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August 11, 2021

Five honored with 2021 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award

Five trailblazing women lawyers were honored Aug. 5 at the 2021 American Bar Association Hybrid Annual Meeting with the 2021 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award.

2021 Margaret Brent Award honorees (left to right): Irma Gonzalez, Joan Haratani, Joyce Hughes, Pamela Karlan and Ellen Rosenblum.

2021 Margaret Brent Award honorees (left to right): Irma Gonzalez, Joan Haratani, Joyce Hughes, Pamela Karlan and Ellen Rosenblum.

The Brent Award, established in 1991, honors outstanding women lawyers who have achieved professional excellence in their area of specialty and have paved the way for others. The recognition is named for the first woman lawyer in America and is sponsored by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.

At the ceremony, ABA President Patricia Lee Refo called the honorees “magnificent” and “inspiring examples of grit and excellence” for the example their achievements have set for lawyers everywhere.

ABA President-elect Reginald M. Turner joined Refo in offering the “powerhouse” women his congratulations and reminded the audience that the commitment to advancing gender equity is “a responsibility that rests on all of us — not just women.”

“Diversity, equity and inclusion should not be just an ideal, or a popular terminology, but a lifestyle,” he said.

The 2021 honorees are below.

Click each awardee name to view personal acceptance remarks at the virtual award event.

Irma Gonzalez, a retired federal judge, thanked her parents for their support. “I would not be here if it were not for their vision for their seven children.”

She said women of color have to work extra hard to succeed. “I felt the pressure to have to prove myself, but I am blessed to have served as a judge for almost 30 years in three different judicial positions.”

Gonzalez also had a message for young women lawyers: Dream big, continue to set the highest goals, and "know that those of us who proceeded you are cheering you on."

Joan Haratani is a partner at Morgan Lewis in San Francisco. Haratani told attendees she wants women lawyers to speak their truth.

“Let’s change the world, you and me together, one person at a time, in the spirit of Margaret Brent and this amazing ABA award,” she told the audience of her colleagues.

Joyce Hughes, a law professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law since 1979, is retiring this year.

Hughes shared inspirational notes she’s received from former law students. Among them: “Your classroom was one of the first places where I did not feel out of place at law school.” “When you came along… mere survival was replaced with a focus on excellence.” “There are many things I’ve loved and found helpful about your class, but what was most impactful was being taught by a Black law professor.”

Hughes said her professional journey as a woman and as a Black person has been unique. “It’s gratifying that my presence has taught that if you see it, you can be it.”

Pamela Karlan is the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law and a founder and co-director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at Stanford Law School. She is currently on leave from Stanford to serve as principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.

In her acceptance, Karlan underscored the importance of voting rights.

 “My fondest hope is that I will live both to see the United States become a nation where all citizens can cast a ballot and have that ballot counted in free and fair elections,” she said.

Ellen Rosenblum is serving her third term as Oregon attorney general, having first been elected in 2012.

 Rosenblum talked about the struggles and triumphs of women lawyers and her hopes for the future. “Today’s world is beset by so many challenges – the climate crisis, racial injustice, economic inequality, just for starters – women know how to rise to and meet any moment no matter how difficult. But we’ll never reach our full potential as solvers of important legal problems if we don’t have our places at the table. Every twist and turn of my career confirms that basic belief.”

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.

Previous Margaret Brent winners range from small-firm practitioners in Alabama and Alaska to U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Winners are selected on the basis of their professional accomplishments and their role in opening doors for other women lawyers.