Twenty-two years ago, HLS student Sheila James Kuehl ’78 had an inspiration. Why not invite all alumnae back to Cambridge, for the first time ever, to celebrate the brief but momentous history of women at Harvard Law School? Since the pioneering Thirteen of 1953, the influence of HLS alumnae had spread quickly from the School into all avenues of law. It was time to applaud, assess, and look ahead.

The resounding success of Celebration 25 in 1978 launched an HLS tradition; this November, alumnae convened for the fifth time, for Celebration 45. A greater number of HLS women attended than ever before; today there are more than 5,000 of them. Long outnumbered by their male counterparts in the classroom, the celebrants clearly enjoyed being in the company of hundreds of alumnae.

Attorney General Janet Reno ’63 came to accept the Celebration 45 Award, gave a stirring speech, shook countless hands, and shared a few laughs with HLS comrades. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’56–’58, recipient of the first Celebration Award, delivered the welcome address to graduates and guests. Nationally acclaimed scholar and author Lani Guinier, a new HLS faculty member, also spoke, on Sunday during the Farewell Brunch. (See story page 36.)

HLSA President Jacques Salès LL.M. ’67 addressed the graduates, Dean Robert Clark ’72 and Harvard University President Neil Rudenstine shared their views, and historian Daniel Coquillette ’71 gave a talk on the early women who tried and failed to gain admission to the School.

But the weekend clearly belonged to the alumnae of Harvard Law. Many had attended Celebration 40, and quite a number took part in the earlier Celebrations as well.

“We’re gathering to reflect with our peers, discuss new models, and plan ways to link the women of HLS more closely with each other and the School,” said Jeanine Jacobs Goldberg ’63, of Friedlander & Werlin LLP in L.A. She led the Celebration planning, and despite a broken leg cheerfully navigated its breakneck schedule.

Opening Image_HLB Spring 1999

Credit: Farnsworth Black PhotographySharing 45 years of history, experience and expectations. Clockwise from left: Charlotte Armstrong ’53, Melinda Smith Walker ’71, Andrea Zopp ’81, Alice Desjardins LL.M. ’67 and Shiela Flynn ’01.

In addition to Goldberg, two alumnae played key roles in Celebration planning. Elizabeth Stong ’82, Willkie Farr & Gallagher partner in New York City, developed the weekend-long program of panel discussions and peer group sessions. And gift chair Judith Richards Hope ’64, senior counsel to Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker in Washington, D.C., led the Celebration fundraising effort.

Capping the Celebration 45 Dinner was “Our Night in the Spotlight”—an evening of music and theater inspired by alumnae, directed by Emily Sexton ’99, and produced by Steven Price ’87. Judge Frederica Brenneman ’53 donned a robe to star as “Mom” in the one-act play How I Learned to Be a Judge’s Daughter, written by her daughter Amy Brenneman, a nationally known actor. Dean Clark made a cameo appearance as a waiter during the Ally McReal skit, and Sheila Kuehl, who was a child actor, played Della Street in Perry and Della.

In her remarks on Saturday, Goldberg recalled Celebration 40, when Dean Clark had applauded HLS women’s contributions and said he wanted his tenure to represent a quantum leap in the number of women on the HLS faculty. That leap has been made: in 1994 there were only five women core faculty members; today there are thirteen.

The job isn’t finished yet, the dean said, but the brief history of HLS women has already worked a powerful transformation. “Because of women’s presence at the School, the character, chemistry, modes of interaction, methods of getting things done in the classrooms and on committees—they are all different now,” said Clark. “And the change is staggeringly, amazingly good.”

Raise a Glass to Mothers, Fathers, Mentors, and Other Prodders

On Friday evening, Jeanine Goldberg kicked off the Celebration weekend with a warm greeting to the graduates and their guests.

