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Five Formidable Female Attorneys

By Vaidehi Mehta, Esq. | Last updated on

March is Women's History Month, and FindLaw invites you to celebrate the accomplishments of women in the law. Countless females have worked to shape the legal landscape of the U.S. to where it is now. We'll pick just a few — five legal ladies that have changed our nation for the better through their advocacy, whether at the pen, at the podium, or at the bench.

Sandra Day O'Connor 

Justice O'Connor carved her path in history as the first woman to serve on the prestigious Supreme Court of the United States.

Her journey began on a cattle ranch in Arizona, where she developed a strong work ethic and resourcefulness. Despite limited access to education due to the remote location, she excelled academically and ended up graduating from Stanford University and later, Stanford Law School.

O'Connor's legal career saw her serve as Arizona Attorney General as well as on the state senate. After working in AZ state courts for a while she was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to a position as Associate Justice in SCOTUS in 1981. Her confirmation was unanimous.

Justice O'Connor served for 25 years, known for her meticulously researched opinions and her moderate conservative approach. She played a pivotal role in landmark decisions, often acting as a crucial swing vote. Even after her retirement in 2006, she remained a voice for civic engagement and education, founding the Sandra Day O'Connor Institute.

Sonya Sotomayor

Justice Sotomayor is a lot of “firsts.” Of course, she is the first and only Hispanic justice in SCOTUS history. But she was also the first Hispanic federal judge in New York State and the first Puerto Rican woman to serve as a judge in a U.S. federal court. She was also the youngest judge in the Southern District of New York.

Born to Puerto Rican parents, Sotomayor grew up in a housing project in the Bronx. After attending Princeton University and Yale Law School, she began her career in the legal profession as an assistant district attorney in New York before moving into private practice.

Her appointment to the Supreme Court came in 2009, nominated by President Barack Obama. As a Supreme Court Justice, Sotomayor has been known for her forthright and detailed opinions, which often reflect her concern for the rights of defendants and a focus on the lived experiences of people affected by the Court's decisions.

Just to name a few examples, she ruled in the majority for Obergefell v. Hodges to legal same-sex marriage, and twice in the majority that upheld the Affordable Care Act. She is also known for powerful dissenting opinions, such as her dissent in Utah v. Strieff, critiquing the majority's decision to allow evidence seized from an unlawful police stop.

Ketanji Brown Jackson

Justice Jackson is the first Black woman to serve on the SCOTUS, taking her position in June 2022 after being nominated by President Joe Biden.

Jackson grew up in Miami, Florida, and showed academic promise from a young age. She went on to graduate from Harvard University and later from Harvard Law School, where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. After law school, she served as a law clerk for several federal judges, including SCOTUS Justice Stephen Breyer, whom she would later succeed on the bench.

She also worked in private practice and served as a federal public defender, providing her significant experience in the criminal justice system and shaping her decisions on the bench. Her first SCOTUS opinion was a dissent from the court’s decision not to hear a death penalty case, noting that the defendant’s “life is on the line.” Her second opinion was also in a death penalty case soon after, where she accused state courts of taking a series of legal shortcuts to expedite the execution of a Black man on Missouri’s death row.

Loretta Lynch

Lynch was the first Black woman (and the second woman) to serve as U.S. Attorney General.

She was appointed by former president Barack Obama, an attorney who (unsurprisingly) made our list of Black attorneys who’ve made a big impact on the law. He appointed her during his second term, and she served from 2015 to 2017. Before that, Obama had appointed her to a U.S. attorney position in his first term, and Clinton had done the same when he was president.

If you’re not familiar with Lynch, you will probably still be familiar with one of the high-profile cases she’s worked on. She was involved in the investigation into the police practices in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting of Michael Brown. Another one of her most notable actions was her involvement in the investigation into the use of a private email server by Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State.

Lynch's tenure as Attorney General was also marked by her efforts to address cybercrime, human trafficking, and terrorism. She has also been known for her strong stance on civil rights. After her term ended with the Obama administration, she returned to private practice.

Gloria Allred

Allred is a prominent American civil rights lawyer known for taking on high-profile and often controversial cases, especially those involving the protection of women's rights and fighting against gender discrimination.

Born in Philadelphia, Allred attended the University of Pennsylvania, a master's degree in English from California State University, Los Angeles, and JD from Loyola Law School. She soon embarked on a legal career that would see her become one of the most famous attorneys in the country.

Allred co-founded the law firm Allred, Maroko & Goldberg, which has been involved in several notable cases over the years. For example, she represented the "Jane Roe" plaintiff of Roe v. Wade. She was successful in suing the Boy Scouts of America for gender discrimination, which eventually led to the organization changing its policy to allow girls to join. She has also advocated for the rights of victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, including the representation of several women who made accusations against high-profile figures during the #MeToo movement.

She has also been involved in legislative advocacy, helping to bring about changes in laws to protect women and minorities. Allred has received numerous awards and honors for her legal work and advocacy, and her influence has extended beyond the courtroom through media appearances and her own talk show.

Much of Allred's importance stems from her relentless advocacy for women's rights and her willingness to take on cases that challenge societal norms and address injustices against marginalized groups. Her public persona is marked by her media savvy and her inclination to hold press conferences that bring attention to the issues faced by her clients.

There's a lot to celebrate this Women's History Month, as new data shows that there are more women associates at law firms than men for the first time in history. The legal trailblazers we mention here are just the tip of the iceberg. As the gender gap in the legal field is bridged slowly but steadily, we can look forward to many more to come.

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