At 76, the renowned women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred shows no sign of letting up.
In the post-Weinstein era, she’s busier than ever, claiming there are many high-profile men guilty of sexual misconduct who have not yet been exposed and are terrified their victims will speak out at any moment.
Allred, famous for representing women allegedly wronged by well-known men, including Bill Cosby, Donald Trump and Roman Polanski, said: “This has become more than ever the year of empowerment for women. The fear has been abandoned and women don’t want to suffer in silence any more.
“There are many men who have been wrongdoers and are living in fear now that they may wake up the next day and there is going to be a reckoning … that they may be next.”
Allred has spent 42 years fighting for the rights of women and minorities. Described as a “master of the press conference”, she often appears on television hoping to sway the court of public opinion. Dressed in a tailored, brightly-coloured suit (frequently “all red”), she holds the hands of her clients as they accuse famous men in politics, Hollywood, sport and business of sexual misbehaviour.
“There definitely are more names. Whether they will be coming out I can’t say because that is going to be up to my client,” she said. “I’m there to serve my client and so I don’t make any predictions. All I can say is there are definitely many, many high-profile names that have not yet come out.
“Men who, through their sense of arrogance and entitlement, have hurt women and have not yet been made accountable. We’re here to win justice and accountability but how that happens, that’s going to be up to our clients working with us.”
Allred has taken on the Catholic Church over sexual abuse by priests, the Boy Scouts of America for excluding a girl, and those who opposed same-sex marriage. In 1995 she became a household name when she represented the family of Nicole Brown Simpson during OJ Simpson’s highly-publicized murder trial.
She spoke to the Guardian in the run-up to the launch on Netflix on 9 February of Seeing Allred, a documentary about her life and work.
The film charts her career from the founding of Allred, Maroko & Goldberg, the firm she set up with two classmates in Los Angeles in 1976 specializing in discrimination, sexual misconduct and employment cases.
She is seen growing into a larger than life figure as she stands up for feminism on TV talkshows in the 1970s and 1980s and attends protest marches, press conferences and court cases.
The documentary also covers the shocking events of her early 20s, detailed in her 2006 autobiography, Fight Back and Win. While on vacation in Mexico, she was raped at gunpoint by a doctor, became pregnant and nearly died from a then illegal abortion. She remembers the nurse telling her: “This will teach you a lesson.” She didn’t report the rape because she thought she would not be believed.
She has referred to these experiences as a motivating factor in her crusade for justice. “I do feel that it helps me to understand what other women are still suffering,” she said.
Allred married while at the University of Pennsylvania. She had her daughter, Lisa, when she was 20 and divorced her husband, who had bipolar disorder, shortly after. She became a teacher, remarried the businessman William Allred (they divorced 19 years later after he was convicted on fraud charges) and went to law school.
A strong sense of moral duty also drives her. “I feel I have a duty to help others. I’m blessed to able to be a women’s rights attorney. It’s a privilege. I come from a little row house in Philadelphia and two parents who had an eighth-grade education.
“I have the opportunity to help, and I have the desire, I have the ability and I feel that’s the only moral choice I can make. I am every day inspired by the courage of others in even more challenging circumstances than I’ve ever faced.”
A feminist icon to many, Allred has her detractors. She has been branded an ambulance chaser and a media hound, and been pilloried on late-night shows and episodes of South Park and The Simpsons.
“I frankly don’t care,” she said. “It’s about winning justice. It’s really more of a statement about them than it is about me. For some of them it may be about their fear of change and improvement in the condition and status of women.”
She added that women and men often approached her to thank her.
“The men, 99% of the time when they say thank you they’re going to follow that with: ‘I’m a father of daughters,’ and they completely get it.”
Allred said she relaxed “by working”. She talked to the Guardian on the phone from Miami where she was speaking at a lawyers’ conference. She had flown in from Fargo, North Dakota, where she was representing the family of a Native American woman murdered so her baby could be stolen from her womb. A few days before this, Allred had held a press conference to announce a race discrimination lawsuit against Walmart. The next couple of days would take her to New York, then Los Angeles.
She said: “I do work all the time – if I’m not sleeping or not on the plane without internet. I would say 99.9% of the time I am working.”
She is currently representing Summer Zervos in a defamation suit against the president. In the runup to the election, Trump called The Apprentice contestant a liar for alleging that he groped her without consent at a hotel in 2007. Trump’s lawyers are arguing the case be set aside on the grounds of presidential immunity.
Allred is seen heartbroken in Seeing Allred as she watches the results coming in on election night. “Truth matters,” she said. “That’s why we are proceeding with this case. Our client matters, her reputation matters and women matter.”
For all of Allred’s high-profile cases, she said there were many others involving power imbalances between women and unknown men such as a teachers, bosses or church ministers.
Others who contacted her firm about famous people did not want to go public.
“For every individual you see me speak with where the individual I’m representing, the client, is speaking out about a high-profile figure, there are probably 50 who contact me who never want their name to be known, who never want the name of the high-profile figure to be known.
“They are seeking compensation for the harm that has been inflicted upon them, but they are seeking a confidential settlement. That is respected by us.”
She pointed out that her firm has also won hundreds of millions of dollars for victims. “That’s how we accomplish accountability – the wrongdoer has to pay the cost of the wrong, not the victim bear the cost of the wrong.”
Law runs in the family: Allred’s daughter, Lisa Bloom, is a women’s rights attorney, and her granddaughter, Sarah, qualified as a lawyer in 2015.
Asked whether Sarah wiould follow her mother and grandmother, Allred said: “Believe me, she knows that’s what I’d like her to do but meanwhile she’s getting experience in other areas. I know she’s a strong feminist.”
According to Allred, there will be plenty of work in years to come. “There are still so many injustices against women and women want to speak out about them and I do think that they have helped to win change.”
Winding up the conversation to prepare for her next meeting, Allred signs off with the kind of catchy soundbite that’s become her stock in trade. “I’ll just keep going and encouraging everyone to resist and insist and persist.”