Annual Meeting 2007

Still Counting Firsts at the 'Maggies'

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More than 1,300 people showed up for the 17th annual Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Awards Luncheon honoring women whose legal careers have been pathbreaking and more. It was a full house Sunday in a huge conference room at the Moscone Center at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

And it had overflowed when 350 showed up at the first Margaret Brent luncheon back in 1991. Of necessity, the house keeps growing.

Back then, the room was flush with color because the audience was mostly women, who aren’t constrained to dark blue or gray for business attire. There were sprinkles of men in dark suits. Before that, big ABA gatherings had somewhat resembled the ones for China’s government years back—a sea of dark suits. By the mid-90s, the ABA’s dark suits began to show up in greater clusters at the Brent Awards, as many men realized that this event had quickly become a significant path to power and station in the ABA.

To ignore it was to risk being ignored. Things were changing.

Today, the color scheme seems nearly balanced. It’s not just a woman thing anymore, though that’s still what it’s about.

Margaret Brent came to the colonies in 1638 and became the first woman lawyer in America. Just 10 years after arriving, she demanded a “vote and voice” in the Maryland Assembly, which the governor denied. It would be more than 200 years before, in effect, the echo of her voice channeled through others who achieved that goal.

And now we’ve reached this point, emphasized in a speech to the gathering by Karen Mathis, who is near completing a year as ABA president: “I’d like to say, as the third woman president of the association: No more numbers.”

Still, plenty of first-this and first-that women were in the audience and still active at the bar—including those there to be honored with Margaret Brent Awards. So counting probably will continue a bit, but it is quite rightly waning.

Some counting must continue, though. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the ABA’s Commission on Women in the Profession, which three years after its inception launched and sponsors the Brent luncheons.

A top-drawer video documentary was produced for the occasion and screened at today’s luncheon. It included candid, warm-setting interviews with movers and shakers in the commission over the years—such as former ABA President Robert McCrate, who called for its creation, and Sen. Hillary Clinton, whom McCrate persuaded to be its first chair.

This year’s Margaret Brent Award (aka Maggies) winners:

Roxana C. Bacon

A bit of counting helps when looking at Bacon’s accomplishments. She was the first:

– Woman partner at what then in 1977 was the largest law firm in Arizona.

– Visiting professor at Arizona State University College of Law.

– Woman selected by Arizona’s federal judges to serve as a lawyer representative to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

– Woman elected president of the State Bar of Arizona.

And in 1997 Bacon helped found a woman-owned firm, Bacon & Dear, with a technology-oriented business model that allows the lawyers to work from anywhere at any time. That addressed one of the main reasons women leave the legal profession early.

Marsha S. Berzon

A judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Berzon had difficulty getting a job as a federal judicial law clerk because many judges in San Francisco had never hired any, much less one with a baby. Her now-colleague, Judge James R. Browning, then a trial judge, finally did hire her to clerk.

Berzon then moved up: She was the first woman law clerk for Justice William Brennan at the U.S. Supreme Court—and one of the earliest women to do so. Then, in private practice, she represented the AFL-CIO and became the first woman to argue on behalf of the labor movement in the Supreme Court.

Her private practice included a lot of work on women’s issues, particularly at the Supreme Court level, such as gender discrimination, sexual harassment, pension rights and sexual stereotyping.

Angela M. Bradstreet

In June, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Bradstreet as Labor Commissioner and she left her private practice at a San Francisco firm. Bradstreet had come to the U.S. from England when she was 24, on her own, and ended up a lawyer. As president of the Queen’s Bench Bar Association of the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989 and then of the California Women Lawyers in 1992, Bradstreet developed the “Rainmakers Guide for Women Attorneys.”

As president of the San Francisco Bar Association in 2001, she launched the No Glass Ceiling Task Force, which got more than 60 law firms to pledge having women comprise at least 25 percent of their partnerships by 2005. That percentage and the number of firms involved has since grown, and the initiative became a model for others across the country.

Marva Jones Brooks

In 1980, Brooks became the first woman and first African-American appointed as city attorney of Atlanta. She moved to private practice in 1990, but soon was asked to serve as associate general counsel for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. That continued from 1991 to 2000. She was one of the two highest-ranking women involved in the 1996 Olympic Games.

Brooks was on the board of the National Conference of Bar Examiners from 1998 to 2004 and became chair in 2005. She was president of the International Municipal Lawyers Association for 1989-90. Brooks has been on a lot of organizations boards over the years, including the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Atlanta Business League.

Irma S. Raker

Judge Raker is on Maryland’s highest bench, the Court of Appeals. She didn’t enter law school till age 32, taking time first for rearing her three children. A year out of law school, in 1973, she became the first woman prosecutor in Montgomery County, which is in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Judge Raker was a leader in revising Maryland’s sexual offense laws, including jury instructions in rape cases. As a Circuit Court judge in Montgomery County in 1982, she authored the high-impact Burning Tree opinion. In Burning Tree Club, Inc. v. Bainum, she held that the private club was not entitled to a special tax exemption because it refused to have women as members. The Court of Appeals upheld the ruling and it was instrumental in the burning of similar trees across the country.

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