Then Sheila Kuehl, today a member of the California State Assembly, took up her trusty microphone once again, after the five-year hiatus since Celebration 40. Emceeing a round of toasts and storytelling, a favorite Celebration tradition, Kuehl invited listeners to honor the individuals who most encouraged them to brave Harvard Law School and pursue their dreams. For her part, Kuehl toasted her father, “who made things. He taught me that anything could be taken apart, understood, and put back together again”—skills useful in lawyering and in life.
[pull-content content=”%DQUOTE%Part time in a law firm is full time in other fields, and full time in a law firm is twice that of anywhere else,%DQUOTE% said Judith Richards Hope ’64. Her advice to law students: %DQUOTE%Get some energy pills%DQUOTE% and a supportive family.” float=”right”]
The alumnae quickly warmed up to Kuehl’s invitation. Many toasted remarkable family members. Elizabeth Buckley ’91 thanked her mother, a 1962 alumna, and recalled the years when she spent every day after school in her mother’s law office, and determined she would never ever become a lawyer—until she changed her mind after college. Two graduates praised their mothers—both of whom were among the first women to attend college in India, forged extraordinary careers, and inspired their daughters to do the same. A father toasted his daughter, who returned the honor later in the evening. N. Beth Emery ’77 raised a glass to honor her grandmother, who had worked as a bookkeeper and in 1962 became “the first woman ‘Man of the Year’ in Shawnee, Oklahoma.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg '56-'58 and her daughter Jane C. Ginsburg '80, professor of law at Columbia University

Credit: Farnsworth Blalock Photography Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’56-’58 and her daughter Jane C. Ginsburg ’80, professor of law at Columbia University

Some alumnae toasted HLS faculty and other teachers. Elizabeth Cazden ’78 cited Jeanne Charn ’70, director of the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center, “who told us over and over that who you are as a lawyer is the same as who you are as a person.” Deborah Coleman ’76 toasted Professor Gary Bellow ’60, “the first lawyer with the temerity to suggest that law is about people,” and said how important his innovative clinical programs were for students. Evelyn Lewis ’75 praised former HLS faculty member Derrick Bell. “Through his teaching I found my own intersection of race and gender,” she said.

Zita Weinshienk ’58 remembered a persuasive professor of economics at the University of Colorado. As she pondered her future after college, Professor Zubrow informed her: “I’ve decided what you should do. Since you are making an A in my class in advanced economic theory, you should go to law school.” The next time she babysat for his children, he had more advice. “I’ve decided which law school you should attend. Harvard.” Weinshienk took her professor’s advice. At HLS she found her calling, and went on to become the first woman U.S. District judge in Colorado. She also met a classmate who became her husband by the end of their first year, and her inspiration until his death.
[pull-content content=”%DQUOTE%Honor your mothers, follow your dreams, ignore the voices of caution,%DQUOTE% advised Jane Lakes Harman ’69, during the panel on careers in government.” float=”right”]
An eager potential alumna of 2016, Sarah Schrager Gitlin, daughter of Carol Schrager ’79, offered her hopeful assessment to the graduates: “Think about how the world used to be. Now look at how the world has changed. It will change more.” Her mother then claimed the mike and toasted all the lasting friends who got her through “the crucible of Harvard Law School.”

Said Tahmika Ruth, 1L and future 2001 alumna: “I’m part of a legacy. Thanks to all of you who came before us.”

Early in the evening, a group of 1L students who had passed out leaflets asked the alumnae to join their push for increased HLS recruitment of women students (the current 1L class is 43 percent women). Kuehl and other graduates agreed that more progress is needed but added that, from their perspectives, the School has come a long way in 45 years.

The women who came knocking

“I feel like I’m home,” Judith Richards Hope ’64 told the audience when she opened the Saturday morning program in Ames Courtroom.

“The overall impression that we were beat upon, kept down, is not true,” the self-proclaimed “old-timer” declared. “And it’s not true that Harvard Law School kept women out till 1950; the Harvard Corporation kept women out,” said the Corporation’s first woman member. The door to HLS remained closed to women until 1947, the year Erwin Griswold ’28 S.J.D. ’29 appointed the first woman visiting professor. “Soia Mentschikoff marched into Faculty Club, sat at the main table, and, voila! the Faculty Club was integrated.” The classrooms of HLS soon followed.

Hope drew laughter when she mentioned the notorious “Ladies Day” when women were called on in class, and the “toilet problem” that arose when the first female 1Ls arrived on a campus with all-male facilities. She also recalled the annual “Griswold Dinners,” hosted by the late dean and Mrs. Griswold to welcome the newest tiny cadre of 1L women. Seated in a circle in the Griswold living room, each woman in turn responded to the dean’s question of why they were taking the place of a man. “It sounds awful,” Hope said, “but I later received more than 100 rejections from law firms, all of which asked, ‘Why are you trying to take the place of a man?’ Erwin Griswold prepared us for those questions.”

Dean Clark and Harvard University President Neil Rudenstine reflected on the progress of women at Harvard and what still needs to happen, from their vantages leading the School and the University. When the dean took questions, Susan Estrich ’77 raised an issue that was echoed throughout the weekend. “Are there any empirical studies of women grads tracking their progress” in terms of salaries, promotions, and other criteria, she asked, noting that “a substantial gap” between men and women opens up right after graduation. She urged the Law School to consider how it might play a larger role in the profession “to make women’s achievement less rocky.”

