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Home / Supplements and Special Sections / WJA 2016 / Publisher’s Letter: WJA 2016

Publisher’s Letter: WJA 2016

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