Monday, August 9, 2010

Inspiring Women, Mad Men

This past weekend I was honored to be invited to attend the American Bar Association's Margaret Brent awards presentation to Women Lawyers of Achievement. This is an award which is given out annually to five exceptional women lawyers who, throughout their careers, have achieved professional excellence and have been influential in paving the way to success for other women lawyers. While we know that enrollment of women in law schools is now a significant percentage of the population, the stories told at this presentation were a reminder of how recent the acceptance of women in the field actually has been. Women in the law have made tremendous strides, yet still lag men in pay and opportunities for advancement.

The Hon. M. Margaret McKeown, my friend who was receiving one of the awards and who invited me to the ceremony, told the crowd the story of her first day on the job as a young attorney, arriving at the office an immediately being asked to make copies, as it was assumed she was a secretary. She now serves on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Elizabeth Cabraser has been an integral part of many of the largest class actions ever launched and/or settled in the nation. Think of some of the major cases in your lifetime - the Exxon Valdez litigation, the Albuterol products liability litigation, and the breast implant products litigation - and these were cases that Elizabeth tried. She stressed the reality that we still live in a world where opportuntities for ordinary people often mean opportunities for straight, white, male people. "Until we are all ordinary and have ordinary rights and opportunities, none of us can become extraordinary," she said.

I think it is really important to be reminded of the realities of inequality that still exist as we as a nation become increasingly enthralled with "Mad Men", and believe me, I am one of the biggest fans of the show. That the women I witnessed receiving awards were brave enough to stand up and demand equality in a culture - the legal culture nonetheless - so filled with prejudice and preconceived expectations is truly extraordinary.

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