The Female Legal Icon I Most Admire…

female legal icon

In the latest Readers Respond, we asked attorneys and legal professionals to share about the female legal icons they most admire.

One of my law partners, Ed Bull, is known for saying “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” Having put myself through college and law school, I learned from the beginning of my career that the route of very hard work was the only true path to success. For this reason, I admire Sonja Sotomayor, the first woman of color, first Hispanic and first Latina member of the Supreme Court. She was born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, and raised by her mother after her father passed away when Sotomayor was nine. Her meteoric career was shaped by hard work, and perhaps the “luck" that comes with that kind of sacrifice.
Queen’s Bench is an iconic group of women lawyers that was formed in San Francisco and has been advancing the interests of women in law and society for 100 years. Of all the exceptional women who have spearheaded women’s equality, the most impactful in my life has been my mother, Moira Buxbaum, who was President of Queen’s Bench in 1991 and instilled in me the greatest sense of respect and appreciation for women lawyers.
I most admire Sandra Day O’Connor. She was the first Justice on the United States Supreme Court and was a respected Jurist from 1981 to 2006. I proudly attended the Law school bearing her name. She led the way in helping women advance in the legal profession. I heard her speak locally after she retired and even with her advanced age, she was still very sharp.
I've always admired Representative Shirley Chisholm. She's not a "legal" icon because she wasn't an attorney but her contributions to legislation and breaking down barriers have paved the way for other women to seek elected office. She was the first black candidate to receive a nomination for President of the United States from a major party (Democratic Party). She held her post as Representative for NY's 12th Congressional District for 7 terms. Also, she's of Guyanese descent just like myself so she gets extra points from me for that.
I think I would choose Myra Bradwell. She was one of the first women to pass the bar, although was denied admission to practice in Illinois because she was a married women (she was also denied admission as a notary public under discriminatory laws). She appealed to the United States Supreme Court that she was entitled to be a lawyer under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled against Bradwell, although her case inspired Illinois to later change its state law. Years later, the Illinois State Bar and US Supreme Court reversed course and granted her admission, paving the way for all women lawyers that came after her.
Justice O’Connor was born the daughter of a rancher in El Paso, Texas, and despite having finished Stanford Law in two years as third in her class, she struggled to find employment in the legal field amidst a then bias against women. To journey from those humble beginnings to be unanimously confirmed as the first female justice on the United States Supreme Court was a meteoric rise of epic proportions. My first trial as a young lawyer was before Judge O’Connor, then a Maricopa County Superior Court judge. In later years, I was privileged to have spent a limited amount of time with her as a Lawyer Representative to the 9th Cir. Judicial Conference. Although a remarkable jurist in every regard, the quality of Justice O’Connor that most impressed me and left a lasting memory with me was her deep humility and the fact that she never forgot where she came from. She is earnest, displays incredibly sound common sense and has never allowed her iconic status to diminish or blur her persona as a kind and gracious woman of the people. Among the jurists of our time, Sandra Day O’Connor stands with the tallest
Ada Kepley, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Vanita Gupta. These are a few of the incredible female legal icons I have drawn inspiration from over the years. Ada Kepley went against all odds to become the first American woman to graduate from law school in 1870. Despite waiting eleven years to be admitted to the bar since women were denied admittance, she became an advocate for women’s suffrage and temperance and fought hard for what she believed in regardless of what obstacles stood in front of her. Ruth Bader Ginsburg dedicated her entire life fighting for women’s equality. She wrote and defined, taught, and defended the law, and became a historical inspiration for girls and women worldwide as the second female justice in the history of the United States Supreme Court. And finally, Vanita Gupta, an Indian-American attorney like myself, who less than one year ago was confirmed as the first person of color to become the United States Associate Attorney General. I am in awe of women like these three who defy popular opinion, stand strong, and with perseverance, confidence, resilience, courage, kindness, and empathy, forged their paths and serve as role models for young women and girls looking to forge their own paths today. Without the hardships they have faced and the walls they have knocked down, I would not have the opportunities I have today. The lives and characteristics like those of Ada Kepley, RBG, and Vanita Gupta are what I learn from and look up to as I blaze my own path in the legal field.
Smrithi Mohan
Smrithi Mohan
In House Attorney at Dun & Bradstreet
While perhaps a bit commonplace, the female legal icon I most admire is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Not only was she an incredibly intelligent legal scholar who was able to reach the pinnacle of professional success, but she was also able to have an admirable family life. It seems nothing could stand in her way, including tending to her husband’s illness and caring for her infant daughter while attending Harvard Law School, or facing discrimination as a woman entering the legal field. She seemed to turn her struggles into fighting on behalf of others, and doing so very effectively and creatively all the way up until her passing.
Heather Boysel
Heather Boysel
Attorney at Gammage & Burnham

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