Annual Meeting

2023 Margaret Brent Award honorees serve as 'role models for all women'

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Images courtesy of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.

In keeping with tradition, the Commission on Women in the Profession will honor five women with the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award at the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting.

The commission established the annual award in 1991 to recognize female lawyers who have excelled in their field and paved the way for other women. It is named for Margaret Brent, who arrived in the colonies in 1638. She was involved in 124 court cases in more than eight years, and is now considered the first female lawyer in America. She reportedly won every case.

“These five distinguished lawyers are role models for all women in the legal profession,” Victoria Alvarez, a member of the commission and co-chair of its Margaret Brent Awards Committee, said in a news release. “We honor their achievements and look forward to celebrating with them at the 2023 Margaret Brent Awards ceremony.”

The ceremony and reception begin at 3 p.m. Mountain time on Sunday as part of the ABA Annual Meeting, which runs Aug. 2 to 8 in Denver. Tickets are sold out.


Justice Sabrina S. McKenna

Justice Sabrina S. McKenna


McKenna, who was appointed to the Hawaii Supreme Court in 2011, is the first openly LGBTQ Asian American to serve on a court of last resort in her state. She joined the bench in 1993, and as a trial judge, she presided over civil, criminal and family cases. She also served as presiding judge of Oahu’s family court. She previously worked as corporate secretary and general counsel to Japan-based business organization Otaka and as an assistant professor at University of Hawaii at Manoa’s William S. Richardson School of Law.

She is a faculty member of the National Judicial College and serves on the Judicial Advisory Board of the George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School’s Law & Economics Center Judicial Education Program. She recently served as co-chair of the Hawaii Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. She received the ABA Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’s Stonewall Award in 2021. She graduated from University of Hawaii at Manoa’s William S. Richardson School of Law.

On what this award means: “I feel so honored to be able to join the distinguished women lawyers and judges who have received this award. For me, this November marks 30 years of service in the Hawai’i state judiciary. I humbly accept the award on behalf of all the state court judges throughout the country working hard to provide justice in their communities.”

Melissa Murray

Melissa Murray

New York City

Murray is the Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law at New York University School of Law. She teaches constitutional law, family law, criminal law and reproductive rights and justice. She previously served as the Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of Law at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law, where she also was the interim dean from March 2016 to June 2017. Earlier in her career, she clerked for Sonia Sotomayor, who was then a judge of the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

She is a legal analyst for MSNBC and co-hosts Strict Scrutiny, a Crooked Media podcast about the U.S. Supreme Court. She is co-author of Cases on Reproductive Rights and Justice, the first casebook to cover the field of reproductive rights and justice, and has written for several publications, including the New York Times and Vanity Fair. She is a member of the American Law Institute. She graduated from Yale Law School.

On what this award means: “In 2000, I attended the Margaret Brent Awards as a guest of the law firm for which I was working that summer. It was such an impressive gathering—Justice O’Connor was being honored that year and the room was filled with the leading lights of the legal profession. I was a bit awestruck as I sat at the table and listened to the speeches. I never imagined that I would one day work with some of these women … and I certainly never imagined that I would one day receive this award. I am absolutely delighted to join this esteemed group of women, many of whom I have learned from and admired for so long.”

Yvette Ostolaza

Yvette Ostolaza


Ostolaza is a partner at Sidley Austin, where she serves as chair of its management committee and as a member of its executive committee. She has significant experience in matters involving multidistrict litigation, activist defense, class actions, bankruptcy and arbitration. She also assists boards and executives during times of corporate turbulence.

She is a member of the board of directors of entertainment company Lionsgate and has served on several nonprofit boards as well as on the State Bar of Texas board of directors. She also has long been involved with Girls Inc., a nonprofit that serves girls ages 5 to 18 in more than 350 cities in the United States and Canada. She was honored by the Hispanic National Bar Association with the 2022 Mari Carmen Aponte Award, which recognizes a “Latina lawyer who is the first to break a glass ceiling.” She graduated from the University of Miami School of Law.

On what this award means: “Margaret Brent’s story is one of ambition, courage, drive and a sense of purpose. I am thrilled to have been selected as a recipient of this award by the ABA. Not only am I honored by the namesake, but I am also inspired by my fellow honorees. Reflecting the broad and diverse range of the ABA’s membership, my fellow honorees have broken through barriers in the judiciary, academia, government and private practice. Each of these women and all of the Margaret Brent Award recipients represent the best the legal profession has to offer and further the award’s purpose to ‘demonstrate excellence in various professional settings and personify excellence on the national, regional, or local levels.’”

Deborah Willig

Deborah Willig


Willig, the founder and managing partner of Willig, Williams & Davidson, focuses her practice on labor and employment law. She has served as the lead labor negotiator for significant negotiations in Philadelphia, which includes serving on the negotiating team for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers in every negotiation with the School District of Philadelphia since 1983. She also served as the chief negotiator for the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association, which reached its first-ever collective bargaining agreement with the National Women’s Soccer League in 2022.

She has chaired several committees of the Philadelphia Bar Association and served on its board of governors. She was elected as chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association in 1992, becoming the first woman and LGBTQ leader to hold the post in the association’s history. She is a member of the American Law Institute and fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers. She graduated from Temple University Beasley School of Law.

On what this award means: “What has guided me in my career has been a commitment to level the playing field for working women and working families; to make sure their voices are heard and that they are able to live the lives they envision for themselves. In some cases, that has meant negotiating fair wages and benefits for union members, from sanitation workers to teachers to professional athletes. It also has meant promoting and enhancing opportunities for women attorneys both within our firm and within our profession.

“My family taught me that the best we can do in life is to do the right thing. It is the standard to which I have tried to hold myself in my personal and professional life. Doing the right thing has sometimes meant doing unpopular or difficult things, but it also meant I never had to worry about looking my child in the eye and telling them I hadn’t done my best.

“Receiving the Margaret Brent Award validates not only my life’s work, but also the way I approach that work every day. It validates the lessons I learned from my family and the values that are important to me. And it inspires me to continue that work with the same passion and commitment that inspired me to pursue a career in the law.”

Jill Wine-Banks

Jill Wine-Banks

Evanston, Illinois

Wine-Banks was the first woman to serve as an organized crime prosecutor in the U.S. Department of Justice and was named an assistant Watergate special prosecutor in the obstruction of justice trial against President Richard Nixon’s top aides. She became Illinois’ first solicitor general and first female deputy attorney general and was the first woman to serve as executive director and chief operating officer of the ABA. She was also general counsel of the U.S. Army, held corporate positions at Motorola and Maytag and worked as chief officer of career and technical education for Chicago Public Schools.

She is a legal analyst for MSNBC and co-host of Politicon podcasts, #SistersInLaw and iGen Politics. She is the author of The Watergate Girl: My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President. She is a member of the Better Government Association board of directors and has served on several other boards, including for the American Civil Liberties Union. She graduated from Columbia Law School.

On what this award means: “The ABA is THE professional organization, and Margaret Brent is a hero for all women—not just lawyers—in getting rights for women in the 1600s. So, receiving the Margaret Brent Award is a great honor and gives all its recipients the power to open doors for other women and a voice in fighting for the full inclusion of women in the profession, in society and in the Constitution. I look forward to the inclusion of the Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution and to a time when this award recognizes all lawyers of achievement, not just women lawyers of achievement.”

See also: “ABA honors 5 female trailblazers with Margaret Brent awards” “Meet the 2021 Margaret Brent Award honorees”

Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting here.

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