Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Aug 2018

Member Reviews

This books looks at 100 women who have changed the legal system, many who have not been recognised until now. This is the perfect antidote the anti-women culture we are seeing at the moment and should give encouragement to women lawyers at the moment as it shows how one woman can truly make a change to the world around her.
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These women are truly an inspiration. I have already ordered 2 copies of this book. One is for my cousin who has been in law for about 30 years and one copy is for my friend's daughter who is getting ready to take the bar.

A suggested read for many women but my son read my digital ARC copy as well.
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I was immediately intrigued by the premise of this collection. The author is a legal historian who has curated an oral history collection from over one hundred outstanding American women lawyers.

It follows a 2005 national history project commissioned by the American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession, where these senior women were interviewed by junior colleagues on their personal and professional histories. I found this concept fascinating, particularly as it covered women lawyers from various racial, cultural, educational and social backgrounds who went on to have an equally diverse range of careers - all sharing the common thread of being trailblazers in their own right.

The content of the book covers what inspired the women to pursue a career in law, their education and experiences at law school (including a particularly cringe-worthy dinner with the Dean of an Ivy League law school that many of the women noted!), their early career, and issues gaining employment and progressing through their career. Outside of the more well known trailblazing women currently on the Supreme Court of the United States, there are many women in this collection who are perhaps not as widely known and I think this collection does a great job of showcasing these stories.

Overall, this is a comprehensive history and a unique account of women in the American legal profession and I think is one that younger law graduates and students would be inspired by reading. I'm keen to read other studies or histories in other jurisdictions (If you have any recommendations please comment below!) 

Thanks to NetGalley and NYU Press for am ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers by Jill Norgren

Publisher: NYU Press
Length: 304 Pages
Release date: 5/22/2018
ISBN: 9781479865963

The most recent book by Jill Norgren explores women who fought gender bias to make careers in the law. Jill Norgren, who is a Professor Emerita of Political Science and emerita member of the Ph.D. program in Political Science at the Graduate School University Center, teaches about American politics, legal treatment of subcultures in the US, women and the law, and constitutional law.  This book is a logical extension of Dr. Norgren’s research on women and their historical involvement in the political system and on marginalized groups.

The narrative is telling stories around particular themes rather than telling stories from each trailblazer. It is topic-centered rather than trailblazer centered. Where this really pays off is that it gives the reader that the trailblazers are dealing with different forms of the same prejudice.  We see different women in different locations who have faced similar experiences.

The trailblazers’ stories are used to illustrate the issues that women lawyers faced through their educations and careers. Although many of the obstacles have changed form, they are still present and pervasive in the legal world. In interviews, some subjects noted that taking time off to build a family and getting back into practice is harder now than it was when they were raising their families. Much of that can be attributed to billable hours. I personally question how much of it is part of the current culture where off-ramping women are seen as not being as committed. While women in the past weren’t able to get jobs at big firms, women in practice now can get in, but have a hard time moving up in firms.

It is also interesting to see the evolution and how some adaptations were made within 10 to 20 years, others took several generations. For example, women were able to join the faculty and public service work fairly rapidly. The number of women selected to serve as judges did not begin to pick up until the 1970s. And when we see the percentage of women judges who are being nominated by the current presidential administration, some of the gains made over the last 40 years are being lost.

Stories from Trailblazing Women also helps explain the “why” behind certain policies. Although affirmative action and other programs designed to promote equality were implemented in the 1960s and 70s, many modern observers don’t see the connection between past discriminatory practices and the current lack of parity between women and men in legal practice. The stories explain how women who graduated at the top of their classes were systematically excluded from prestigious clerkships and position at leading law firms. The stories of what women faced 40 to 50 years ago go a long way towards explaining why diversity and gender equality policies exist.

Another thing Stories from Trailblazing Women does is offer up role models for girls and women who want to pursue a career in the law and for women who are already in the law and need extra encouragement to push through to the next level. It also helps to give men examples about what women faced and are facing in such a male-dominated field.

Perhaps this book has some of the answer to the question of what it will take for women to achieve equal representation in the highest levels of the practice of law. The trailblazers suggest that supportive spouses, hiring household help, and government initiatives to provide childcare.

