The staff of the State Bar seized the editorial helm of SBM Blog today to announce that Michigan Lawyers Weekly named me its 2011 Woman Lawyer of the Year. They believed (correctly) that I would not be comfortable posting about the award. But since they brought it up, I do have something to say on the subject. First, the other women honored today are very impressive people and I was thrilled to be included among them. I know firsthand that Michigan has many really remarkable women lawyers, including, just for example, several in attendance at today’s luncheon. And, consequently, I know that I am very, very lucky to have been singled out today.
Second, Michigan Lawyers Weekly did a beautiful job of telling the stories of the honorees. I don’t envy MLW the task they have set themselves of choosing twenty women each year from among all the accomplished women lawyers in the state. Had there been a Michigan Lawyers Weekly the year I was born, the challenge would have been very different -- which four of the 24 women lawyers in Michigan to exclude.
Which brings me to my third and not very original point: how far women have come in the legal profession just in my lifetime, and how grateful I am to the women who have been pioneers in the law in Michigan, among them last year’s MLW Woman of the Year, Jean Ledwith King, and Florence Schoenherr-Warnez, the mother of 72nd State Bar President Kim Cahill and Representative Assembly Vice-Chair Dana Warnez. Thankfully, little by little, the most ridiculous and pointless barriers that have prevented women from full participation in the law have fallen, but not without the effort of some very determined women and some enlightened male supporters. In accepting the award from MLW today I struggled to make the point that women’s accomplishments in the law deserve special recognition specifically because of these obstacles, and incorrectly gave Noel Coward credit for the witticism about Fred Astaire: "Sure he was great, but don't forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards . . . and in high heels!"
But bias, of course, still haunts the legal profession, locking too many lawyers, female and male, into or out of specific practices or roles. I believe that those of us practicing today, especially those of us who are the beneficiaries of the pioneers who shattered stereotypes, have a special obligation to help bring down the remaining barriers.
Those points, plus one more, are the bones of the remarks I would have made had it actually occurred to me that I would be in the position to make remarks. The remaining point is another obvious one – any individual honor is shorthand for honoring many, many others. In my case, the shorthand most clearly encompasses the wonderful staff of the State Bar, its extraordinary leaders, and the magical ensemble of gifted people who led and contributed to the Judicial Crossroads Task Force. Backwards or forwards, in high heels or flats, it’s been a joyous dance, and the music plays on.