The Legal Association for Women began in 1974, when a small group of women who had met while attending the U.W. Law School decided to get together to discuss the joys and frustrations of practicing law. The founders include women now well known in the Dane County legal community: Justice Shirley Abrahamson, Eunice Gibson, now corporate counsel for the City of Madison, Valerie Mannis and Jean Lawton.
The group was divided about the purpose of L.A.W. Some argued that an organization emphasizing women's interests and concerns was a superfluous rival to the existing bar association. Others believed that a group designed to meet the needs of women practitioners was a desirable adjunct to the existing bar association. Despite these differences, L.A.W. began holding monthly meetings with programs addressing the interests of women lawyers.
In the 1983 bylaws, a statement of purpose and a more formal structure were adopted. The bylaws state that the purpose of L.A.W. is "To promote the rights of women in society and advance the interests of women members of the legal profession, to promote equality and social justice for all people, and to improve relations between the legal profession and the public." Note that the organization's name is Legal Association FOR Women.
Committees were formed over the years to provide opportunity for member involvement in areas of interest to women. L.A.W. has organized continuing education for L.A.W. members, networking for women, and community outreach. L.A.W. and L.A.W. members were active in the State Bar's Committee on the Participation of Women in the Bar and the Governor's Task Force on the Glass Ceiling. A monthly newsletter keeps members informed of L.A.W. activities and upcoming lunch programs, most of which are offered for CLE credit. Most recently, we've added a web site targeted to our members.
L.A.W. bylaws provide that "any person subscribing to the purpose of the Association...is eligible for membership." L.A.W. welcomes male as well as female members, and non-lawyer as well as lawyer members. Legal office staff, paralegals, lay advocates, legislators, and administrators in state and local government are also welcomed. L.A.W. invites all persons who share its goals to become members.
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