California Lawyers Association

Celebrating Women’s History Month: From Personal Mentors to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

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By Oyango A. Snell

An African proverb says, “Until the lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.” To that end, women have always been part of history, but their contributions to social, political, and economic constructs, especially in our nation, have often been overlooked and rest in the shadows of their male counterparts. As an attempt to right the wrongs of the storytellers, the essence of Women’s History Month highlights achievements and continues a much-needed discourse regarding gender equity and equality in every field of human endeavor.

Born from a feminist movement to seek equal access to jobs and education, Women’s History Month has also become the occasion to discuss continuing and emerging women’s empowerment. During this celebratory month, I reflect on and celebrate the women that helped pave the way for me in my legal field of dreams.

Before I cracked open a law book, I was enamored by the politically astute Carol Moseley Braun, an attorney and savvy politician who became the first African American woman elected to the U. S. Senate. As a Chicago native like me, Moseley Braun was one of few women I saw climb the political leadership ranks. While I did not personally know Moseley Braun, many Chicagoans celebrated her achievements in the U. S. Senate.

I recently visited my old law firm, Bricker & Eckler LLP, in Columbus, Ohio, to participate in the celebration and dedication of the first African American female partner at a major law firm in Central Ohio. Her name is Joyce Link. Known as an excellent litigator, Link was tough on law clerks and associates because she challenged them to do their best. As a law clerk for the firm, I worked with Link on broker-dealer and securities matters, which helped to sharpen my skills as a young lawyer. She was the perfect mentor and helped jumpstart my legal career, along with another female partner, Faith Williams, who led the insurance and government affairs practice group.

Janine Migden-Ostrander, the former Ohio Consumers’ Counsel representing over 4.5 million households before state and federal regulators and courts, served as an enthusiastic mentor and friend. During my tenure as the Director of Government Affairs, Migden-Ostrander showed me how to represent clients with passion, tenacity, and strategy, which played a critical role in my development as a lobbyist and lawyer.

As the first woman to be elected as the Ohio Secretary of State in 2007, Jennifer Brunner—now Associate Justice for the Ohio Supreme Court—served as a mentor and colleague. I worked as Brunner’s Elections Counsel in the Office of the Ohio Secretary of State and learned a great deal about ethics and integrity in the practice of law. Another Associate Justice, Yvette McGee Brown, who became the first African American female to serve on the Ohio Supreme Court in 2011, helped cultivate my legal career from the beginning of law school to the present day. Brown currently serves as the Partner-In-Charge of Diversity, Inclusion, and Advancement at Jones Day law firm, and she continues to encourage me to represent the profession well, be a voice for the voiceless, and advocate for power on behalf of the powerless.

There are many more women who have had an impact on my life personally and professionally—lawyers, non-legal professionals, educators, family members, and friends. But I must admit that I was extremely moved and excited to witness the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to succeed Associate Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court. There have been only five women on the U.S. Supreme Court in its 200-plus year history, and Jackson, if confirmed by the Senate, would become the first African American female to serve on the high court. Jackson is known as an intelligent pragmatist and will bring a diverse perspective to the laws of, as she stated in her acceptance speech, “the greatest beacon of hope and democracy the world has ever known.”

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