Janet Reno '63 talks with Dean Robert Clark

Credit: Richard Chase Janet Reno ’63 talks with Dean Robert Clark

The dean agreed that more information and evidence about HLS graduates, men as well as women, is essential. He said the strategic planning committee examining the School’s connections to practice is addressing this issue in detail, and that he will be reporting its findings.

The clock then turned back to the 1870s, when Daniel Coquillette ’71, a visiting professor to HLS and professor at Boston College Law School, talked about the early women who came knocking on the School door. (See sidebar.) “I am an historian. More than others I am aware of ghosts,” he said. “Surely in this room with us today are the spirits of those brave women who tried and failed, who hoped and dreamed, and never saw the door open. Our job today is to make a Harvard Law School that is worthy of them.”

Next Justice Alice Desjardins LL.M. ’67, the first woman to serve on the National Board of Appeal in Canada, introduced Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who presented the weekend Welcome Address. Desjardins highlighted Ginsburg’s precedent-setting contributions to countering gender stereotypes both in the Court and in her legal practice. She called Ginsburg “the legal architect of the modern women’s movement,” and said Ginsburg’s role on the Court was “not to feminize the court, but to humanize it.”

Although the associate justice is a 1959 graduate of Columbia Law School, she attended HLS from 1956 to 1958, in a class with nine women. “I rejoice in the changed complexion of the School from 1953 to 1998,” Ginsburg told her listeners.

Ginsburg said her HLS Civil Procedure professor, Benjamin Kaplan, remains her model “of what a good teacher should be.” Hart and Sacks’s Legal Process materials and course “guided my thinking about the law.” She mentioned her husband’s illness with cancer in his third year at HLS, when he could attend only a handful of classes and relied on classmates’ notes and bedside tutorials. “The myth of the fiercely competitive Harvard Law student does not describe our experience.”

But Ginsburg also said that the Law School, like the University, was steeped in history, sensitive to tradition, and therefore resistant to change. After her husband, Martin Ginsburg ’58, graduated from HLS and accepted a position in New York, she transferred to Columbia and requested that she be awarded an HLS degree following satisfactory completion of her third year. Her request was denied. In 1977, after theHarvard Law Record reported that the School’s spousal transfer policy had been extended to “significant relationships,” Martin Ginsburg wrote a witty letter to theRecord about his wife’s experience, which ultimately cost HLS a remarkable alumna. Justice Ginsburg’s listeners chuckled throughout her reading of her husband’s letter. They burst out laughing when she read the Record editor’s note: “As Mr. Ginsburg told us, the Ruth in the letter is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, professor of law at Columbia and general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union. Just think what else she might have accomplished had she enjoyed the benefits of a Harvard degree.”

Janet Reno’s Sword and Shield

The weekend’s main event: U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ’63 was back on the Law School campus to accept the Celebration 45 Award.

Introducing Reno, Justice Ginsburg quoted from the attorney general’s words of praise for Jamie Gorelick ’75, her former deputy, and applied them to Reno herself: “She did not take high office to be popular, but she is popular nonetheless. She strives to do the right thing over the expedient thing.”

Harvard Law School “has meant so much to me,” Reno told her listeners. “It taught me to use law to help others. I loved the law when I graduated. But now, after five and a half years as attorney general, I love it even more. I am in awe of its magnificence, and alert to its vulnerability and fragility. People have talked about the discouragements of public service—and these years have been extraordinarily challenging. . . . [Y]ou get cussed at, spoken to with contempt and disgust. Yet I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I commend public service to all now at HLS: it’s a lot better than billable hours.”

Reno touched on her experiences as attorney general, including collaborations with counterparts in emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and other struggling regimes. “I have new appreciation for how difficult it is to establish the rule of law and make it stick,” she said.

She described moments when legal institutions have functioned “as they should, to put people first and solve problems.” In the aftermath of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, Reno faced the overwhelming challenge “of picking up the pieces, putting together a case, and upholding rule of law without trampling people’s rights.” The legal system worked, she said, because the people of Oklahoma City got involved and made it work.

But too often legal institutions exclude the poor, Reno said, and fail to address their problems. “We must make the law real for all Americans” by establishing “more effective legal structures.” She proposed a program of community advocates to address tenant-landlord disputes and other local problems. Where the fabric of community is rewoven around troubled families and youths, she noted, “the lawyers are leading the way.”

