President's Message

Jennifer Leland
WLALA President 2019-2020

February 2020

The first month of the new decade is over! A huge thank you to everyone who contributed to the WLALA Foundation’s Annual Giving Campaign. With your support the Foundation can continue to support the work of the Inner City Law Center, fund projects benefiting the underrepresented in our community and support law students who are committed to issues affecting women and children. Although the campaign officially ended on January 31, you can still make a difference on our website.

We have a lot of things going on in February – speed mentoring, career networking, golfing, an evening of shopping at Theory and a program by our Career Development & Life Balance Committee in the works. Information about all of these programs and events can be found on WLALA’s website.

February is also African-American History Month. Although African-American lawyers and judges have been a part of and contributed to the legal profession for over a hundred years, the American Bar Association reports that they only comprise 5% of lawyers in the United States. This number is too low. We need to do more to increase the diversity of our profession. On January 29, our Diversity and Outreach Committee put on an interactive program entitled “How Allies Can Support All Women in the Law: An All Perspectives Discussion on Upping the Ante on Diversity” where audience members were invited to brainstorm with the panel speakers about how to practice allyship. Programs like these and the discussions they spark are important and need to be repeated to effectuate change.

As we continue to push for more inclusivity and diversity in our profession, I wanted to take a moment to recognize a few extraordinary African-American women that we should all know about  – some have made history by breaking the “rules” and defying expectations created by racial and gender inequality. Others have broken through the glass ceiling.  Some of them have really cool jobs. All of them are inspirations.

Charlotte E. Ray. Ms. Ray was the first African-American female lawyer in the United States. After receiving a law degree from Howard University in 1872, she was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar that same year, becoming only the third woman in the country to get a law degree. Ms. Ray opened her own law practice but, unfortunately, could not survive financially as a lawyer due to racism and the prejudice she faced as both a woman and a woman of color. Six years after obtaining her law degree, she moved to New York and became a school teacher.

Jane Bolin. A graduate of Yale University, Ms. Bolin was the first African-American woman to join the New York City Bar Association. In 1939 she became the first African-American female judge in the county.

Constance Baker Motley. Ms. Motley was the first African-American woman to be appointed to the federal bench. Prior to her appointment, Ms. Motley argued ten cases before the Supreme Court and won nine of them! She was the first female attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the first African-American female state senator in New York and the first female president of the Borough of Manhattan.

Anita Hill. It’s been almost 29 years since Anita Hill testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In addition to being a professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Brandeis University and published author, Ms. Hill actively continues to fight sexual harassment and discrimination and leads the Hollywood Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace.

Sumara M. Thompson-King. Ms. King is the General Counsel of NASA. Her career with NASA began in 1986 when she was only the second woman hired in the Office of the Chief Counsel. As the chief legal officer for the agency, she oversees all aspects of NASA’s legal affairs around the world. Ms. King is both NASA’s first African-American and first woman to serve in the position.

Audrey Boone Tillman. Ms. Tillman is executive vice president and general counsel of Aflac Incorporated. Among her many accolades, in 2015 she became the first woman to receive the Boy Scouts of America Distinguished Citizen Award. In 2016, she was named to the National Law Journal’s 50 Outstanding General Counsel. In 2017, she was recognized by Atlanta Tribune Magazine as a 2017 Superwoman. She has been named to Black Enterprise magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Business three years in a row.

This list could and should go on! If there is an African-American female lawyer that you think we should know about, tell us about her here: FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.