Emotional Trials:
The Moral Dilemmas of Women Criminal Defense Attorneys

Cynthia Siemsen
Northeastern University Press, 2004
229 p.



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Table of Contents:

Part I: Introduction
Chapter 1: Opening Remarks
Chapter 2: The Reintegration of Emotion in Ideology

Part II: The Narratives
Chapter 3: Identity Formation: Early-Career Women Defenders
Chapter 4: Identity Transformation: Midcareer Women Defenders
Chapter 5: Identity Reinforcement: Seasoned Women Defenders

Part III: Emotional Trials
Chapter 6: Concluding Remarks

Appendix: Ambivalent Identities: Men of Color Who Prosecute “Their Own”
Notes / Bibliography / Index

Permanent URL: hdl.handle.net/2047/D20211579


Women criminal defense attorneys routinely handle cases that would grossly offend the sensibilities of the ordinary woman or man. Often asked to use their gender as a strategy to strengthen the defense, they struggle with myriad moral and ideological conflicts inherent in representing men accused of such violent crimes against women as rape, domestic abuse, and child molestation. This groundbreaking work explores how women attorneys manage those conflicts, how they use ideologies in defense of their work, and how they cope with the emotional stress of their professional lives.

Drawing on extensive interviews and ethnographic research, Cynthia Siemsen presents thirteen provocative case studies to illustrate the unique interplay between ideology and emotion in women whose public defense work often puts them in the position of “betraying” their gender. Skillfully blending together the words of criminal attorneys themselves with a solid theoretical framework, she explores the ways in which women’s perspectives about their identities, roles, and emotions evolve through three distinct stages: early, mid-career, and seasoned attorney. Siemsen argues convincingly that the stresses of public defense work, including dealing with such burdens as California’s stringently enforced three-strikes law, create much more conflict for women than intrinsic contradictions between feminist beliefs and professional ideologies. The longer a woman practices law, the author finds, the better she becomes at managing her emotions by strictly adhering to the constitutional ideal of protecting individual rights. An appendix, “Ambivalent Identities: Men of Color Who Prosecute Their ‘Own,'” offers a comparative viewpoint of the experiences of African American male prosecutors.

This insightful volume offers a unique lens through which to view the work lives of women criminal defense attorneys and sheds new light on how they resolve and survive the moral dilemmas and emotional stress of their jobs.


>> American Journal of Sociology: “…a well‐written, timely, and informative examination of how women criminal defense attorneys do their jobs [and] a worthwhile contribution to feminist studies and to the study of gender and the law and gender and work.”

>> Booklist: “A fascinating look into how female attorneys deal with the moral dilemmas of their work.”

>> Contemporary Sociology: “Siemsen makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how emotion work and ideological work articulate and how both function in the work
sphere….I would consider using this text in undergraduate and graduate courses in the sociology of law, emotions, gender, and work.”

>> Gender and Society:Emotional Trials was well received by the students in my sociology of law class. The book would also be of interest to scholars of, and for courses on, work and occupations, criminal justice, and social psychology.”

>> Women & Criminal Justice: “The emotional trials endured, shared and triumphed by women defense attorneys are richly described by author Cynthia Siemsen….”

>> Women’s Review of Books: “The strength of Emotional Trials lies in the fine work Siemsen has done in mining and revealing the stories of her women defender subjects—stories that deserve to be told.”