Reno also stressed the need “to end the culture of violence in this nation,” citing stark data on gun homicides. “Ladies, let’s lead the way to ensure an effective prosecution for every illegal use or possession of guns in this country.” She called for teaching negotiation and ADR skills in schools and applying them in police stations.

Reno concluded: “We received at Harvard Law School a gift. We worked hard for it. I hope we’ve used it wisely. And we have more to do. We can never forget how important it is to be the sword and the shield.”

Conversations with Peers

On Saturday afternoon, alumnae met in peer groups: “The First Fifteen,” “The Middle Fifteen,” and “The Recent Fifteen.” Spouses, partners, and family attended, as did some current students curious about their predecessors’ Law School experiences.

The panelists talked about their careers and reminisced about the School—expressing a fascinating mix of shared frustrations, individual accomplishments, perseverance, isolation, camaraderie, lessons learned, hopes for the future, appreciation for how much the School has changed owing to the presence of women, and expectations for further progress.

Afterward, HLS Professor Martha Minow, a Yale graduate, led a wrap-up session featuring reports from all three eras. Former HLSA President Charlotte Armstrong ’53 was moderator of The First Fifteen. An experienced practitioner, and now a consultant in New York City, Armstrong said her group talked about “how we detached ourselves from the stereotype of women and began to redefine ourselves. We didn’t have mentors.” While her peers had made a conscious choice to enter law, she said, they did not have a definite idea of what to do with their HLS degrees.

During The Middle Fifteen years, “the women’s movement hit,” said Anne Libbin ’75, Pillsbury Madison & Sutro partner in San Francisco. “We felt we had more choices. We realized things were improving, but had the chutzpah to know it wasn’t good enough.” Libbin’s era had the advantage of clinical legal education, she said. And despite the “pounding of the 1L year,” and the women’s common feeling of not fitting in, HLS “taught us how to speak up—including asking for, and getting, a second women’s bathroom!”
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How I Learned to be Judge%SQUOTE%s Daughter

Mom: I wake up at 3:30 a.m. in a panic: Amy has to bring a %DQUOTE%snack%DQUOTE% to Brownies tomorrow and I have precisely four hours to make it happen, before she leaves for school. I trundle downstairs, the dog wakes up with a start. I have nothing. No cookie mix, no cake mix—if I scrounge I can eke out Sour Cream Cake from what’s in my kitchen. I eke, and send Amy off with this cake which tastes, I admit it, a little —

Amy: weird!

Mom: —sophisticated, not weird, it’s an adult dessert, what can I say? It’s —

Amy: weird!

Mom: It was the best I could do, Ame.

Amy: I knew that. I know that. That’s why when I saw the other Brownies (especially Kathleen) scrunch their faces up and say %DQUOTE%this cake is weird!%DQUOTE% I felt for all of us. I felt for the Brownies cuz they didn’t get a normal snack. I felt for me because everybody knew that I had brought the weird snack. And I felt for Mom because she got up at 3:30 and did the best she could. No other Brownie had a Mom-judge, they didn’t understand. There were no other Mom-judges. Then.

From a play by Amy Brenneman, presented at Celebration 45.

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Presenting The Recent Fifteen conclusions, Melanie Cook ’90, senior policy adviser to the Secretary, Department of Commerce, spoke of her peers’ higher expectations, debt worries, and desire for more practical training while studying at HLS, where they perceived a gap between theory-based studies and “what is happening in the world.”

When asked by Minow about advice the women had been given, or not given, and the advice they would offer now, Armstrong said she and her peers enjoyed advising younger women, and did not resent at all that they had made it easier for others—”we’re delighting in it.”

As for the future, Armstrong talked about the importance of giving back to society, and Cook emphasized the need for more formal mentoring for women and reduced law school debt. From the audience Suzanne Nossel ’96, coauthor with Elizabeth Westfall ’96 of Presumed Equal, which surveyed over 1,200 women lawyers in 77 firms, took up Susan Estrich’s earlier call for serious examination of HLS women’s progress in their professions.

Stories, Strategies and Words of Wisdom

The Celebration 45 panel discussions took up the issues, challenges, problems, and satisfactions HLS women experience in a variety of evolving practice areas. The classrooms of Austin and Pound Halls filled with alumnae interested in the changing nature of criminal law practice, law firm work, government, entrepreneurship, alternative dispute resolution, public sector work, and other professional paths.

