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AWA Honors Include U of M Law Professor Janet Richards University News
For release: January 27, 2010

For press information, contact Kim Brukardt, 662-890-3335 or 901-832-4527

Leaders who forged the way for women in the legal field were recognized at the annual banquet of the Association for Women Attorneys (AWA) Jan. 21 at the Racquet Club. More than 160 members and supporters attended.

The AWA honors an outstanding woman in the legal profession each year, and that award bears the name of Frances Grant Loring as well as the first woman to be elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives, Marion Griffin.

Janet L. Richards celebrates with son, Robert, during the AWA annual banquet Jan. 21.
Janet L. Richards celebrates with son, Robert, during the AWA annual banquet Jan. 21.
The 21st recipient of the Marion Griffin-Frances Loring Award is University of Memphis law professor Janet L. Richards, who received a plaque and a standing ovation. Supporters included a table deemed the “Jumping for Joy for Janet” table, as well as a table represented by the University of Memphis’ Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Bankruptcy Court Judge Paulette J. Delk introduced Richards as the first woman to achieve law professor status at the University of Memphis. “Women represented only ten percent of the total students in law school when Professor Richards attended,” said Delk. 

“When I began law school, there were no women law professors, no women judges in Memphis on the state or federal level, no women presidents of the local bar, the state bar or the American Bar Association, and no women partners in the big law firms in Memphis,” Richards said. “In fact, there were no women associates in the big law firms in Memphis. Women now routinely hold all of these offices, and in fact, women hold a majority of the positions on our state Supreme Court, including the position of chief justice.”

In other comparisons, Richards sees vast changes in human resources laws that benefit the next generation. Her daughter, Jamie, also an attorney, recently gave birth to baby Cynthia, Richards’ first grandchild.  Today, expectant mothers can take paid leave. “There was no paid leave when I was pregnant with my daughter. There actually was no leave at all. I was back at work in two weeks.”

Richards concluded by emphasizing, “We live by our reputation, our work product.” Though, the bottom line, she said, is family comes first. Son Robert, having just returned from a year of active duty in Afghanistan, attended in support of his mother, as did Richards’ sister, Ruth Shelton. “Career and family. I still think we can have it all,” Richards said.

The AWA Foundation also awarded scholarships to several students at Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Diana Comes received the $2,000 Dorothy Osradker Memorial Scholarship and serves the community by working for victims of sexual abuse. Jennifer D. Haile received a $2,000 memorial scholarship in honor of Judge Rita Stotts. Haile works to help immigrant groups legally prevent deportation and hopes to continue this service after graduation.


AWA Foundation scholarship winners showed their enthusiasm during the AWA annual banquet.
AWA Foundation scholarship winners showed their enthusiasm during the AWA annual banquet. First row, from left: Michele Spears, Diana Comes, and AWA Scholarship Chair Anita Lotz. Second row, from left: Adraine Harris, Jennifer D. Haile, Cloteal Michelle LaBroi and Anne B. Davis.

The remaining recipients were awarded $1,000 scholarships each, and included Anne B. Davis, who also knows the blacksmith trade and serves on many boards including the DeSoto Sunrise Home for Girls and MIFA; Adraine Harris, a former respiratory therapist who finds her inspiration in helping abused women navigate the legal system; Michele Spears, president of the student AWA chapter at the U of M, who focuses on the needs of families in distress from abuse or divorce; and Cloteal Michelle LaBroi, who has worked with the San Francisco 49ers and the Memphis Grizzlies, and wants to eventually provide counsel for professional football teams.

The 300-member AWA is made up of attorneys, both female and male, from the Mid-South area.

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