Shining a Light on Our Sister Bars 

By WLALA Member Merete Rietveld

April 2019

You may have heard about the concept of “Shine Theory” from congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s and Ayanna Pressley’s recent display of mutual admiration on Twitter: after Ocasio-Cortez publicized an article profiling Pressley, Pressley tweeted “Thank you for living #shinetheory out loud.”  Perhaps you already knew about Shine Theory from feminist podcasters Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow’s coinage of the term several years back.  The premise is this:  rather than perceiving smart or successful women as competition, collaborate with them to maximize your power.  Be supportive of other women’s successes because having the strongest, smartest women in your corner does not make you look worse by comparison, it makes you better.  As Friedman put it, “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.”

          In the spirit of Shine Theory and in celebration of Women’s History Month, WLALA has chosen to profile some of our outstanding sister bars: the Latina Lawyers Bar Association (LLBA), the Asian Pacific American Women Lawyers Alliance (APAWLA), and Black Women Lawyers of Los Angeles (BWL).  WLALA and these organizations have a history of teamwork: in 1982, BWL and WLALA co-founded the Harriet Buhai Center for Family Law which provides pro bono family law services in Los Angeles County; in 2000, BWL, LLBA and WLALA developed the Lanterns Award to celebrate mentoring; and throughout the years, these four organizations have collaborated to host events.  

          BWL was founded in 1975 after a group of Los Angeles-based African-American women judges and attorneys met to discuss the absence of any organization that addressed the needs and concerns of African-American women in the legal profession.  BWL has since devoted itself to charitable, educational, and community-based services.  Among other things, the organization raises scholarship funds annually for law students, hosts educational programs, and helps provide free legal clinics.  BWL also engages in advocacy, recently writing to the Orange County Bar Association to challenge comments critical of immigrants.    

          LLBA similarly enriches our legal profession by running a variety of educational and charitable activities.  It hosts programs designed to help Latinas navigate law school, awards scholarships to California law students, organizes a series of talks called “Latinas in the Legal Profession,” and annually honors Latina lawyers and advocates who have served with distinction.  In the association’s own words, it strives “to provide Latinas with a community of support,” and “challenges Latinas to share their successes with their communities, continuously giving back to those who follow them and those who need their help.”  

          APAWLA is likewise “devoted to advocating, educating, mentoring, networking, and developing leadership” while also promoting the “empowerment and advancement of Asian Pacific women in the legal profession.”  The association organizes frequent events: “mentoring circles” and meetups, clinics to provide free legal services, educational workshops, and an annual luau party!  APAWLA has established itself as a team player in the legal profession: in the past few weeks alone, the alliance partnered with other associations to honor the first African-American presiding justice of Stanley Mosk Courthouse, hold a forum on court etiquette issues, and host a mentoring circle dinner.

          APAWLA, BWL and LLBA are a few of the many, many organizations working to improve the legal profession and serve the Los Angeles community.  Honorable mentions go to the LGBT Bar Association, California Women Lawyers, and RISE!  Take a moment today to consider how you can support one or more of these organizations, and get involved in their efforts to elevate the legal profession.  By helping them shine, we all shine.