In our new series focusing on the women who have succeeded in the practice of law, it is only fitting that our first honoree should be Darleen Jacobs, trial lawyer, real estate broker, and building and construction company owner and manager. She is also a mentor to young lawyers, especially women lawyers, as she recalls how she has become the lawyer opposing counsel say: “You don’t want to go up against her.”
Darleen developed her ability to do so much and do it so well by dint of her own sheer willpower. The daughter of a police officer turned restaurant owner, she worked from an early age “Clover Grill” in the French Quarter flipping its legendary hubcap burgers and assisting in the management of its business affairs.
She continued to work as she earned her liberal arts and pre-law degree from Louisiana State University in New Orleans, then went on to Loyola Law School at night while working for Shell Oil Company. She was the only woman in her law school class but did not let that stop her from being outspoken in class and earning a reputation for being a champion debater.
When Darleen graduated from law school in 1970, Shell offered her the same job back in the accounting department but not as an attorney. (In those days, Shell would pay tuition for male employees studying law, but not female employees, she recalls.) She applied to various law firms to no avail, including after taking an ad out in a local legal publication offering to work for free. There were no job offers. She had earned her real estate broker’s license and auctioneering license while in college and continues to use it to this day.
Although financially successful in her real estate profession, Darleen always knew that she “wanted to help people and thought that practicing law was a good way to do it.” So, Darleen took her savings and hung a shingle in the back of the Clover Grill.
Clients started to come to her, including Shell employees who had known her when she worked there. I asked Darleen what makes her so fearless in protecting her clients. Darleen takes her responsibility to each client very seriously. “The client has selected me out of over 20,000 lawyers. That client deserves my very best. I even take cases other lawyers turn down because for me it’s not about the money. It’s about helping the client.”
Darleen has developed an extremely varied practice. In 1992, Darleen graduated again, this time from Tulane with an LL.M. in Admiralty Law although she had long been handling complex class action cases and individual personal injury cases, including maritime cases. Additionally, Darleen is admitted to the bar in New York and D.C. Some of the more famous cases that Darleen has been counsel for plaintiffs in include the breast implant litigation, the only woman on the class committee and then only due to the wisdom of Judge Yada Magee, who recognized a woman should be involved. Three women were eventually appointed to the breast implant committee. Darleen chaired the Baxter manufacturing team. Other class action cases include a $68 million settlement and the CSX case, where the recovery was $3.4 billion. The jurors actually waited to talk to her after the trial to compliment her and get their photo taken with Darleen!
Jurors with Darleen Jacobs
Darleen’s personality pendulum swings in a very wide, unique, and eclectic arc. Her extensive interests range from fashion to business to mastering advocacy skills and everything in between. Her tenacity can be as intimidating as endearing. For those lucky enough to call her a friend, she is as loyal and supportive as it gets. There is a brutally honest sincerity about her which always lets everyone know precisely where you stand. And that's a welcomed and refreshing characteristic that folks admire about Darleen.
Darleen shows no sign of slowing down. Her firm, located in the French Quarter, has been growing. She holds numerous professional awards and is a frequent CLE speaker.
Darleen has a keen interest in seeing women take their rightful place in the practice. Those who know her have described her as a rare and kind friend. (I can vouch for that personally.) She is politically active, especially in fundraising for women. From her vantage point as a successful lawyer and businesswoman, she reminds me that women still must work twice as hard to get half as far, and that women are not given equal treatment when it comes to being considered for positions of leadership in class actions, despite having equal or better experience and financial ability to participate in the expense of the litigation. She also suggested that women support and promote other women, which she finds common in NY.
As one of the women who has benefitted from Darleen kicking in doors and breaking glass ceilings, I say “thank you” to Darleen for all that she has done to show that women attorneys can not only be great lawyers, but great trial lawyers. We will continue to look to you as a role model and work harder to follow your sage advice. None of us would be where we are today if you had not been fearless enough to be the only woman in your law school class, start your own law firm, and then refuse to sit in the back of the room and be quiet. Thank you, Darleen.
About the Author:
Women in the Profession Committee Chair
Each month NOBA's Women in the Profession Committee will spotlight a different female lawyer. WIP aims to support and celebrate successful women lawyers in New Orleans and their accomplishments. If you are interested in writing an article, please contact Lynn Luker for more information.