When Daphne Webb graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School 41 years ago, she was surrounded by men.
She searched for a job in Madison but couldn’t find one in the male-dominated profession. So she did the only thing that made sense to her at the time: She started practicing solo.
“I got into some challenging work,” said Webb, who today is a partner at Stafford Rosenbaum LLP, Madison. “It was scary but exhilarating, all at the same time.”
Her work in a 1982 class action case, Pape v. Lerman, led to the overturning of a state law that allowed businesses to deny unemployment benefits to pregnant laid-off workers.
Webb credits a portion of her success to the women who helped her along the way, such as Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.
“Shirley was great in providing advice,” Webb said. “I’m fortunate that I had her and other women attorneys help me out.”
Today, she pays that forward by serving as a mentor to other attorneys.
“I want to give back to others,” Webb said. “There are a lot more women attorneys today, which is wonderful. I also talk with women law students and that topic — how to handle being a mom and a lawyer — is very popular.”
Webb, who joined Stafford Rosenbaum in 1985, is active in giving back to the profession, serving as editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Journal of Family Law and, from 1985-86, as president of the Dane County Bar Association.
“Daphne has always appreciated the opportunities others have created for her and feels part of being a well-established attorney is creating opportunities for younger attorneys,” Managing Partner Christopher Hughes said. “As a senior partner at Stafford, Daphne is a role model for all of our attorneys because she is proof that, while not always easy, attorneys can attain professional recognition, raise a family and give back to the community.”
While she said she started out by taking any case that walked through the door, Webb eventually settled into specializing in family law.
“It’s fascinating work,” she said. “You learn a lot about human nature.”
Family law has changed significantly through the years, she said. When Wisconsin became an equal property state, couples looking to divorce needed to put values on everything. And more couples now use the pro se process for divorce, which changes how legal services are offered.
“There’s also a lot more mediation now,” she said. “Law has changed a great deal in my 41 years.”