Breaking Barriers of the New Mexico Legal System

By Cassie McClure and Suzanne Michaels Photo courtesy of Las Cruces Utilities

Marcia B. Driggers sits and listens carefully to the Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) Board of Commissioners meeting. She’s on hand to answer any questions that the commissioners or public may have regarding legal issues, and with 40 years of experience, there won’t be too much that she won’t be able to answer, or find the answer to, herself.

But it was a different type of law practiced in New Mexico when Driggers graduated from the University of New Mexico (UNM) in 1974. Notably, there were fewer female attorneys, especially in Las Cruces. “I was the only female lawyer in Las Cruces when I arrived in 1975,” Driggers explained.

Driggers is originally from the state of Delaware, the whole of which she said, can fit into Doña Ana County. It was a culture shock moving west, she remembers, especially with the dry air. But she wasn’t completely unfamiliar with New Mexico as she had spent time as an exchange student at UNM in Albuquerque.

Driggers went first for a career in education in Massachusetts, but dabbled with law due to a friend. Her friend was taking the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT), which measures the skills and knowledge necessary to become an attorney. The friend convinced Driggers to come along. “I took the test and did well, but I didn’t have money for law school or the desire to be an attorney,” she said.

Driggers then spent a year teaching junior high school history. She laughed, “I decided there had to be an easier way to earn a living.”

She remembered the law school at UNM and applied. “I had no real role models for women in the legal profession. All I knew about women in law was Perry Mason’s secretary Della Street (in the long running TV series Perry Mason),” she explained.

Like Hollywood, law school was similarly low on the number of females represented in educated, accomplished roles. “There were 10 women in a class of 100 people,” Driggers recalled. However, she did meet her husband, Douglas, in law school and they decided to go into practice together, coming to Las Cruces in 1975 and having two children, Elizabeth and Jeffrey.

Currently, Driggers is a senior assistant city attorney in Las Cruces, but spends half of her time on Utilities Department matters. She says she has no “typical days,” which makes the work invigorating and interesting. “Why should I retire and have to develop a hobby when I have a job I like and work with people I enjoy?” she asked.

Driggers reviews contracts and legal documents in anticipation of questions that Utilities may face or what may be unclear to board members. “In private practice, people come to you with a problem and you work to resolve it,” she said. “Whereas with the City, people anticipate the need for an attorney; you can reduce the problems that might be encountered, you’re somewhat preventative.”

“I would encourage more people to consider going into law,” she said. “It’s unlike medical school, where you might need a strong biology or chemistry background. In wanting to go into law school, you need to just show an aptitude for analysis. Plus, it’s a versatile career where you don’t just have to do trials. You can be a trust officer at a bank or a patent lawyer working with inventors.”

Does she think she might have become a role model for others to go into the profession? “Yes,” she said without hesitation. “Both my children became lawyers.”

She continued with a wry smile, “Plus, since they have to pass another bar exam in a different state, it’s harder to leave New Mexico.”

Winter 2018

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