The Women Lawyers Association of Michigan (WLAM) was founded by 5 women attorneys on March 24, 1919, before women won the right to vote. Its initial mission was “to advance the interest of women members of the legal profession and to promote a fraternal spirit among lawyers.” In its early days WLAM was primarily what I would call in modern parlance, a social professional networking group. The primary activity when the group was first founded consisted of monthly meetings, which usually took place in one of the members’ homes. The emphasis was on strengthening professional ties between women lawyers, sharing knowledge, information, and experience, and mentoring younger inexperienced women attorneys. Eventually the format was expanded to include speakers on notable and educational topics and programming involving advancing women in the legal profession and community service. Two of the earlier programs/projects concerned support for the WWII effort and a year long discussion/research project on the topic of labor restrictions against women.

As early as 1926, WLAM was active in supporting the advancement of women lawyers through seeking their appointment and election to public and professional positions. WLAM had some initial success.Read More

With active support from the Association, Lila Neuenfelt was elected Justice of the Peace. Although the organization’s continued efforts to get women lawyers appointed and elected to the bench were not entirely successful, the members did not give up, and their persistence paid off in 1941 when Lila Neuenfelt was elected as the first woman Circuit Court Judge In Michigan. Another notable Michigan woman attorney, Judge Cornelia Kennedy was first elected to the Wayne County Circuit Court bench in Detroit in 1966, and in 1969, she became the first Michigan woman to be appointed to the federal bench.

Over the ensuing years, WLAM continued to grow and, in 1975, due to the expanding statewide membership, the organization was re-structured in to its current hierarchy: one state umbrella association with several smaller regional chapters throughout the state. In 1983, WLAM formed its charitable arm, the WLAM Foundation. The Foundation’s primary mission is the “promotion of programs which enhance civic education through law and promotion of scholarships and opportunities for women at primary, secondary, college, and law school levels.” In 1998, the WLAM Foundation awarded $500 scholarships to 5 outstanding women law students. Over the years, the Foundation has been able to increase the amount of the scholarship due to outstanding fundraising efforts. In 2004, the Foundation awarded a record total of $42,500 in scholarships to 15 law students. In 2010, the Foundation raised over $40,000 for scholarships and was able to award 10 deserving women law students. WLAM applauds the success of the Foundation and continues to support its efforts.

Today WLAM has seven regional chapters and three student chapters for different campuses of Cooley Law School, and the state board has been active in facilitating and supporting the formation of new regions. In recent years, WLAM’s state umbrella organization has concentrated its efforts on leadership training and developing resources to support the programming efforts of the regional chapters. The bulk of WLAM’s programming is conducted at the regional level by the board members of the respective chapters. However, WLAM’s state board continues to hold its annual meeting, which includes the Women and the Law Conference.

In 2006, the WLAM state board established the Jean King Leadership Award in honor of longtime WLAM member Jean Ledwith King of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a renowned attorney and activist whose entire career has been devoted to advocating women’s rights. The Jean King award is presented at the WLAM Annual Meeting. In 2010, the award recipient was Kathleen Bogas, a WLAM member and well respected employee rights attorney.

In May 2010, WLAM held its 92nd Annual Meeting, which was devoted to the theme: “Unconscious Gender Bias: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You.” There were over 100 attendees. The first panel, comprised of Kathleen Bogas, Jennifer Salvatore, and State Representative Rebekah Warren, discussed their plan for introducing proposed Michigan legislation on Pay Equity and Family Responsibilities Discrimination. WLAM’s Gender Equity Committee has been actively involved in collaborating with Rep. Warren to draft this proposed legislation and develop a strategy to get it enacted into law. The program also included a panel on how to position yourself for increased compensation. The incoming state board was also sworn in at the annual meeting by longtime WLAM member and Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, Marilyn Kelly.

The information contained in this article was taken in part from articles and information on the WLAM website (including a blog by Theresa Killeen), an article entitled “Women Lawyers Association of Michigan: Who, How, Why” by Elaine Frost and Karen Colby Weiner, which was published in the Michigan Bar Journal, June 1984, p465, and the WLAM Foundation website.

WLAM YouTube Channel

Article: Highlights of the First Hundred, March 2019
Archive: Women In The Law, Michigan Bar Journal 465, June 1984