May 10, 2015

Margaret Brent Award Celebrates 25 Years

Michele Coleman Mayes

This August, the Commission on Women in the Profession will host the 25th Annual Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Awards Luncheon, honoring five outstanding women lawyers who have achieved professional excellence in their area of specialty and have actively paved the way to success for other women lawyers. The 2015 recipients are an eclectic group: Marie Carmen Aponte, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador; Flora D. Darpino, the first woman to serve as the judge advocate general of the U.S. Army; Fernande R.V. Duffly, an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court; Mary Ann Hynes, the first female general counsel of a Fortune 500 company; and Emma Coleman Jordan, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

The Commission’s first chair, Hillary Rodham Clinton, initially conceived the idea of the Brent Award to celebrate and focus on the positive achievements of women. In part, the objective was to balance the somewhat negative reports published by the Commission itself that focused spotlights on problems faced by women lawyers in the workplace. For that first luncheon in 1991, no one had any idea how many nominations would be submitted or how many people would show up at the event. As it turned out, those worries were completely unfounded. The outpouring of responses to the solicitation of nominations was overwhelming, and 350 women attended the luncheon. Today, the Brent Award is one of the most prestigious accolades a woman lawyer can receive, and the luncheon is one of the largest ticketed events of the ABA Annual Meeting, often attended by more than 1,000 women and men from across the county and world.

Why after 25 years does the Brent Award still matter? As we see again with this year’s honorees, the lives and career paths of extraordinary women from diverse practice areas continue to reveal fascinating, impressive, and memorable stories. Their journeys remind us of the possibilities. Through the years, some honorees made their mark on the national level, while others focused on their states or local communities. The Brent Award remains timeless and relevant in part because it shines the light on those who are too often the unsung heroines, acknowledges those who have extensive name recognition, and honors remarkable lawyers in between. Wherever they are and whatever they do, these Brent women are role models and trailblazers who continue to inspire and move us all, regardless of our gender, work experience, age, or ethnicity.

Why after 25 years does the Brent Award still matter? Because each time we ask if we have made progress, the inevitable response is yes, but progress has been too slow, too incremental. The Brent Award allows us to focus solely on the “yes”—even if for one day. This celebration steels and invigorates us to take on the barriers that remain. And so celebrate we will!

This year’s awards will be presented on Sunday, August 2, in Chicago in conjunction with the ABA Annual Meeting. For information on the event and support opportunities, visit www.ambar.org/BrentAwards. Join us in celebrating 25 years of outstanding accomplishments of women lawyers as this year’s class joins their illustrious predecessors as Margaret Brent Award honorees.

Michele Coleman Mayes

Michele Coleman Mayes is chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. She is vice president, general counsel, and secretary for the New York Public Library.