When I first set out to write this introduction about important female lawyers, I thought a bit of historical context might be helpful. But within 10 minutes of researching the history of women in law, I wanted to assault the nearest organism with a Y chromosome and a fifth appendage. I’ll spare you the full history but suffice it to say that women have suffered gross prejudice, discrimination, and exclusion for centuries.

Even today, in many professional arenas and, unfortunately, the law too, women are treated as secondary to men, assumed to be less proficient, and considered “bossy” when we’re assertive, “emotional” when we’re passionate, and “crazy” when we speak out against unfair treatment. It’s enough to make one cast aside one’s ambitions and grab a pitchfork.

BUT instead of insurrection, we’re going to do what the brave women who came before us did. We’re going to inspire, encourage, and support each other. And so the team here at Brainscape compiled this list of some of the most famous female lawyers who have forcibly BLAZED a path for the rest of us ... and definitely for you too if you’re studying to be a lawyer.

There are hundreds more important female attorneys who are equally deserving of this list but I only have another 50 or so years on this planet and, if all goes according to plan, I don’t intend to spend them writing this article.

By the way: if you’re a law student or considering becoming one, we want you to have the following toolkit. This will equip you with the advice, study tools, and perspective you need to excel at your law studies and smash the bar (irrespective of your gender):

  1. Brainscape’s Law Academy: a rich and valuable resource—totally free—that’ll arm you with the right study techniques and mindset to take on law school and the mighty bar exam.
  2. Our certified, expert-curated collection of 2,600+ adaptive MBE flashcards for the most critical background knowledge you need to memorize.
  3. Hands-free MBE prep video/podcast series, which you can listen to for free as a podcast or as a series of videos on our Law YouTube Channel.

With that said, here are 10 famous female lawyers—or, as I like to call them: just lawyers.

Charlotte E. Ray (1850-1911)

Charlotte E. Ray was the first-ever female attorney of color in the United States and the first to practice in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. In fact, her admission to the District of Columbia Bar was used as a precedent by women in other states to get admission to their states’ bars. Charlotte went on to open her own law practice but unfortunately had to close shop after a few years because racial and sexist prejudice choked her supply of clients.

The silver lining is that, as the first black female attorney in the country, Charlotte’s legacy paved a path for other women and women of color to pursue an education and career in law.

Eunice Carter (1899 - 1970)

Eunice Carter quote;  famous female attorney

Eunice Carter was one of New York's first black female lawyers, and one of the first prosecutors of color in the United States. She played an enthusiastic and active role in the United Nations committees to advance the status of women in the world. She also spearheaded a prostitution racketeering investigation that culminated in the successful prosecution of Mafia VIP Charles "Lucky" Luciano on the charge of compulsory (forced) prostitution.

(Sorry, Charlie: turns out there is a “difference between good money and bad money”.)

Bella Abzug (1920 - 1998)

Bella Abzug quote; female attorney

Bella Abzug—AKA “Battling Bella”—is one of the most influential female attorneys and women’s rights activists in history, advocating tirelessly for the rights of people of all genders, races, religions, and sexual orientations. A graduate of Columbia Law School, Bella was an American lawyer, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and a leader in the women’s movement, where she worked side-by-side with the likes of Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, and Betty Friedan to found the National Women's Political Caucus. She was also the first female attorney to introduce a gay rights bill to Congress.

Read: How to study for the bar more efficiently

Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005)

Constance Baker Motley Quote; female lawyer

Constance Baker Motley broke so many glass ceilings for women in law that conservatories, greenhouses, and sunrooms around the world set up an official ban on her entering them. Seriously though, Ms. Motley was not only the first female attorney to work for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, she was also the first African-American woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court; the first African-American woman appointed to the federal judiciary; and the First African-American woman to sit in the State Senate (NY).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933 - 2020)

Ruth Bader Ginsberg Quote; famous female lawyer

Ruth Bader Ginsberg is arguably one of the most famous female lawyers in history and for good reason. From graduating at the top of her class at Columbia Law School and returning to teach civil procedure to become the second-ever female lawyer to serve on the United States Supreme Court, Ginsberg’s career is a remarkable and inspiring one. She landed many satisfying victories in the Supreme Court, while also dedicating a significant portion of her career advocating for women’s rights and gender equality.

