Centennial: Women Lawyers Association celebrates 100 years in style


– Photos above by John Meiu


The Women Lawyers Association of Michigan (WLAM) presented the Mary S. Coleman Award to Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Denise Langford Morris (second from left) as part of their 100th anniversary celebration April 27 at the Colony Club in Detroit. The award is named for Mary S. Coleman, the first woman Michigan Supreme Court justice. Langford Morris was recognized by WLAM for her significant contributions to women in the legal profession and for women in general. WLAM Immediate Past President Julie Gafkay (far right) presented the award to Langford Morris and stated: “She is a truly a role model and mentor for women in the legal profession.” Also on had to congratulate the judge were WLAM President Donna MacKenzie (far left) and Suzanne Sukkar (second from right), a former WLAM president. Langford Morris has served on the WLAM Board of Directors for several years. In 1992 Langford Morris was appointed to the Oakland County Circuit Court and was elected to the bench in 1994.  She was re-elected in 2000, 2006, and 2012. She is the first female “Dean of the Bench” in the history of the Oakland County Circuit Court and is the first African American to serve on the bench. Langford Morris is a former assistant prosecuting attorney for Oakland County, a former United States assistant district attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, and was a trial attorney with civil and criminal experience in state and federal courts.

By Cynthia Price

Legal News

Hundreds of women and their supporters came together April 27 to celebrate 100 years of advocating for women to gain their rightful place in the legal profession.

The event was held at Detroit's Colony Club, which in the past had served as a meeting place for the burgeoning Woman Lawyers Association of Michigan (WLAM).

Calling themselves "five ardent Portias," a group of women started a primarily social network to "advance the interest of women members of the legal profession and to promote a fraternal spirit among lawyers" in March of 1919.

The organization soon undertook programming to that end, and in 1983 started a foundation that oversees a scholarship program to help women attend law school. To date, the WLAM Foundation has given out more than a half million dollars.

The current structure, with a central office supporting strong regional chapters, dates from 1975.

It is hard to imagine the difficulties that the five founders of WLAM must have faced. In 1919, females did not even have the right to vote, and when the pioneering law students who managed to pass the bar exam sought employment they were overlooked for jobs, or subject to having their husbands asked for permission to employ them.

In fact, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the subject of the book written by the evening's keynote speaker, reportedly told the dean of Harvard Law School when he asked how she could justify taking the place of a man in her class that she just wanted to be a better wife to her husband.

Co-author Iris Carmon (with Shana Knizhnik) talked about "Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg," emphasizing how strong physically and mentally the Supreme Court justice remains. Carmon's slide show detailed how the nickname, taken from the rapper Notorious BIG, came to be justified over Ginsburg's 25 years on the highest court and showed a variety of the iconic items inspired by the justice.

Carmon said that after the still-intimidating Ginsburg had read the galleys of her book, she pulled the young author aside after a chance meeting at an event. Carmon was relieved when the justice whispered, "They're going too far. Tell people not to get tattoos of my face."

Carmon's talk followed the presentation of three awards: The Jean L. King Award to former State Bar President Julie Fershtman; the Mary S. Coleman award to Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Denise Langford Morris; and the new Geraldine Bledsoe Ford Award to retired Judge Theresa Doss, the first African-American president of WLAM.

There were a good number of judges present, along with three Michigan Supreme Court justices: Brian Zahra, Kurtis Wilder, and Elizabeth (Beth) Clement. Former Justice Marilyn Kelly, also a past WLAM president, was in attendance.

Clement, the newest justice, swore in the large group of incoming WLAM officers and directors-at-large.

Meg Hackett of the Thrun Law Firm's Grand Rapids office brought along her 90-year-old grandmother, Barbara Hackett, who became a member of the State Bar of Michigan in 1951 and eventually served as a judge in the Federal court for the Eastern District of Michigan for 14 years.

WLAM intends to host centennial events throughout the next year.

Published: Thu, May 17, 2018


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