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Women Who Defined the Legal Profession and Beyond

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

Maya Angelou,  American memoirist, poet, and civil rights activist.

International Women’s Day marks a day of global celebration, as people across the world come together to honor the remarkable achievements of women in all their diverse forms and spheres. March 8th is an occasion to reflect on the immense progress that has been made towards gender equality, while also acknowledging that there is still much work to be done to achieve true parity. The legal profession is no exception, and the milestone of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act adopted by UK Parliament in 1919 paved the way for women to finally practice law. Today, we recognize the women who have defined the legal profession throughout history. We celebrate those who have fought tirelessly for justice, equality, and human rights, leaving an indelible mark on the legal profession and inspiring countless girls and women to follow in their footsteps.

Women lawyers from all over the world have contributed to the profession in diverse ways, pushing the boundaries and breaking through barriers. Here, we delve into the contributions of a few extraordinary women in the legal profession, shedding light on their inspiring stories and remarkable achievements.

Among the pantheon of women who have made enduring contributions to the field of law, the inimitable Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood out as a beacon of hope and progress. Also known as “Notorious RBG,” she was a U.S. Supreme Court Justice who dedicated her life to fighting for gender equality and women’s rights. Throughout her career, she worked tirelessly for women’s reproductive rights, equal pay, and equal treatment under the law. As the first tenured female law professor at Columbia and a co-founder of the first law journal on women’s rights, she was a trailblazer for women in the legal profession.

Continuing the legacy of women in the U.S. justice system, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve in the Supreme Court of the United States. Prior to her appointment, women were significantly underrepresented in the legal profession. O’Connor was a champion for gender equality and worked to ensure that women had equal opportunities in the legal field. She became the first woman to have her name attached to a law school. 

No list of women who have shaped the legal profession would be complete without Constance Baker Motley, first African American woman to become a federal judge. She was a key figure in the civil rights movement and played a pivotal role in desegregating schools and public institutions. She worked alongside Thurgood Marshall on landmark cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education, and also argued cases that resulted in the desegregation of Southern schools, universities, and public spaces.

Another notable woman in the legal profession is Cornelia Sorabji, who was the first woman to study at Oxford University and first female to practice law in India in 1894. Despite facing significant challenges and obstacles as a woman in a male-dominated field, Sorabji was admitted to the bar in Bombay and Calcutta and went on to represent the rights of women and children in British India.

In South Africa, Fatima Meer was one of the country’s first female lawyers and a prominent member of the African National Congress (ANC). She worked alongside other activists like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Walter Sisulu to end apartheid and achieve democracy in South Africa. She advocated for the rights of women, children, and marginalized communities. Till this day, Meer’s legacy continues to inspire social justice advocates around the world.

These women are a few examples of those who have made significant contributions to the legal profession. From the first women to practice law in the United States, such as Arabella Mansfield and Belva Ann Lockwood, to trailblazers such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, women have played a vital role in promoting justice. Besides, it is not just the women who have practiced law that have made an impact. Women who have worked outside the legal profession, such as activists and politicians, have also advanced the cause of women's rights and gender equality. Women such as Shirley Chisholm, who became the first African American woman elected to Congress, and Gloria Steinem, a feminist icon and founder of Ms. Magazine, have used their platforms to promote social change and challenge gender norms.

At Lawformer, we understand the importance of recognizing the remarkable achievements of women lawyers. We believe that gender equality and women's empowerment are not only fundamental human rights but are also essential for achieving social justice and building a better future for all. As a female-owned start-up, we are proud to be a part of the movement for gender equality and are committed to promoting and supporting women in the legal profession around the world.