Read: Key tips for acing your law firm interviews

Gloria Allred (1941 - Present)

Gloria Allred Quote; female attorney

Gloria Allred is a famous female lawyer—considered one of the most influential in the legal profession today—and a champion for women’s rights both in and out the courtroom. Throughout her career, she has fought for a huge number of women clients in a variety of cases typically involving women’s rights, sexual harassment, employment discrimination, and wrongful termination. A highly skilled orator, publicity hound, and media manipulator, Allred has been the legal firepower behind many high-profile suits involving celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Scott Lee Cohen, Anthony Weiner, and Tommy Lee.

Sonya Sotomayor (1954 - Present)

Sonya Sotomayor quote; female lawyer

As the first Latina and Hispanic Supreme Court Justice appointed to the bench, Sonya Sotomayor has blazed many trails for female lawyers. In 1991, then-President George H. W. Bush nominated her to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Six years later, she was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by President Bill Clinton. Today, she is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and one of the most liberal voices on the Court.

Read: How to take a practice bar exam—23 key tips

Loretta Lynch (1959 - Present)

Loretta Lynch Quote; famous female lawyers

A Harvard Law School graduate, Loretta Elizabeth Lynch is an American lawyer who, from 2015 to 2017, served as the 83rd attorney general of the United States. Before that, she was the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York under both presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Her confirmation as U.S. Attorney General made her the second-ever African American, the second woman, and the first woman of color to hold that position. Today, Lynch is a partner in the litigation department at the firm of Paul | Weiss.

Sally Yates (1960 - Present)

Sally Yates Quote; famous female attorneys

Sally Quillian Yates was the U.S. Deputy Attorney General (nominated by President Barack Obama) and Acting Attorney General (AG) when president Donald Trump was inaugurated. After 10 days as AG, she was dismissed by Trump for “insubordination” after she opposed an executive order that temporarily banned the admission of refugees and barred travel from certain Muslim-majority countries. Yates stated the order was neither defensible in court nor consistent with the Constitution.

Read: Best YouTube channels for law students

Kamala Harris (1964 – Present)

Kamala Harris Quote; famous female lawyers

As the current Vice President of the United States of America, Kamala Harris is undoubtedly one of the most famous female lawyers in history, smashing a whole suite of important firsts: the first woman, the first person of color, and the first South Asian American Vice President in American history. Harris earned her law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of Law, after which she worked her way up from Deputy District Attorney in California to DA of San Francisco and Attorney General of California, becoming the first person of color to hold those positions.

Other female attorneys to be inspired by

As I mentioned previously, there are simply too many incredible female lawyers to include in one humble article, but we would love to give a shout-out to the following women for their accomplishments. We encourage all budding lawyers, whether men or women, to explore and view their achievements as a testament to the power and ferocity of women in law.

  • Karen Dunn: Trial attorney and partner at Paul | Weiss LLC
  • Lisa Blatt: has argued over 40 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Elizabeth Warren: Former law professor and senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts
  • Michelle Obama: Attorney, best-selling author, and the former U.S. First Lady
  • Judy Sheindlin: Prosecutor, Manhattan family court judge, and television personality Judge Judy.
  • Elena Kagan: Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

Read: The best MBE flashcards for law school and bar exam prep

Brainscape is here for you on your learning journey

Female attorney practicing law in a courtroom in front of jury

The accomplished female attorneys we’ve discussed in this article have, in various ways, revolutionized the legal profession, in spite of the blatant and subversive challenges they faced in their rise to success. If there’s one key takeaway we’d like for you to leave this article with, it’s that you can achieve the same success, if not greater thanks to the trailblazing done by these famous female lawyers.

With tenacity, grit, and hard work, you can become a trial attorney, serve on the senate, become a Supreme Court judge, or even the next president of the United States of America … even if you have boobs!

Whatever your ambition, you can and will rise to the challenge.

And don’t forget to take your toolkit with you on your journey:

  1. Brainscape’s Law Academy: a rich and valuable resource—totally free—that’ll equip you with the right study techniques and mindset to take on law school and the mighty bar exam.
  2. Our certified, expert-curated collection of 2,600+ adaptive MBE flashcards for the most critical background knowledge you need to memorize.
  3. Our hands-free MBE prep video/podcast series, which you can listen to for free as a podcast or as a series of videos on our Law YouTube Channel.