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May 01, 2024 Feature

Continuing Margaret Brent’s Legacy

By Karol Corbin Walker

The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession is proud to announce the 2024 honorees for the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Awards. Created in 1991, the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Awards honors up to five outstanding women lawyers who have achieved professional excellence and paved the way for other women in the legal profession.

This year, we are excited to recognize the following incredible women: Dolores S. Atencio, visiting scholar, University of Denver Latinx Center, Sturm College of Law; Pamila J. Brown, associate judge, Howard County (Maryland) District Court; Estelle H. Rogers, former legislative director, Project Vote; Gina Shishima, Ph.D., chief strategy and operations partner, Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP; and Barbara H. Wall, current board member and former chief legal and operating officer, Gannett Co., Inc. These women embody the talent and passion of the award’s namesake.

The American Bar Association recognizes Margaret Brent as the first woman lawyer in America. Brent was the first woman to represent herself in public court and was involved in—and won—124 cases over an eight-year period. In 1648, she stood before the Maryland General Assembly and demanded “a voice and a vote.” Although she was denied, history remembers the colonial suffragist Margaret Brent as a master negotiator, accomplished litigator, and respected leader.

The Commission is thrilled to announce the fabulous Brent honorees on the heels of Women’s History Month. Just as the Brent Awards offer the opportunity to celebrate exceptional women in the legal profession, the Commission cherishes the month of March as an additional opportunity to commemorate the invaluable contributions of women in the United States. What began as a local celebration corresponding with International Women’s Day on March 8 was elevated in 1995 by presidential proclamation to a month-long observance, which recognizes the integral role of women in history just like Margaret Brent.

The Commission was excited to join the chorus of celebrations for the impact of women throughout history under the banner of this year’s Women’s History Month theme: Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

For the past 20 years, the Commission has been engaged in important work on diversity dynamics in the legal profession through the Women of Color Research Initiative, which has produced invaluable reports like the Visible Invisibility series and projects like Guided Conversations that address the intersectionality of race, ethnicity, and gender in the legal profession.

In March 2024, the Commission revisited the Guided Conversations Project through the Highlighting Experiences of Intersectionality in the Profession webinar. Supported by the This Talk Isn’t Cheap report and toolkit exploring how structured dialogue between women of color and white women can bridge gaps in understanding and build allyship, the Commission hosted a panel of highly accomplished women who represent a diversity of identities and legal specialties to share their experiences on March 20. This program was offered free of charge, with CLE credit available in eligible states, and was recorded for those unable to attend live.

The Commission on Women in the Profession cherishes Women’s History Month and the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Awards as they reflect on the momentous impact of women in the United States and the profession. By recognizing these accomplishments, we remain steadfast in our obligation to empower the advancement of women in the law.

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Karol Corbin Walker

Kaufman Dolowich

Karol Corbin Walker is a partner in the Hackensack office of Kaufman Dolowich, where she practices commercial and business litigation, labor and employment, toxic tort, and products liability matters. Ms. Walker has been the first woman or first woman of color to lead many legal organizations, including the New Jersey State Bar Association, New Jersey’s delegation to the ABA House of Delegates, the Association of the Federal Bar of New Jersey, and the National Conference of Bar Presidents. She is honored to chair the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.