The annual award breakfast of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association was held Friday morning. At the event, the AWLA recognized Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch with the Sarah Herring Sorin Award, the group’s greatest honor.

A recurring theme of the event’s comments focused on why groups like AWLA are still vital and needed in 2012.

AWLA President Kim Demarchi took that question on head-on when she looked back at Arizona history. She noted that Sarah Herring Sorin was admitted to the Bar—the state’s first woman lawyer—in 1892, 22 years before Arizona became a state. And then in 1951, Mary Anne Richey—for whom the annual breakfast is named—was the only woman admitted to the Bar that year. Thirty-seven years after statehood, the only one admitted.

“What AWLA is about today,” Demarchi said, “is support for each other, service to the community and a willingness to collaborate and build coalitions.”

Longtime AWLA member (and past President) Paige Martin echoed that mission. She also reminded attendees the reason the Chief Justice was receiving the award: not for being Chief or her work on the Court of Appeals before that, “but for her day-to-day acts of being a mentor.”

Martin also read a wonderful tribute to the Chief from Justice Berch’s daughter, who could not attend due to a conflict in her work teaching at Southwestern Law School. Among her remarks: “My mom is the glue that holds our family together. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.”

L to R: Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, Kim Demarchi, Paige Martin

Chief Justice Berch then spoke movingly about mentoring, which she called “the work of everyone who cares about our profession.”

She then encouraged a new generation of women lawyers to advance to leadership positions, especially as part of the judiciary.

“I know we’re all balancing a lot, but you have to apply for those positions.”

Although more and more lawyers may be women, she said, “Look at who are the associates and who are partners. At law schools, look who are tenured faculty and who is teaching legal writing.”

The Chief demonstrated her down-to-earth advice when she urged attendees to focus on what’s important and to sometimes push other things down the to-do list.

Let your house go another day without dusting, she said. “I’ve served Grape-Nuts for dinner,” she laughed. “I am fond of popcorn and a glass of wine for dinner.”

“Get up and do the things we need to do that will have a lasting effect.”

To emphasize that drive, AWLA Vice President Janet Hutchison announced the winners of the AWLA Mary Anne Richey Scholarships: ASU Law student Ashlee Hoffmann and UA Law student Judith Davila.

Congratulations to the AWLA for another great event. More photos are available at the Arizona Attorney Facebook page.