Stories about the attitudes that were verbalized back then inform a lot about the bias that women are facing now that isn’t verbalized. We see echoes of the stories the Trailblazing Women in social media. Although it’s difficult to say whether Dr. Norgren foresaw the #MeToo movement and #LadyLawyerDiaries, this is a very timely book.
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I recently watched the movie RBG and became fascinated with Ruth Bader Ginsberg and women that faced those seemingly insurmountable obstacles yet managed to clear the way for us.  For this reason, Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers appealed to me.  It did not disappoint. 
It is a type of case study of more than 100 women born between 1916-1951 that became lawyers.  The book catalogues:

•	Childhood experiences through college (including the attitudes of their parents, siblings, and friends, religious and cultural experiences).
•	What motivated them to move forward to a profession in law when odds were not in their favor.
•	The challenges, attitudes and discrimination they experienced once they actually made it to law school.
•	  Career paths they took and the challenges they faced not only in discrimination at the workplace but also as working mothers.
•	Outcomes of their toil.

What I absolutely loved about this book is that it is incredibly entertaining while it delved into the psychology of these women and accurately portrays the societal values of the post WWII environment in which they lived.   As you read you are pulled into these women’s lives, you feel some of the struggles they faced and see how they impacted the world in which we live in a way that no other group of people could.  The end result is inspiring and empowering.

This book is ideal for anyone considering a career in law, enjoys true girl power books, or loves history, politics, or psychology.  I would highly recommend it.

Thanks so much to Netgalley, the publishers, and the author for providing me with a copy for an honest review.
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Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers
Jill Norgren

Enlightening and fascinating, this book should be considered essential reading for women attorneys, and any women considering the field of law. 

The Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers tells the thought-provoking stories of several generations of women lawyers who, with their insistence on equal treatment, helped to create a new dynamic in the field of law. After World War II, changes in U.S. public policy along with the second women’s movement altered longstanding resistance to female participation in the law profession. This book captures the experiences of 100 women lawyers who challenged the rules and fought for access to law schools and meaningful legal careers. It draws on a unique set of oral histories gathered by the American Bar Association’s, Women Trailblazer Project.  One hundred outstanding senior women lawyers were asked to recount their personal and professional histories in interviews.  The women chosen were selected on the basis of their accomplishments in the post World War II period. The woman who were interviewed have had careers at private law firm’s; government agencies; state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States; Congress; law schools; and public interest legal organizations. The oldest interviewee was born in 1916, the youngest in 1951, with the majority born in the 1930s and 1940s. 

The Stories from Trailblazing Women aptly describes the societal values in the decade after WWII, and the astounding lengths men would go, to keep women out of the legal profession. The stories are sometimes painful, sometimes funny, but very inspirational. They highlight what women did, and what they had to do, in order to become lawyers.  And when they entered the profession, the Trailblazers succeeded with brilliance. 

     “Neither law firm‘s nor most government institutions hired female attorneys. The thinking at law schools, therefore, was simple: why train women as lawyers if nobody will hire them? Why use a precious place for a woman that could be given to a man?”

     “Harvard Law School did not even open its law school to women until 1950. By 1961 the number of women admitted at Harvard had worked its way up to twenty in a class that also included 540 men.“

Norgren had a daunting job in front of her when she was handed the oral interviews from these 100 women, with each interviewee transcript numbering hundreds of pages long. She has done a superb job at capsulizing an immense amount of information and organizing it in a coherent manner. She begins her recounting of these stories by starting with the childhood influences that supported or discouraged the aspirations of these women and the motivations that drew them to the law profession. Stories about the difficulties in gaining admission to and treatment at law schools were followed by the women’s experiences as they began or attempted to begin their job search. Norgren then explores the work experiences of these trailblazing women and she highlights specific stories of women in private practice, public interest, government and the judiciary. 

The stories were amazing and moving. The resilience and fortitude exhibited by these women is inspiring. Norgren is a consummate storyteller and the book was immensely satisfying. She skillfully showcased a multitude of astounding women and the battles that had to be fought in an effort to secure their dreams.  This book should be essential reading for all women attorneys, and women considering the field of law, so they understand the challenges that have preceded them. 

Jill Norgren is a Professor Emerita of government and legal studies at John Jay College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, where she taught government, law and society, and women’s studies for thirty years. This is the third book she has written about women lawyers in the U.S. 

Thanks to NetGalley and New York University Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Publication Date May 22, 2018.

        “I sent you a letter asking you to join the chief executives organization, but we didn’t realize you were a woman. And we don’t have any women—and we have to withdraw that offer…… But we understand that your assistant is a man and he can join.
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the advanced copy in exchange for a honest review.  This book provided an insight into the inspirational women that have forever changed our legal system.  I highly recommend this to anyone looking to join the legal community.
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As a woman lawyer, this book moved me.  Even though I am now a teacher, my years practicing law were trail-blazed by these women.  It is important for students -- especially girls, but boys, too, and not just law students -- to know how far things have come, and how hard-fought they were, so that things will continue to progress.
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An interesting and educational look at a group of truly inspiring women.  This would make a perfect gift for the lawyer in your life or for anyone thinking about or attending law school.
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