The final panel, on Sunday morning, was Professional Strategies for Women, a far-ranging discussion that drew graduates from 1953 onward, and, like all other Celebration events, attracted numerous male listeners too.

Jamie Gorelick and Prof GuinierDispensing professional advice, lessons learned, and candid personal accounts were N. Beth Emery ’77, vice president and general counsel of the California Independent System Operator Corp.; Jamie Gorelick ’75, vice chair, Fannie Mae Corporation; Andrea Zopp ’81, partner, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal; and Elizabeth Warren, Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at HLS. The discussion leader was Sara Holtz ’75, cofounder and partner of ClientFocus of Granite Bay, Calif., which helps women lawyers develop business opportunities.

When Holtz asked the panelists for their views on the most important elements contributing to women’s success, Gorelick emphasized the importance of having a vision of “what you want to be—not in terms of a specific job, but rather the things that are important to you.” She added that being fun to work with is an “underappreciated aspect of success,” and emphasized the importance of speaking, writing, “getting your name out there.”

Like Gorelick, Zopp encouraged women listeners to take risks, to keep themselves open to serendipity. “Sara [Holtz] asked me if I have a plan for my career, and I said, ‘Please, don’t go there!’ But it is important to have self-awareness and to know what will make you happy.” Zopp talked about making the tough decision to leave a job she loved in the U.S. Attorney’s office for private practice, because she felt her work was stagnating. Her first law firm experience was terrible but not a mistake, she emphasized, because it taught her what to look for when she made the jump to her current firm.

Emery talked about “staying on the message. I’m much more motivated by power and empowering others than by money, and when I got off-message was when I got into trouble.” She has changed jobs many times to stick to her plan, “in a zigzag, not a ladder, career.” Emery’s current work for the ISO of California puts her at the center of the state’s pioneering deregulation of the energy market. She got this job in part, she said, because she focused on developing energy clients while in private practice.

When Holtz raised the issue of weighing relocation to pursue work opportunities, Gorelick said, “It’s almost impossible to imagine a job good enough to bear the entire weight of my family’s happiness.”

HLS Professor Warren said she had relocated frequently for professional reasons, which has entailed living in a different city from her husband, and, on one occasion, contending “with a child in junior high who threatened to shave her head if we moved again.” However, Warren thinks it is unrealistic in some parts of the profession to expect to stay in one place and prosper professionally.

Several panelists said it was imperative to broaden notions of success for HLS students. While Emery thinks the School should increase student awareness of alternatives to private practice, such as work in government agencies, Gorelick believes that there is a “blizzard” of programs and information sources at HLS. Many students do not avail themselves of these resources, and opt for the corporate path out of “competition, inertia, and a failure to assess what they really want out of their work life.”

Speaking up from the audience, Sondra Goldenfarb ’67, who worked as a part-time litigator while raising her children, said she had hoped that by now the full-time corporate lawyer model would have “broken down. But what I’m hearing from students indicates that they’re stuck in the same old mindset.” Another listener, Sheila Kuehl, said that her experience in teaching at four law schools was that all 1Ls expressed “a great deal of anxiety” over their career prospects.

A 1980 graduate stressed the burden of law school debt: “Harvard needs to examine how finances affect career choices.” A Class of 1997 alumna said, however, that she thought the School was doing more than ever, through the Office of Public Interest Advising and LIPP. “I have friends who plan on corporate law being a briefer chapter in their careers.”

Holtz next raised career management tactics, and the importance of mentors. Warren said she had no single mentor, but throughout her education and career had found people “who were good at pieces of it. I’m very opportunistic. I’m willing to learn from anyone who will teach me.”

“An important quality in getting a mentor or teacher is a lack of awe,” said Gorelick. “If you are in awe of your environment, you might not approach” someone for guidance. “I see that awe factor more in young women than young men. Suspend awe and go for it.”

Audience members and panelists agreed on the importance of getting more experienced people “invested” in one’s career, to prevent a woman lawyer’s potential isolation when a serious problem arises on the job.

Emery noted that law firms could benefit from the team model prevalent in the corporate world, which provides a supportive structure to help its members succeed. She added that the large size of each graduating HLS class represents a networking bonanza. “There are 500-plus of you in every class, and [collectively] you end up working just about everywhere.”

Gorelick said that women have an extra advantage. “The sense of struggle that unites women is a very important bond.” She recalled the day she was sworn in as deputy attorney general by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Janet Reno put her arms around us and said: ‘Who would have thought when we graduated from law school that anyone would see this?’”