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Honoring women who make a difference

For this year’s Women’s Justice Awards we honor 44 of the best in Missouri.  Almost all are attorneys who, true to their profession, forge each day anew with vigor, intent to make their part of the world a better place for those who come next.

Arabella Mansfield likely exhibited all of the traits associated with these women. And, as a true Midwesterner, she probably also shared a healthy dose of that middle-of-the-country work ethic and stick-to-itiveness.

If she were alive today, she would surely be a candidate for such an award.

Before her death at the age of 65 a century ago, she was valedictorian of her graduating class from an Iowa college and completed a master’s degree and a second bachelor’s. She was an officer in the Iowa Peace Society and active in the suffragette movement as evidenced by her role of secretary for the first Iowa Women’s Rights convention and president of the Henry County Woman Suffrage Association. She lectured around the country, and was once a high school principal, a professor of English literature and a college dean.

And she was the first woman in this country to pass the bar exam.

In 1869.

Yet, nearly 150 years later, parity still eludes the female attorney.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 data released in March of this year, the median pay for a full-time female lawyer is 77.4 percent of what her male counterpart earns.

There’s some level of debate as to why this is so. Do female lawyers lack good negotiation skills when it comes to seeking pay hikes or are the labels associated with the ask viewed differently by their supervisors … men seen as strong and women greedy or too aggressive? Or are women simply taken advantage of because they don’t ask?

Regardless, the disparity exists. And the glass ceiling, unfortunately, seems to be intact.

While women comprise about a third of the U.S. lawyer population, only 20 percent are partners in firms, 17 percent equity partners and 4 percent managing partners at the 200 largest law firms. These statistics come from the most recent study released by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. Interestingly, it was released nearly two years ago with 2013 data and the picture — at least in terms of pay equity — has only worsened. In 2013, women were earning 78.8 percent of what men earned.

While any crystal ball on the subject is likely shattered after so much time has elapsed since women entered the profession, there is one horizon point that will surely shift the inequity. The ABA has stated that if current trends continue, women will comprise the majority of law students by 2017.

Make no mistake, there are a large number of Missouri firms working to overcome the current gender challenges as evidenced by their many efforts on mentoring committees, recognition and promotion of women.

And the Missouri Joint Commission on Women in the profession, through The Missouri Bar, found that 26.3 percent of this state’s judges are women when in 1994, 8 percent were women, according to Supreme Court Judge Laura Denvir Stith, as reported by Missouri Lawyers Weekly reporter Catherine Martin.

I share this current data and Arabella’s history to simply impart this: The attorneys we recognize in the 2016 Women’s Justice Awards are remarkable at their profession — but it is their gender that adds an exclamation point on their success.

In its 18th year, this recognition program looks to honor those who have moved the needle in the Missouri legal community. Women who hold positions of strength, who lead firms boldly, who wear their battle scars proudly, who serve the underprivileged, who aspire to a new future, who support the legal profession, or who teach the next generation of lawyers.

And we found them.

Our panel of distinguished members of the 2016 selection committee reviewed scores of nominations that included women from every spectrum of the profession and throughout the state. They judged these nominations based on the core principals of leadership, professionalism, accomplishment and passion for making a difference.

It is my honor, my privilege, to present these women to you today with this special Missouri Lawyers Weekly publication.

We appreciate their contributions and we marvel at their success. It has come, after all, with a level of gender disparity that makes each of their roads a little more difficult than their male counterparts.

And while Arabella, were she alive today, may hope for a profession truly free of inequities, she would, without doubt, be proud of the accomplishments found on these pages.

And so are we.

On behalf of Missouri Lawyers Weekly, we salute these remarkable women.




Liz Irwin

Publisher, Missouri Lawyers Media



Here are this year’s winners, click on their name for more:

Woman of the Year

Recognizing that woman who truly stands out in making an extraordinary difference in improving the quality of justice or exemplifying the highest ideals of the legal profession.

Audrey Fleissig, U.S. District Judge, St. Louis

Public Service Practitioner Award

Awarded to female government and nonprofit lawyers who improve the quality of the justice system or contribute to the betterment of the legal profession.

