One of our own achieves Laureate distinction

Sharon Eiseman, a longstanding and active member of the Standing Committee on Women and the Law, and a tireless promoter of women's legal rights, has been awarded with ISBA's highest achievement, a 2004 Laureate of the Academy of Illinois Lawyers. As Sharon told the ISBA, "This award is very humbling. I never set out to be a role model. I just wanted women to take the necessary steps to become active in their community, pursue career options that could benefit them and generally advocate on their own behalf."

While she may never have set out to be that role model, she nonetheless has been an inspiration for all of us: to do the right thing and utilize our minds and skills and hearts to empower women to help themselves make their lives better. I myself have known Sharon for years, both in her professional life (she's a municipal lawyer with Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn) and in her life of community service. I asked a number of our members to identify how Sharon has inspired them. Here are some stories from three women lawyer leaders:

"I met Sharon in 1978 when, fresh out of DePaul, she came to CLS as a new volunteer. My job was to support the volunteers, recruiting, placing them in a neighborhood clinic, answering their questions, and backing them up in court. Sharon began with a commitment to making life better for our clients and an understanding that without her pro bono efforts, the poor people she saw at her CVLS clinic had no other option for help. All of our clients were poor, most were women, and a large portion of them had children. Sharon was always at the clinic on her scheduled night and always was a patient counselor. I knew she would be a volunteer for a long time, and indeed she has never stopped working to assist and empower people in need. She has answered the highest calling of our profession and I am glad to have her as a friend and colleague. "

-Ruth Ann Schmitt

"I worked with Sharon when Women Everywhere began. I was President of the Black Women Lawyer's Association of Greater Chicago when she was President of WBAI. She made it her mission to develop programs that allowed for the exposure of women from both groups. She also willingly co-sponsored events that benefited both groups. I was pleased to work with her."

-Patrice Ball-Reed

"I met Sharon when she was counsel for the City of Evanston many years ago and I was Chief Counsel for the Illinois Liquor Control Commission. Since then, our paths have crossed in many ways. We have represented different sides in liquor license matters from simple to complex. She is tenacious without being abrasive. Her work ethic is the model of civility that the ISBA and the Supreme Court are advancing and highlighting this year. I have had the privilege to work with her on ISBA committees and to see her leadership in the WBAI as a member. In all of these endeavors, my admiration for her has grown over the years. She is right, talented and fair. Her energy inspires and awes. Her love of her family is evident. She is truly a role model for not only women lawyers, but for all lawyers."

-Irene Bahr

Where did Sharon get her own inspiration? From her mother, of course! As she told ISBA: "My mother came from a poor family with huge disadvantages. I don't know where she got the inner-strength to be a role model for me. She had such a strong faith and would never give up. My mother convinced me that I could do whatever I wanted in life. She was a terrific inspiration!"

Sharon began her professional life as a high school English teacher, and then worked with a group of adolescents. She decided to change careers and attended DePaul University College of Law while raising two daughters. As she explained, "I didn't feel that I was having the kind of impact on people and systems that I would like to have had. I saw problems and thought that as a lawyer I could make a greater difference. The idea of working in the legal field also seemed more intellectually challenging, the environment more appealing."

Sharon has put these thoughts into action and, over the course of her career, has been active in many associations of attorneys that she felt were committed to changing the status quo of women, especially those who were not full participants in the economic lives of their communities. "As a lawyer, I became very active in women's movements," she recalled. "The opportunities became obvious, ones that could help influence and improve women's lives in the community and advocate their participation in the legal profession." She explains her commitment to these groups, including the Standing Committee on Women and the Law, as follows: "Working together we help make changes so women won't be deprived of the advantages available to them. We lobby legislators and make public officials aware of what actions they can take. We try to change laws that don't work and implement those that should be put on the books."

Eiseman has compiled a laundry list of public service projects and accomplishments. They include her roles as a past president of the Women's Bar Association of Illinois and longstanding member of the ISBA Committee on Women and the Law. She serves on the Local Government Law Section Council and the Committee on Legislation. She is particularly proud of two recent projects. One is the Joint Task Force on Issues Affecting Women as They Age, which she co-founded as an effort of the Women's Bar and Chicago Bar. The other is the annual Women Everywhere: Partners in Service Project. Women Everywhere is a coalition of women's bar groups that include the ISBA Committee on Women and the Law and the ISBA Committee on Minority and Women Participation. One day each spring, attorneys of varying talents volunteer at 30 to 40 community agencies that serve women in need, particularly victims of domestic violence. "We promote women's economic independence," Sharon said. "That could include job training for women who are either not employed or underemployed, and likely have not had the educational opportunities to become independent."

Also on Sharon's agenda is an effort to encourage more women to go into public office. "We are lucky in Cook County to have so many women who are elected officials, but we need more," she said. As the ISBA reported upon her receiving the award: "Eiseman is never far from thinking about how to help others. 'There's a lot to do if you keep your eyes open and notice what's going on around you.'" On our committee, Sharon certainly keeps her eyes open; She keeps us "on task" and is an inspiration to women lawyers everywhere.

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June 2004Volume 9Number 4PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)