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Five outstanding female lawyers who paved the way for women in the legal profession were honored with the 2013 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, hosted by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession on Aug. 11 during the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.
Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii; Sara Holtz, founder and CEO of ClientFocus; Gladys Kessler, judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia; Marygold Shire Melli, Voss-Bascom Professor Emerita, University of Wisconsin Law School; and Therese M. Stewart chief deputy city attorney, city and county of San Francisco, join a distinguished list of past honorees including U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Hirono shared her experiences coming to America from Japan and stressed the importance of increasing the number of women in the the House of Representatives and Senate. “I have been fortunate to serve in this arena nearly 35 years now, and while we see record number of women in the halls of the house and the senate it is clear that we need to do more,” she said.
“Women make up 20 percent of the U.S. Senate and 17 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives… Our presence makes a difference when we talk about issues such as sexual assault in the military.”
Holtz expressed her gratitude for receiving the award and advised attendees of the need for women to capitalize on their strengths.
“Based on my years of working with women lawyers I believe that each and every person has a right work. Work that draws on your innate strengths,” she said. “But unfortunately many legal organizations or business organizations in general, do not recognize these strengths… I firmly believe the more time you spend each day doing your right work the happier you will be the better served your clients will be and the greater impact you will have on your work.”
Kessler encouraged all women to advocate for women who cannot do so themselves. “We need to remind ourselves of our obligations to all of our sisters in this country and in particular in countless other countries around the world who do not have the luxury of our education and our standard of living,” she said.
Melli, who was once denied an opportunity to interview with law firms because she is a woman, conveyed her satisfaction at being able to serve the legal profession.
“I graduated from law school in 1950 and there were not many women in school or the legal profession at the time,” said Melli. “Things have changed, and I have changed with them. I have been lucky to serve for 33 years on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin’s law School.”
Stewart thanked the commission for the award and discussed her role in advancing marital rights in California.
“Only ten years ago it was permissible to criminalize same-sex sexual intimacy, and today here we are in California with full marriage equality,” said Stewart. “I like to say we went from being outlaws to in-laws in the space of a decade.”
The Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, established in 1991, honors outstanding women lawyers who have achieved professional excellence in their area of specialty and helped other women achieve success. The award is named for Margaret Brent, the first woman lawyer in America. Brent arrived in the colonies in 1638 and was involved in 124 court cases in more than eight years, winning every case. In 1648, she formally demanded a vote and voice in the Maryland Assembly, which the governor denied.