Back in the day, the legal world is not just dominated by men. It consisted only of men. A woman working as a lawyer was unthinkable. No one in their respective communities could ever imagine that she could stand up in court as a lawyer who represents businesses, organizations, and individuals. No one ever thought that she or another fellow woman would be sitting on the judge’s seat.
But, of course, that all changed when women started attending law schools. Yes, back then, such schools were dominated by men. But at least women were slowly, but steadily, breaking ground in the legal world. Then, in 2016, the impossible happened. Data showed that there were more women enrolled in law schools than men. This is clear evidence that women are transforming the legal world.
There are many women before them, though, that paid their dues and paved the way for the next generation of female lawyers. These are three inspiring female lawyers in our history.
Champion of Gender Equality: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Today, it’s hard to think of the United States Supreme Court without thinking about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. From 1993 until her death in 2020 at the age of 87, she served as an associate justice in the Supreme Court. Kids in school studied her in their history and politics classes. On the internet, the youth endearingly called her “the Notorious RBG,” an homage to the well-known rapper, the Notorious B.I.G.
During her long life as a lawyer, her work made quite an impact on many things. But the most memorable part is her significant impact on women’s rights and gender equality. Her efforts date all the way back to 1970. She taught students about women’s liberation. She penned articles that were published in esteemed law reviews. And, more importantly, she started working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Because of her association with the ACLU, she gained access to cases on gender-based discrimination.
Her efforts didn’t go unnoticed. She rose the ranks, even becoming a judge. In 1980, she was appointed by then-President Jimmy Carter to the Court of Appeals. Since then, her work in the U.S. government took hold and made more impact until her death in 2020.
Transforming the Boys’ Club: Helena Normanton
When we think of lawyers in the United Kingdom, there’s one image that immediately comes to mind. And that is a group of lawyers donned in traditional court dress–complete with the white wig and all. This isn’t inaccurate at all. But, we sometimes forget that there are women in this crowd of lawyers. They may be donning the same outfit, but they’re women all the same. The first woman to ever join the barristers in England is Helena Normanton.
Beyond her legal career as a barrister, her work towards gender equality was already well underway. She wrote a book called Everyday Law for Women 1932. She’s also one of the first few women who put a spotlight on the gender wage gap by writing and disseminating a pamphlet called Sex Differentiation in Salary. Another women’s issue that she was a staunch fighter for is divorce. She fought for women’s better treatment while going through divorce trials.
Apart from all of that, it’s also worth noting that she’s the first woman in the U.K. to acquire a passport bearing her maiden name, not her husband’s name. She argued that her maiden name was part of her identity, so she shouldn’t need to change it even if she got married.
Leading the Suffragettes: Lettie Burlingame
Today, the women’s suffrage movement is one of the most important parts of U.S. history. Women spent decades fighting for equality and demanding the right to vote. This was a fight that spanned generations. Many women blazed the trail for other women who also deserved to be treated equally with men. Many women lawyers joined this movement and dedicated their work to it. One of them is Lettie Burlingame.
An alumna of the University of Michigan, she started the Equity Club in 1886. This club helped female law students and lawyers to engage with and support one another. Burlingame is considered one of the most sought after lawyers in her time, inspiring generations of female lawyers after her.
We can find inspiration in these female lawyers in our history. They fought, struggled, and were constantly challenged by the legal world. But such things didn’t stop them. Instead, they continued working not just as successful lawyers. They also made significant changes in the legal system and the social issues that we’re still facing today.