chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
August 09, 2022

5 women change-makers in law

Incoming ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross said the 2022 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Awardees gave her two feelings: “The first is, ‘Boy, am I an underachiever,’ ” but also  “I am inspired by these women,” and said she stands on their shoulders.

2022 Margaret Brent awardees (from left): Laura J. Schumacher, Wendy Shiba, Myra C. Selby, Christina L. Martini and Michele Goodwin

2022 Margaret Brent awardees (from left): Laura J. Schumacher, Wendy Shiba, Myra C. Selby, Christina L. Martini and Michele Goodwin

ABA photograph

The five women with legal careers spanning private practice, law school leadership, nonprofit work and the judiciary received their awards from the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession on Aug. 7 at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

The award was established in 1991 to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of female lawyers who have achieved professional excellence within their specialty and paved the way for other women.

The 2022 Brent honorees are (click on each name of a video tribute and acceptance remarks):

Michele Goodwinchancellor’s professor at University of California, Irvine School of Law in Irvine, California, honored the past and the future as she accepted her award. She referred to her grandmothers as a “refugees,” who fled their homes in the deep South because they were denied voting rights, clean water, equal education opportunities and adequate housing. “That legacy burns a flame in me,” she said.

Goodwin concluded her acceptance by turning to the younger generation. “For our daughters… the receipts for your journey are already here; no need to feel like an imposter for the excellence that you already have.” And she ended on a message of hope: “In the darkest times, that’s when the light of the moon is best seen and our stars are best seen, such that we can find pathways forward for freedom.”

Christina L. Martini, partner and global head of trademark prosecution and controversy practice at McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago, said her mother’s death when she was 16 motivated her to achieve what her mother could not. She credited others’ generosity, “especially during my darkest days,” so that “making a difference for others has always been incredibly important for me, particularly in the areas of mentoring, diversity, equity and inclusion.” Martini told attendees to “remember that you are in the driver’s seat of life” and reminded them that they are not alone. “Learn from the sadness…and do not let the dark times define you,” she said.

Laura J. Schumacher, vice chairman of external affairs and chief legal officer at AbbVie in North Chicago, Illinois, said of her colleagues at AbbVie “this is their award, too” due to their commitment to “real, measurable change” in the industry. She also credited their outside counsel partners “who have worked with us to advance opportunities and mentorship for both female and underrepresented attorneys within their law firms as well.” Schumacher said equity is “not a once and done, and it requires commitment and focus from all of us, every day.” She concluded by saying, “If I had one last call for action it would be to encourage every one of us to double-down on our own personal commitment to being the change that we want to see.”

Myra C. Selby, partner at Ice Miller in Indianapolis, thanked her mentor, Judge Harry Edwards, saying “his support always comes with a little nudge to do better, reach higher, do more. Again.” Saying that her “heart is full,” she echoed Goodwin, “I would say to the next generation of (women) leaders… You are enough.”

Wendy Shiba, principal with the Red Bee Group in Altadena, California, said that she often wondered if she had accomplished “anything big, but came to realize how much it’s the little things that count.” She told the story of being a young associate in Big Law when an investment banker asked if she had been hired because she was “a twofer” (woman and minority) and a partner interjected that “actually, we hired Wendy because she’s really smart.” Shiba said the moment illustrated both allyship and sponsorship -- “concepts that we didn’t even have labels for at the time.” She urged the audience to “do the little things with purpose and intention and all the time…. The little things can add up.”

Margaret Brent was the first woman lawyer in America. She arrived in the colonies in 1638. She was a master negotiator, an accomplished litigator and a respected leader. She was involved in 124 court cases over eight years and won every case. Previous recipients of the award include U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.