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Historic underrepresentation woven into legal profession and beyond says UHLC’s Knake Jefferson

Oct. 13, 2020 - University of Houston Law Center Professor Renee Knake Jefferson said that the low number of female judges throughout the legal system mirrors the lack of women in leadership positions in all industries during the 2020 Women of the Law Fall Event last week.

“Through their stories and through their history, we can actually chart out the next steps in how we further our professional commitment to diversity,” Knake Jefferson said. “It’s only when we view these collective stories and take a more holistic look that we see there are systemic problems here. A key effort to moving forward is visibility and transparency in details.

Knake Jefferson drew her talking points from her book, “SHORTLISTED: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court,” which examines the personal and professional lives of nine women who appeared on presidential shortlists as candidates for the U.S. Supreme Court but were ultimately passed over before Sandra Day O’Connor was selected in 1981.                                

“Less than four percent of Supreme Court Justices have been women, and there has never been a female Court Chief Justice. This aptly reflects the current lack of diversity in legal positions of leadership and furthers the importance of women working in prominent, national positions that gain attention and enable a voice. “

Knake Jefferson said that her research on Supreme Court shortlists comes from an investment in diversity and more women in the judiciary, but it also extends into non-law career fields.

“It is a lens for us to think about our commitment to diversity much more broadly throughout the legal profession, and indeed in all professions,” Knake Jefferson said. “It vividly conveys glass ceilings that have been shattered and how these women, varied in age, profession and nationality, paved the way for gender equality.”

Attendees received one of hour of Texas continuing legal education credit with .25 ethics credit. The presenting sponsor was Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

Knake Jefferson earned her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, and teaches constitutional law, professional responsibility, and a seminar on gender, power, law & leadership at the Law Center. She was awarded the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University from January-July 2019. She is an elected member of the American Law Institute, and chair of the American Association of Law Schools Section on Professional Responsibility.

In December 2019, Knake Jefferson was appointed to the Michigan State Board of Trustees, as the university recovers from a sex abuse scandal involving a gymnastics team doctor that resulted in criminal charges, top level resignations, a federal fine of $4.5 million for failing to report and address the abuse claims, and a $500 million civil settlement with abused young women.

Women of the Law aims to create a space for women alumni to network, learn together, and enjoy group events, as well as support the school’s efforts to recruit female students and promote diversity within the Law Center. Click here for more information about joining Women of the Law. Additional inquiries can be made to Director of Development Stephanie Johnson at sejohns9@central.uh.edu or 713-743-3839.

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