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Yale Law Students Hear from World’s Top Women Jurists: Follow Your Own Path

There is one path that women across the globe have taken to a seat on the highest court: the unexpected one.

Top justices from Canada, Germany, Great Britain, and New Zealand addressed a standing-room-only crowd of Yale Law students at the Women in the Judiciary panel hosted by Yale Law Women in September. Each emphasized that they didn’t follow the usual career path to their station.

“You don’t have to play to the crowd or take the expected paths ... to be successful,” The Honorable Rosalie Silberman Abella, Supreme Court of Canada, told the students.

The panel was part of the 15th Global Constitutionalism Seminar, which took place at Yale Law School September 21-24, 2011. Also taking part in the panel were The Right Honorable Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice of New Zealand; The Right Honorable The Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond, Supreme Court of Great Britain; and The Honorable Gertrude Lu¨bbe-Wolff, German Constitutional Court.

“These four women had incredibly varied careers, yet all ascended to their nations’ highest courts—and in being the first or among the first women to do so, blazed a trail for others to follow,” said Tracy Nowski ’13, chair of Yale Law Women.

Eighteen sitting and former Supreme Court and constitutional court justices attended the three-day Global Constitutionalism Seminar, including Justice Stephen Breyer of the United States Supreme Court. Attendees representing the highest courts of twelve countries plus the European Union met on this year’s theme: “Citizenship and its Discontents.” The seminar is one of three major initiatives supported by the Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women’s Rights at Yale Law School.

While most of the discussions between justices were closed, four student-organized panels allowed Yale Law students a chance to interact with the justices.

“The conference offers students an incredible opportunity to get a comparative view on the most important issues of the day and to interact with some of the most important jurists in the world,” said Heather Gerken, J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law at Yale Law School, who moderated the Women in the Judiciary panel. “The justices were lively and informative, and the students obviously enjoyed every minute.”

“As a student, hearing from the justices was both a call to action and an inspiration,” said Molly Weston ’13, Yale Law Women Scholarship & Advocacy chair and one of the event’s organizers. “The talk was truly a unique and uniquely wonderful experience.”

The Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women’s Rights supports Yale Law School’s annual Global Constitutionalism Seminar and established the Gruber Distinguished Global Justice and Women’s Rights Lectures, and the Gruber Global Justice and Women’s Rights Fellowships.

The mission of Yale Law Women is to advance the status of women at Yale Law School, and in the legal profession at large.