Attorneys from across the state gathered May 3 to honor the contributions of women in the legal profession at Missouri Lawyers Media’s 20th Annual Women’s Justice Awards.
More than 400 people attended the awards ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel in St. Louis.
Missouri Lawyers Media honored 51 women, including judges, in-house counsel, legal scholars and private practitioners from around the state, as well as outstanding students at Missouri law schools. It selected Kansas City attorney and former Missouri Bar President Dana Tippin Cutler as the 2018 Woman of the Year.
The event also commemorated two decades of the Women’s Justice Awards, which since 1999 have celebrated extraordinary women lawyers, law students, rising stars, public officials and others who have set standards of professional excellence and service for their peers.
In her opening remarks, Liz Irwin, publisher of Missouri Lawyers Media, cited Helen Reddy’s 1972 song “I Am Woman” to set the stage for the night’s awards.
When Missouri Lawyers Media started the awards in 1999 and presented the first Woman of the Year award to civil rights pioneer Frankie Muse Freeman, “it wasn’t because women had just begun to make significant contributions to the legal profession,” Irwin said.
“No, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor by then had already been on the bench nearly 20 years,” she said. “Female legal firsts weren’t a new phenomenon, but while 20 years ago it wasn’t so much a question of firsts, it was a time of great anticipation and big possibility, big promise.”
Irwin noted the gains women have made in the profession in the two following decades, but she also noted that parity still must be achieved in the courtroom and boardroom.
Missouri Supreme Court Judge Patricia Breckenridge, the 2017 Woman of the Year honoree, introduced Cutler, who was in the unique position of being recognized, a few days apart, for both her legal work and her work on the television show Couples Court with the Cutlers, which she hosts with her husband, Keith.
The show was among the nominees in the Outstanding Legal/Courtroom Program category during the annual Daytime Emmy Awards, presented April 29 in Pasadena, California. Clips of the Cutlers’ show were incorporated into the WJA ceremony as well.
Breckenridge said Cutler embodies the word “star,” comparing its dictionary definitions to Cutler’s long list of achievements.
“Despite being extremely smart and well-educated, a skilled and successful litigator, an articulate public speaker, a person with great judgment and exceptional people skills, and oh, the star of an Emmy-nominated television show, Dana is genuinely humble and has service in her heart,” she said.
During her remarks, Cutler said she’d encourage lawyers in attendance to model civility in a world in which people have stopped listening to each other.
“I think that we should take that charge and show the world how it should be done,” she said. “We should be the ones showing everyone that you can have an argument without being hateful. You can have a different position without me tearing you down.”
Cutler pointed to her faith as being integral to her life.
“I’m very thankful tonight,” she said. “This has been a good year. It’s been a season of blessing and grace and mercy, and I never want to forget that.”
In addition to presentation of the awards, the event featured a silent auction of a custom diamond pendant to benefit Legal Services organizations throughout Missouri.
The history of the Women’s Justice Awards is detailed in a special commemorative section in this edition of Missouri Lawyers Weekly.