Great news from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University:

Justice Berch to receive top AWLA award for encouraging, mentoring women in law

By Janie Magruder

Hon. Rebecca White Berch

Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch will receive the 2012 Sarah Herring Sorin Award from the Arizona Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) for her superior contributions to women in the field of law. Justice Berch, who graduated from the College of Law at Arizona State University in 1979, will accept the award on Friday, June 22, during the State Bar of Arizona’s annual convention at the Arizona Biltmore.

The award is named for Sorin, Arizona’s first woman lawyer who, in the early 1900s, became the 25th woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Sorin was admitted to the Arizona bar in 1902, and practiced throughout the Arizona Territory, developing a specialty in mining law and practicing with her father, William Herring.

The award is given by the AWLA Board of Directors to a member who demonstrates support for and encouragement of the advancement of women in the legal profession.

“Rebecca is a living mentor who reaches out to help those coming up through the ranks behind her,” said Paige Martin, a partner in the Scottsdale office of Kutak Rock LLP, who submitted her nomination. “She is not a pedestal-sitter. She’s a person who takes all of this very seriously.”

In assembling the nomination, Martin spoke to people who work directly with the Chief Justice, and Martin also had a great deal of personal, first-hand experience with Justice Berch’s support for women in the law.

“The award has several components, including professional achievement and personal involvement with women in the law, and Rebecca certainly is outstanding in both of those,” said Martin, a past AWLA president and member of its advisory board. “She also is a great supporter of AWLA and its goals. She comes to our events, she brings people with her, and she encourages her clerks and others to join. Moreover, Rebecca’s physical presence at AWLA events demonstrates her recognition of the importance of an organization such as ours. Our mission is to promote and encourage the success of women lawyers, and she is a living embodiment of how to accomplish that goal.”

AWLA advocates for and shares information with its members on maternity policies, part-time work flexibility options and salary disparities, among other issues, fosters connections among women lawyers, and monitors and celebrates the successes of its members and women lawyers.

Justice Berch said she is honored by the nomination and the award, especially to be included in the company of its past recipients. They include Justice Ruth V. McGregor (ret.), Judge Mary M. Schroeder, Helen Perry Grimwood, Doris F. Mindell, Roxana C. Bacon, Grace McIlvain, Barbara A. Atwood, Laura A. Cardinal, Amy Schwartz, Georgia A. Staton, Judge Janis Ann Sterling (ret.), Amelia Craig Cramer and Martin.

Advocating for women in the law is a natural for Justice Berch. She first joined AWLA after her law-school graduation, and later, when she taught and directed the legal writing program at ASU, she was the faculty advisor for the Women Law Students’ Association.

Those were dichotomous times, the era of the “Fab Five,” when the five top elected offices in Arizona were held by women, and yet a prominent local country club still banned women from its men’s grill, and the Augusta Country Club, sponsor of the Masters Golf Tournament, would not have women as members.

“AWLA, then and now, helps lawyers make friends and find mentors. Participation may also alert you about career opportunities. And, by the way, men are welcome to join, too, and we hope they find the same advantages,” Justice Berch said.

The organization helped her with mock interviews and critiques before she submitted her judgeship application, which resulted in a boost to her poise, confidence and knowledge, she said.

“In today’s tough job market, membership in organizations such as AWLA has never been more important for law students and new lawyers,” she added.

“Starting in practice is more difficult than new lawyers anticipate it will be, and they can feel quite alone sometimes, so it’s helpful to have a friend outside your firm who you can call, and who will act as a sounding board,” Justice Berch said. “And don’t we want these new lawyers to have the best possible bridge into the practice of law?”

Born and raised in Phoenix, Justice Berch is a “Triple Devil,” having also earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from ASU. She has spent most of her career serving Arizona and its citizens. She was in private practice from 1979-1986, then directed the law school’s legal writing program from 1986-1995. During that time, she co-authored Introduction to Legal Method and Process, a law-school textbook that is used around the country and is in its fifth printing.

Justice Berch served as Solicitor General for the State of Arizona from 1991-1994, and was Special Counsel and First Assistant Attorney General from 1995-1998. She was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1998, then appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court in 2002. In 2009, Justice Berch began a five-year term as Chief Justice.

She speaks to hundreds of groups annually, from school assemblies to service organizations, and serves on several national boards, including the National Conference of Chief Justices’ Board of Directors, the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ Board of Trustees, and the Green Bag Board of Editors.

Janie Magruder is the Director of Print Communications and Media Relations at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Ribbon-cutting on April 27, 2012. L to R: State Bar employee George Schader, Shirley McAuliffe, former Bar President John Bouma, Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, former Bar President Alan P. Bayham, Jr.

On Friday, April 27, the State Bar of Arizona hosted a Phoenix ribbon-cutting for its newly configured first-floor offices. Included in the event was the dedication of the new Daniel J. McAuliffe CLE Center, named for a former Bar President and ethics expert.

