When Catherine Tully graduated from Marquette Law School in 1978, she expected a few awkward moments.
Then, there were the indignities she actually faced.
“When I interviewed for clerkships, not even attorney jobs, they would ask me what kind of birth control I had,” Tully said. “And not one place, but three places.”
Even the courtroom was a humiliation waiting to happen.
“When I first started going up to court, the clerk would yell, ‘Secretaries aren’t allowed in front of the gate!’” she recalled. “As if you needed any more pressure as a young attorney.”
Still, Tully said she never thought about quitting.
“I guess I’m just stubborn enough,” she said, “to think that if I worked hard enough I’d prove I was a good lawyer.”
It didn’t take long.
Impressed by Tully’s work as opposing counsel in a complex litigation case, Robert Habush of Habush Habush & Rottier SC asked her to join the firm in 1983. She’s been there ever since, working today as a shareholder and winning multimillion dollar awards for personal injury plaintiffs.
“She’s just unwavering in trying to do what’s right for her clients,” said Joe Troy, a partner at the firm. “I think the thing that makes Tully stand out — and makes her a bit of a trailblazer — is her exceptional way of demonstrating that you can be a highly successful and very respected trial attorney and still be a dedicated and involved parent. She managed to do that and, as a result, other women have looked to her as a role model.”
Tully’s husband, a teacher, stayed home with their three kids so she could continue her career without interruption, a decision Tully called “practical.”
“It’s funny because even now, people will make a deal about what I did,” Tully said. “But I didn’t do anything different than the guys I worked with.”
Looking back, Tully said she feels that she’s made a difference — as an attorney and a woman.
“We’ve been part of making the world a little safer: changing the safety devices in cars, making farm equipment more safe, making hospital equipment more safe,” she said. “I was able to contribute through the firm.
“And I hope I gave some credibility to the idea that women could do this work. So, the next time someone came in wearing a skirt looking for a job, they might think, ‘Well, Tully did it.’”