Katherine Wessling, Crime Victim Advocacy Center, St. Louis

Lara Webb Fors, Greene County Prosecutor’s Office and Springfield Regional Prosecutors’ Child Support Office

Jane Brown, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Kansas City

Public Official Award

Awarded to female judges and other public service officials whose service has contributed to improving the quality of the justice system or to the betterment of the legal profession.

Lisa Van Amburg, Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District

Annette Slack, Executive Director of Community Empowerment and Diversity, St. Louis County

Janette Bleau, Christian County Prosecutor’s Office, Ozark

Becky Borthwick, Springfield Municipal Court

Lisa White Hardwick, Missouri Court of Appeals Western District

Business Practitioner Award

Awarded to female business practitioners who fulfill the ideals of leadership, professionalism and a passion for improving the quality of the justice system or contributing to the betterment of the legal profession.

Sara Neill, Capes Sokol, St. Louis

Sara Stock, Khazaeli Wyrsch Stock, St. Louis

Pascale Henn, Business Law Advisors, Lenexa, Kansas

Litigation Practitioner Award

Awarded to female litigators who demonstrate leadership, professionalism and a passion for improving the quality of the justice system or contributing to the betterment of the profession.

Irene Marusic, Brown & James, St. Louis

Mary Bonacorsi, Thompson Coburn, St. Louis

Debbie Champion, Rynearson, Suess, Schnurbusch & Champion, St. Louis

Donna Harper, Sedey Harper Westhoff, St. Louis

Melanie Keeney, Tueth Keeney Cooper Mohan Jackstadt, St. Louis

Patricia Shilling, Styron & Shilling, Ozark

Tammy Glick, Levy Craig Law Firm, Kansas City

Melanie Morgan, Morgan Pilate, Kansas City

Enterprise Award

Awarded to women in a business setting, be they entrepreneurs, executives, corporate counsel, or other business professionals, for their contributions to improving the quality of the justice system or to the betterment of the legal profession.

Julie Immer, Panera LLC, St. Louis

Jenny Schwendemann, Husch Blackwell, St. Louis

Sally Thieman, Saint Luke’s Health System, Kansas City

Citizenship Award

Generally, though not necessarily, awarded to female non-lawyers who have made significant contributions to improving the quality of justice in the community.

Karen Kalish, Estelle W. & Karen S. Kalish Foundation, St. Louis

Kate Nolen Proffitt, Jackson County CASA, Kansas City

Gail Smart, Well of Life Food Pantry, Springfield

Tishaura Jones, Treasurer, City of St. Louis

Legal Scholar Award

Awarded to women faculty members or administrators at Missouri law schools for work on behalf of the justice system, through their research or scholarship or through teaching and inspiring others.

Jacqueline Kutnik-Bauder, Saint Louis University School of Law

Geetha Rao Sant, Washington University School of Law

Julie Cheslik, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law

Melody Daily, University of Missouri School of Law

Rising Star Award

Awarded to female lawyers 40 years old and younger or within the first 10 years of practice who have already made a difference in the justice system or the profession and who appear on a path toward even greater accomplishment.

Jessica Agnelly, Wendt Goss, Kansas City

Heather Bub, SmithAmundsen, St. Louis

Jessica Mendez, Armstrong Teasdale, St. Louis

Mara Lahnar, Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard, St. Louis

Anne-Marie Brockland, The Simon Law Firm, St. Louis

Stephanie Bullard, Missouri Public Defender’s Office, Springfield

Amanda Dumey, Legal Services of Southern Missouri, Springfield

Ashley Schuette, Assistant General Counsel, CoxHealth, Springfield

Nicole Fisher, Fisher Law, Kansas City

Leaders of Tomorrow Award

Awarded to women law students who demonstrate leadership, professionalism and a passion for making a difference in the justice system or the legal profession.

Eleanor Gourley, Washington University School of Law

Tamar Hodges, University of Missouri School of Law

Mari Katherine Webb, Saint Louis University School of Law

Mary Kate Bird, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law

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