women in Law and the Student Bar Association) hosted a luncheon on March 14 featuring two prominent South Carolina lawyers, the Honorable Jean H. Toal, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Carolina (retired), ’68, and State Representative Laurie Slade Funderburk, ‘01.
The discussion ranged from work-life balance to how being female has helped shape their thoughts about the world around them. But the central theme was about the need to treat each and every person with the proper acknowledgement and respect.
The afternoon began with the two relaying their initial experiences in law.
“When I graduated from the University of South Carolina Law School, there were only 10 women in the active practice of law in SC. I could try a case in front of a jury, and did, before I could be admitted to sit on the jury. Jury service for women did not come about until after I’d been in practice some. It just was a very different landscape, a very different time in the nation’s development,” Justice Toal said.
Rep. Funderburk’s path, was also not conventional, however for different reasons. Devoting the the first couple of years after graduation to community work, she had been practicing law for about six months, when the opportunity arose to run for office. She won and has been a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives since 2004, serving on numerous committees including the House Judiciary Committee and the House Ethics Committee, to name just a couple.
Those formative experiences influenced how they have sought to implement change.
“South Carolina would be a very different looking state in many respects if more people participated in the political crisis that we have,” Justice Toal said. “Some of the most exciting things that were accomplished during my time in the legislature were accomplished because people didn’t think cooperation was a dirty word, because of the bipartisan look we had on things…. Your challenge is to do what you can to make it an even more open and inclusive society, and that’s done not by eliminating our differences–our differences are powerful!”
Rep. Funderburk echoed Justice Toal’s sentiments, saying, “We need everybody to be considered as fully human. I think that sometimes when we have this homogeneity problem, then you don’t see everyone as a full person, and so you cannot respond appropriately or effectively….”
Throughout the discussion, the women continued to reiterate the necessity of diversity and the dire need for female lawyers—current and future—as well as everyday citizens to get out and utilize their unique outlooks to come together do something about their surroundings.
“South Carolina needs you,” said Rep. Funderburk. “If you want to find a place where you can really make a difference, South Carolina is it. As wonderful as we are, we still have big issues to work on, and it needs all of you to make that work. We need your mind, we need your energy.”