The Margaret Brent Award, given by the ABA
Five women lawyers, including Judge Judy Gertner, Marissa Wesely, Stasia Kelly, Allie Latimer and Kathryn Doi Todd, will receive the 2014 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award on Aug. 10 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston during the ABA Annual Meeting.
Since 1991, The ABA Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award has been honoring women lawyers who have achieved excellence in their specialty and have paved the way for others. Previous award honorees include Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The award is named after Margaret Brent, the first woman lawyer in America, who arrived to the colonies in 1638 and was involved in 124 court cases in more than eight years, winning every case.
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“The five distinguished women being honored by the Commission with the Margaret Brent Award have achieved great success in a wide range of practice settings and have also acted as mentors and sponsors to help countless other women succeed as well,” said Roberta Liebenberg, chair of the ABA Commission. “These inspirational and highly accomplished women demonstrate that, although gender inequities unfortunately still exist, women attorneys can nevertheless rise to the pinnacle of the profession. The Margaret Brent Award recipients are true trailblazers who have not only been impactful catalysts for change, but have also proven that women attorneys can realize their goals and aspirations.”
Judge Gertner (retired) began her focus on law at a young age, staying up late at night debating civil rights laws and gender issues with her father until he said, “Oh, go be a lawyer!” And that’s exactly what she did. In her first high-profile case, Judge Gertner defended a lesbian radical feminist anti-Vietnam war activist accused of bank robbery and murder. Looking back, she said, “I have no idea why I took the case except that I could not acknowledge my own fear.”
Although she was educated at Barnard College and Yale Law School, Judge Gertner did not grow up affluent. In fact, her ability to identify with clients on gender, racial or class quickly earned her a reputation in controversial cases. After three decades of successful private practice, Gertner was nominated by President Bill Clinton to the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts and was confirmed in 1994. While serving as judge, she also taught at Yale Law School and Harvard Law School, offering guidance to many students navigating their career.
In addition, Marissa Wesely, a fellow in the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative and former partner at Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett LLP in New York, is a recipient of the award. “I am incredibly honored to join the ranks of amazing, inspiring women who have received the Margaret Brent Award and am deeply grateful for the increased credibility the award will give me in my work to advance women’s rights in this country and around the world,” she commented.
Wesely’s interest in leveling the playing field for women began at age 10, when she attempted to sign up for carpentry in junior high school and was told that girls were required to take home economics instead. This exposed Wesley at a young age to some obstacles that women have faced in their efforts to achieve equality, obstacles that Wesley has worked tirelessly to break down throughout her career. After graduating magna cum laude from Williams College, Wesley attended Harvard Law School, graduating cum laude. Following a summer associate position at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in 1979, she worked for the firm for the next 33 years, becoming one of the firm’s first female partners in 1989. Recognizing the limited networks for women in the male-dominated legal field, she created the Kate Stoneman Project, a forum for women partners from major New York law firms to address issues of common concern relating to the advancement of women in the profession.
Further, Stasia Kelly, Co-Managing Partner (Americas) at DLA Piper, is a recipient award as well. The daughter of a Boston police officer, Kelly was the first in her family to attend college, graduating cum laude and eventually enrolling in a night program at George Washington University Law School, where she graduated. After making partner seven years into her legal career, she moved to the first of four general counsel roles, where she focused on helping companies through crises and building effective legal frameworks. Later, she joined Fannie Mae as general counsel, while also serving as SVP where she had the opportunity to demonstrate her leadership skills and to cultivate successful teams. She was recruited as general counsel to three additional major public companies, including Sears and MCI/WorldCom, where she helped lead the team that brought MCI out of bankruptcy and restructured the business. She joined AIG in September 2006 as executive vice president, general counsel and chief regulatory and compliance officer, and three years later became vice chairman, serving with AIG through the financial crisis.
In 2010, she became a partner at DLA Piper (Americas), one of the highest-grossing law firms in the U.S., with 4,200 attorneys worldwide. In 2013, she was appointed co-managing partner of the Americas, the first woman to hold that position. While of counsel to the firm in 2006, she helped to start its Leadership Alliance for Women, which is committed to the advancement of women lawyers. As a lecturer at Stanford Law School and Georgetown Law School, Kelly shares her knowledge with young, aspiring lawyers.
“We are honored to recognize a spectacular group of women. We applaud their achievements, knowing that their efforts will inspire a new generation of women lawyers,” said Liebenberg.