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August 3, 2009

Extraordinary Women Lawyers Honored at Annual Awards Luncheon

Award winners (left to right): Vanessa Ruiz, Linda L. Addison, Arnette R. Hubbard, Loretta A. Tuell, and Helaine M. Barnett

Award winners (left to right): Vanessa Ruiz, Linda L. Addison, Arnette R. Hubbard, Loretta A. Tuell, and Helaine M. Barnett

As the first woman lawyer in America, Margaret Brent was a role model for generations of women. Five women lawyers following in her trailblazing footsteps were honored on Sunday for their unique contributions to the legal profession at the 19th Annual Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Awards Luncheon in Chicago.

“They come from very diverse backgrounds, but they share a common bond of having overcome significant obstacles to achieve remarkable success, said Roberta D. Liebenberg, chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, which hosted the event.  “They also share with one another an unselfish commitment to mentor and give back to other women.”

The honorees included:

Linda L. Addison heads the 140-lawyer New York office of Fulbright & Jaworski, L.L.P.  The daughter of Polish immigrants who survived Nazi concentration camps, Addison told the sold-out event crowd that despite feeling like an outsider while growing up, she was influenced by her parents’ belief that in America, she could achieve her dreams.  Addison co-founded the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas, and as the first woman on Fulbright’s six-person executive committee, she shepherded the development of a flexible work schedules program to enable women and men to remain on the partnership track while balancing their families and careers.

Helaine M. Barnett of Washington, D.C., became president of Legal Services Corporation six years ago after nearly four decades at the Legal Aid Society of New York.  Calling her position the most rewarding career imaginable, she accepted her award on behalf of “all civil legal aid attorneys who work everyday to pursue justice for all.”  Citing what she called “a serious justice gap in America,” Barnett urged leaders of the legal profession to close the gap by providing legal services for low-income Americans with limited access to justice. 

The Honorable Arnette R. Hubbard of Chicago is a Cook County Circuit Court judge who has championed human rights through campaigns promoting the right to vote.  Hubbard, who began her career in 1969 as a lawyer for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, acknowledged the great strides the legal profession has made on behalf of women, “You are a snapshot of what America can be.  You are a snapshot of the progress we’ve made.”  Hubbard attributed her success to the support she received throughout her career, saying “The world let me know that I was loved.”

The Honorable Vanessa Ruiz of Washington, D.C., is the first Hispanic judge to serve on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Throughout career, Ruiz has reached beyond the courtroom to help fellow Hispanics, particularly immigrants, increase their understanding of the legal system.  As president of the National Association of Women Judges, Ruiz worked tirelessly to increase the selection of women at all levels of the federal and state courts.  As an active board member of the International Association of Women Judges, she works with judges from other countries to safeguard the legal rights of women and girls around the world. 

Loretta A. Tuell of Washington, D.C., is a founding partner at AndersonTuell, L.L.P., an Indian-owned law firm.  As the first American Indian woman to receive a Brent Award, Tuell said, “I understand I carry a heavy load, particularly when young Native American women say, ‘I want to be a lawyer, just like you.’”  Tuell is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe and grew up on a reservation in Lapwai, Ida.  “And yes, we had a teepee,” she told event attendees.  “They say it takes a village to raise a child, but where I come from, the saying goes, ‘It takes a tribe.’ … Our entire culture was built upon this precept, and the secret to my success has been my willingness to embrace this tradition.”

Established in 1991, the annual awards are named for Margaret Brent, the first woman lawyer in America.  Brent arrived in the American colonies in 1638, and was involved in 124 court cases in more than eight years, winning every case. In 1648, she formally demanded a vote and voice in the Maryland Assembly, which the governor denied.

Previous winners range from small-firm practitioners in Alabama and Alaska to U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Winners are selected on the basis of their professional accomplishments and their role in opening doors of opportunity for other women lawyers.