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Home / Editor's Picks / Susan E. Block- Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal; former Circuit Judge, St. Louis County

Susan E. Block- Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal; former Circuit Judge, St. Louis County

Susan Block’s three oldest children were napping one afternoon when she picked up the phone. The busy mom dialed the dean of admissions at Saint Louis University School of Law.

“I asked if I could come back, and he looked at my record and said, ‘Sure,’” Block said, from her offices at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal in Clayton. “But I had to figure out what I was going to say that night to my husband. I’ve just applied to law school in the middle of the day.”

Block had a few years of law school under her belt. She’d originally planned on a career in social work after growing up in a Western Pennsylvania steel-mill town, but her father urged her to go to law school. She agreed to try it for a year, and if she didn’t like it, she would study social work. She entered law school at George Washington University at age 20, one of nine women among 900 students. She married shortly after the end of her first year and moved to St. Louis with her husband.

After he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War, she took law-school classes at SLU to distract herself from a boring day job. Once three of her four children came along, though, she took a seven-year break before placing that naptime call.

When she graduated at age 30, she found a position with attorney Murray Stone, running his office in St. Louis while he worked in Jefferson City as a state representative.

“You really had to learn how to deal in a man’s world,” Block said. “And you also had to gain the confidence of clients that, as being a woman lawyer, you could provide them with the same strength of representation as a man could.”

She was standing in a traffic-court-docket line, waiting on a late judge, when she made a decision that would define the next step of her career.

“I said to the guy standing next to me, ‘I can do this job,’” Block said. “He laughed, and of course he didn’t take me seriously.”

Stone, too, told her she didn’t have much chance in the race for magistrate judge against a popular, 10-year incumbent. But Block had been involved in women’s politics in St. Louis for several years, and she wanted to make a point about the lack of women judges in city and county courtrooms. She won, and she was sworn in as associate circuit judge when the system shifted away from a partisan election system.

Then-Gov. Mel Carnahan later promoted her to circuit judge, and she was assigned to the juvenile court. The position allowed her to combine her love of supporting social justice and improving the lives of children with her legal expertise.

“All the issues that I’ve always been interested in in terms of social justice were placed before me,” Block said. “So I just loved that job.”

After seven years in juvenile court, Block faced a transfer but didn’t want to give up working for children and families, so she joined the family-law firm in 2004. Leaving the bench allowed her to continue her work for social justice while maintaining close relationships with her clients and honing her advocacy skills.

“Advocating doesn’t mean having the loudest voice in the courtroom,” Block said. “Advocating doesn’t mean having a trial for every case. Advocating means trying to discern — what are the strengths of your case, what are the weaknesses, how to deal with them both and still get a fair result.”

By the time Block stepped away from the judge’s chambers to the law firm, her father had died, but she’s now finally doing what he’d always hoped she’d do.

“I’m not too proud to say my dad was right,” Block said.