Celebrating Women's History Month

What do the following have in common?

  • Americans who can drive a stick shift;
  • Female equity partners in AmLaw 200;
  • Projected sales growth for smartwatches in 2017;
  • Americans who have seen a ghost.

ComboAnswer: 18%

In 2016, women made up 18% of the female equity partners in the AmLaw 200. Am I happy with that statistic? Eh, no. (But I'm pretty excited that 18% of Americans claim to have seen a ghost).

Ok, so, we're at 18%. Disheartening - maybe, but let's step back for a minute and put that number in perspective. Where have we been, and where are we going? It is Women's History Month after all, and I've been running down a rabbit hole for some hours now - researching women who charged into the legal profession long before smartwatches.

Belva Ann Lockwood; First woman allowed to practice before the United States Supreme Court in 1879
Belva Ann Lockwood; First woman "allowed" to practice before the United States Supreme Court in 1879

Did you know that in 1890, women lawyers made up less than one half of one percent of the profession (208 women out of 89,422 total lawyers)? We've come a long way - thanks to plenty of women and men who fought the good fight. Take Lelia Robinson for example.

Lelia Robinson was the first woman to graduate from Boston University Law School. Go Lelia! But, when she tried to sit for the state bar she was turned away. The trial court and the appellate court denied her petition for admission. The court's reasoning? Women's bar admission would lead to suffrage. Lelia J. Robinson's Case, 131 Mass. 376 (1881).

Lelia wouldn't take no for an answer. When the courts shut her out, she turned to the legislature - and lobbied for a women's lawyer bill, which passed unanimously. Lelia then became the first female admitted to the Massachusetts bar!

Lelia later got in contact with more than half of all female lawyers in the US, and published a report - profiling female attorneys and publicizing female presence in the industry. She lobbied for legislation allowing women to take depositions. She was the first woman to argue a case before a co-ed jury. She opened her own law practice in Boston - because no one would hire her. And she authored my new favorite quote -->

"[I]n time, sooner or later, the lawyer everywhere who deserves success and can both work and wait to win it, is sure to achieve it - the woman no less than the man."

Does anyone want to print that quote on a canvas and sell it to me on Etsy? My new office is begging for inspirational prints…. I digress. The point? Lelia was an all-around rockstar. Thank you, Lelia. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Mildred McClelland Constangy, LLP #Bold For Change
                 Mildred McClelland                             #BoldForChange

And while we are talking about rockstar female lawyers - let's shout out to Mildred McClelland. For those of you that don't know, Constangy Brooks Smith & Prophete began with Frank Constangy in 1940s Atlanta. Frank's first two law partners were Legree Davis and you guessed it, Mildred McClelland.

At the time, there were very few female attorneys in Atlanta, and Mildred wasn't just an attorney - she was a partner. She was hand-selected by Frank Constangy himself. And that makes us proud. After all, this was a decade before former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor graduated from Stanford law school a year early, could not get an interview with over 40 California law firms because she was a woman, turned down her only paying offer as a legal secretary, and instead got a job only after she offered to work for free without an office as a deputy county attorney.

Today we honor the firms that have respected and welcomed female legal minds from the outset. I'm proud that women have a shot in this industry. I'm proud that I have the right to take a darn deposition. I'm proud that I sat for the bar in two states without anyone questioning my eligibility on account of my sex. I'm proud that I can try a case - in front of a co-ed (and multi-racial, multi-ethnic) jury.

And you know what? I'm proud that we are at 18% and climbing. It's not where we want to be but it's not where we came from, and it's not where we're going.

Let's buckle down and climb faster, y'all. Grab your smartwatches, cause we have work to do….

Still Image Credits: From Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license. Stick shift; From Pexels, Creative Commons license. . Smart watch; From Maxpixel, Creative Commons license. Ghost woman; and from Pixabay, Creative Commons license. Belva Ann Lockwood. 

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