July 01, 2018

Women Worth Knowing

By Michael J. Van Zandt

This issue of Experience highlights the work of the ABA Women Trailblazers in the Law Oral History Project. It was originally sponsored by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and was transferred in 2008 to the Senior Lawyers Division so that its important work may continue as a long-term project of the ABA. The American Bar Foundation is also collaborating on the project.

The project was conceived by Brooksley Born, a retired partner at Arnold & Porter who has chaired its oversight committee, and Linda Ferren, who has been the project director. It has benefited from the work of more than 200 volunteers who’ve provided their oral histories or acted as interviewers.

The project was created as a way to capture, through oral histories, the extraordinary story of the women who pioneered their way into the legal profession when most law firms and very few law schools would even admit women. The story of their perseverance and bravery in the face of resistance to their entry and acceptance to the profession is one that must be told and retold.

These women became the very best lawyers in their profession, rising to be judges, attorneys general, defenders of liberty and freedom, and leaders who set the finest example for not just other women but for the men who worked alongside them.

Some are from humble beginnings but had a burning desire to achieve what no one else in their small communities could achieve, first a law degree and then a place in the legal profession, where their actions not only advanced the practice of law but made society as a whole a better place for all Americans.

Despite adversity and outright discrimination, these women persevered and advanced steadfastly to be marked as pioneers and inspiring examples for all legal practitioners.

The Senior Lawyers Division is proud to be a continuing sponsor of this worthy project, and it’s adding to the list of women trailblazers every day. With the publication of a new book by Jill Norgren, Stories from Trailblazer Women Lawyers: Lives in the Law, we hope the story of these incredible women heroes can be publicized and will inspire a new generation of women lawyers to be role models for all lawyers, young and senior.

Michael J. Van Zandt

Michael J. Van Zandt is a partner and co-chair of the Environmental & Natural Resources group at Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco. In addition to chairing the Experience editorial board, Van Zandt is a member of the Senior Lawyers Division Council; a representative for the ABA SLD Environment, Energy and Resources Special Committee; a Litigation Counsel of America senior fellow; and an American Bar Foundation life fellow.