(Here is my 2007 profile of the inestimable Dan McAuliffe when he became State Bar President, as well as a story I wrote when he died in 2010.)

In this post are a few photos of the event (all photos are by Bob Rink). The full set is available on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

Shirley McAuliffe in front of a State Bar case bearing memorabilia honoring her husband Daniel J. McAuliffe.

Ariz. Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch leads off a panel discussion of women judges, Minority Bar Convention, Phoenix, Ariz., April 13, 2012

Diversity in the legal profession is one of those things people talk around, unsure of its meaning or a strategy to achieve it. Some even question its value.

A few events in April answered those questions, through education and eloquence. And they demonstrated clearly that Arizona’s legal community has evolved to be one of inclusion and diversity.

I provide some photos of the two events. But you have to read to the end of the post to hear one attorney–leader’s take on why minority bar associations are valuable.

Congratulations to the organizers of the State Bar’s Minority Bar Convention. Held back on April 12-13, it opened with viewpoints of women judges, who explained their path to the bench. The convention’s keynote address was by former California Justice Cruz Reynoso; he described his extraordinary route from the farm fields of central California to the highest bench in the state.

Calif. Justice Cruz Reynoso (ret.) delivers the keynote address at the Minority Bar Convention, Phoenix, Ariz., April 13, 2012

If anyone doubted the challenges faced by women and people of color as they sought to effect change in the profession, the judges and Justice Reynoso eradicated them.

During the convention, I sat in sessions by Stephen Fairley on social media to improve your practice, and Bob McWhirter on the history of Equal Protection. Both were terrific.

(More photos from the Minority Bar Convention are here.)

But, some wonder, aren’t those challenges all in the past?

Just that question came up last year at the Arizona Asian American Bar Association banquet, when then-incoming President Briana Chua pointed out that not all lawyers agree that there is value to minority bar associations. She explained her viewpoint, but the question must be answered again and again.

Dr. Henry Lee speaks at the Ariz. Asian American Bar Association annual banquet, Chandler, Ariz., April 26, 2012

As always, this year’s AAABA banquet was wonderful (and delicious), and the keynote by Dr. Henry Lee was inspired. The well-known medical examiner shared stories and quizzed the crowd, tossing lapel badges for correct answers. (Lawyer Christine Thompson kicked butt on a question, earning her a shield. When I asked to photograph it, she offered it to me to pass on to my daughters. Very generous!)

The evening ends as it always does, though, when the new AAABA President rises to offer her or his remarks. That is when Gust Rosenfeld lawyer Mingyi Kang shared his view of the value of minority bars—that varied backgrounds provide different approaches to challenges, and we need as many approaches as we can get.

I have excerpted a portion of his remarks, which Ming generously shared:

“Last year, Briana in her closing remarks brought up that not all attorneys agree with having minority bar associations. Interestingly, I was also asked how come there is no Belgium American Bar or Belgium American association. My immediate response back then was that ‘I dunno—but if there is one, I would love to go to their events and meet some people.’ I mean, who doesn’t want to know someone who knows where to find good Belgium ale and chocolates (my two weaknesses). So what does it mean to be an Asian American, a Taiwanese American or a Belgium American anyway?

“Well, I can only tell you from my point of view. For years, I have been eligible to apply for citizenship of the United States. As soon as I was eligible, my wife printed and filled out an application for me to change my status. I came home one night, and the completed application was on the dinner table for my signature. I did not sign it then, and could not bring myself even to read the application for years.

Complimentary lapel-pin from Dr. Henry Lee

“Now, if you ask my wife Christina why I did not just sign it and turn it in, she would tell you it was because I am lazy and I procrastinate—both are true when it comes to things around the house—and, I love you, honey, but more importantly, I think I was not ready to call myself a citizen of the United States, and I don’t know if I was ready to be an American. I am not sure if I really like the political in-fighting here in the U.S. more than the political in-fighting in Taiwan. (In fact, the fighting in Taiwan is definitely more exciting to watch.)

“As the years passed and I did nothing to change my status, I remembered something my mentor and my boss Steve Rendell told me early on about being a transactional attorney: ‘We are not here to stop a deal from happening but to advise clients on how to reach an agreement.’ He would also say, ‘The client hired you as an advisor, so advise.’

“I took his comments to mean that we must find common ground to work out our differences, so that we can reach an ‘agreement.’ Applying that, I think we can either look at each other and focus on our differences, thinking we are all people from different fractions: Taiwanese, Belgium, Asian, Hispanics, etc., or we can look at each other and think that we are teammates who bring different talents and backgrounds to the table—we are all Americans. If we focus on our differences, we will not have a deal. If we focus on what we have in common, we will realize we are all Americans and just have different approaches to build on this great nation. We are here to work out our differences and to reach an agreement.

“I finally became a citizen last year because I think I am ready to bring something to this table—America. With that, I hope everyone enjoys tonight’s banquet as much as I enjoy a Belgium ale and Belgium chocolate. Thank you all for coming, and good night.”