Member Groups

The Catalyst
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Women and the Law

December 2008, vol. 14, no. 2

Chair’s Column

Given the progress of women attorneys in the legal profession, the need for or relevance of women’s bar associations, including similar groups existing within traditional bar associations, often is questioned. While women attorneys have made tremendous strides in the legal profession, challenges remain that adversely impact the equality of opportunities available for women to succeed personally and professionally. To address a variety of common concerns and to give voice to issues unique to women, women’s bar associations remain as important now as these organizations proved to be in the past.

Women’s bar associations were established during a time in our history when the legal profession was not as welcoming to women attorneys. In the past, traditional bar associations did not actively support the entrance of women attorneys into the profession and likewise, did not provide social, mentoring or learning opportunities for them. As a result, women attorneys began to form their own associations to provide much needed mentoring networks, to achieve a specific goal or objective (such as getting a woman on the bench) or sometimes just as a means to share common experiences and day-to-day challenges in a supportive setting. Since the establishment of the Equity Club at the University of Michigan in 1886, women law students and attorneys have continued to form legal organizations on their own. Some of the oldest bar associations still in existence today include the National Association of Women Lawyers (1899), Women’s Bar Association of Illinois (1914), Florida Association of Women Lawyers (1915), Women’s Bar of the District of Columbia (1917) and the Queen’s Bench of San Francisco (1921).

Through the good work of many bar leaders, bar associations have made it a priority to provide a more welcoming environment for all attorneys and to promote and foster greater diversity within these organizations. This is certainly true within the ISBA as demonstrated by our leadership’s commitment to diversity and the advancement of diverse attorneys within the ISBA. This committee appreciates the ongoing support it enjoys from the ISBA leadership and professional staff. Without such support, we would be unable to advance our varied interests in promoting women attorneys and raising awareness about significant legal issues of importance to us and the membership we represent.

One key example is the Save Our Sisters program we co-sponsored titled “Trafficking of Women and Girls: Forced Labor, Forced Prostitution and Hope,” hosted by Jenner & Block in Chicago on October 7, 2008. This program series is focused on raising awareness about the plight of women and children in areas of conflict around the world -- an initiative led by women’s bar associations in Illinois coming together to draw attention to these concerns and to potentially raise monies to support organizations providing aid and support to these women in need. The sold out October 7th program addressed issues and legal challenges associated with human trafficking in the United States and abroad and highlighted the economic empowerment work of Hagar International working with women in Cambodia.

Other key initiatives this year for our committee include:

• Efforts to restore Victims of Crime Act (“VOCA”) funds used to support a variety of legal aid, domestic violence and children’s services statewide;

• Sponsoring a program at 2008 Mid Year Meeting titled “Ethically and Effectively Representing Clients With Substance Abuse and Mental Health Problems” to be held on Friday, December 12th during the a.m. CLE session;

• Support for the 2009 Mid Year Meeting program on diversity and human rights led by Incoming President John O’Brien;

• International Women’s Day luncheon event on March 6, 2009;

• Participation in the March 6-7, 2009 Ms. JD program hosted by Northwestern University Law School’s Women’s Law Society;

• Panel discussion and reception as outreach to the University of Illinois women law students on April 23, 2009; and,

• Co-sponsor the reception with the Minority and Women Participation Committee at St. Louis School of Law in cooperation with ISBA President Jack Carey.

This committee is busy this year working to reach out to women law students and attorneys statewide. The sampling of this committee’s work noted above confirms the relevance and importance of women’s bar associations and committees like ours for women attorneys.

If you would like to know more about the Women and the Law Committee, write an article for this newsletter and/or bring any issue, topic or concern to our attention, we invite you to join us at our next meeting on Friday, December 12, 2008, from 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. at Jenner & Block in Chicago. In the alternative, please feel free to contact me at

We look forward to hearing from you and your support for our ongoing projects and initiatives.