Maryland Carey Law tops rankings for women in new study

Alumnae and students of the Women, Leadership, and Equality Program gathered during Alumni Weekend to reconnect with Professor Paula Monopoli and get to know Maryland Carey Law’s new dean Renée McDonald Hutchins

When Sabrina Rubis ’22 was considering law schools, her requirements were specific. Having majored in criminology and women’s studies at the University of Florida, Rubis sought a school where she could combine her passions for law and gender equality. 

The University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law fit the bill.  

Rubis was impressed that women comprise well over half of the student body at the law school and, she says, "I had not seen another school so heavily focused on women’s issues. The fact that there was a whole program dedicated to women and leadership to provide opportunities for women...immediately sparked my interest.” 

During her three years at Maryland Carey Law, Rubis took advantage of many of those opportunities, participating in the Women, Leadership, and Equality (WLE) Program, serving as a student attorney in the Gender Violence Clinic, and becoming a notes and comments editor on the University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender, and Class. Now an associate at Blank Rome LLP in Washington, D.C., Rubis says she could talk for hours about how she benefited from the welcoming atmosphere for women at Maryland Carey Law. 

Her experience illustrates the findings of a new paper titled, Women in U.S. Law Schools, 1948-2021, which looks at the progress of women’s representation and achievement in law schools following WWII to the present. The study found that the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law placed historically first nationwide for women's representation among faculty, second for students, and 17th for deans. As these rankings show, the school has a long history of building a culture that values and invests in gender equality in admissions and faculty/staff recruitment. 

The article’s authors are Elizabeth Katz, Kyle Rozema and Sarath Sanga. Katz and Rozema are professors at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, and Sanga is a professor at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. The study garnered national attention in August when Stephanie Francis Ward wrote a piece in the ABA Journal amplifying the findings.  

Maryland Carey Law began admitting women in the early 1920s, with the first five women graduating in 1923. These days, women consistently comprise over half of the incoming class, with an all-time high of 67% in 2019 and 2021. Women also attain extraordinary success at the law school. In the Class of 2022, the top two academic achievers were women, and Order of the Coif inductees were over 75% female. In the 2022-2023 academic year, three of Maryland Carey Law’s five academic journals have women editors-in-chief, and the moot court national team is all women. Additionally, the president, vice president, and treasurer of the Student Bar Association are women. 

Earning the top spot in these new rankings for faculty began in 1969 when the law school hired its first female faculty member. Today, half of the full-time faculty are women. Of 13 faculty directors of academic programs and centers, eight are women, and women direct 11 of the 17 clinics. 

The first female dean was appointed in 1999, and since then, two more have been selected, both of whom are women of color. The current dean Renée McDonald Hutchins is one of those two. The law school’s only senior associate dean is a woman, and seven of the 10 associate and assistant deans are women. Female membership on the Maryland Carey Law Board of Visitors has been on the rise for the past several years and is currently at 42%, but the officers are two-thirds women. Next year’s incoming chair, a woman, is Tamika Tremaglio ’95, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association. 

These rankings, “reflect the fact that we have a fearless feminist faculty who challenge the carceral state, critique the administrative state, and question constitutional modes of interpretation that deprive women of fundamental rights,” says Professor Paula Monopoli, a leading scholar of gender and constitutional design. “That isn’t a coincidence,” she adds. “We’ve spent the last 20 years intentionally building programs that advance women in and through law.” 

Maryland Carey Law is home to the innovative Women, Leadership, and Equality Program founded by Monopoli in 2002 (with support from the Marjorie Cook Foundation). The academic program, which gives students the opportunity to explore structural barriers to women, especially women of color, in the legal profession is the first and only of its kind in the country integrated into a law school curriculum. The program’s mission includes a research component, with scholarship from faculty, students, and others associated with the program compiled in the WLE Paper Series, featuring more than 45 papers downloaded more than 25,000 times globally. 

A highlight of WLE is the Rose Zetzer Fellowship for students, in which Rubis participated. Zetzer Fellows (around 10 each year) take a special applied workshop in which they develop skills in personal negotiation, communication, strategic career planning, business development and fundraising, organizational behavior and dynamics, and leadership development. Rubis says the exercises gave her tools for success, especially in advocating for herself. Being a Zetzer Fellow, “was a tremendous help,” she says. “I learned to better communicate my strengths and contributions.”  

Zetzer Fellows also meet prominent women lawyers in leadership roles who share their perspectives on the pressures, obstacles, and dilemmas they faced in achieving their positions. In addition, they are eligible to do an externship at a women’s policy or direct service organization like House of Ruth, the National Women's Law Center, or the Women's Law Center of Maryland, which is led by Michelle Daugherty Siri ’02.  

The fellowship also includes a research seminar. For Rubis, that meant the intersection of seminar content with her work on the University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class. Under Monopoli’s mentorship, Rubis expanded her seminar paper exploring a Supreme Court decision upholding broad blanket exemptions to the “contraceptive mandate,” into an article published in the journal’s Volume 21 and in the WLE Paper Series. 

In 2021, the Women, Leadership, and Equality Program launched the webinar series, Law Alumnae Leading the Way, featuring panels of high-achieving alumnae offering professional advice for students and early-career lawyers. The first event brought together an outstanding group of graduates who are leading law firms. Other events have gathered alumnae who founded law firms, work in the financial sector, and serve as in-house counsel. 

To celebrate WLE’s 20th anniversary, Maryland Carey Law created the Women’s Leadership Circle in response to growing support from generous alumni and friends who are stepping up to invest in the program. The circle's goal is to grow WLE’s endowment so the program can continue its work on behalf of students, alumni, and the broader legal community.   

Other standout opportunities for woman-centered advocacy at Maryland Carey Law include the Justice for Victims of Crime Clinic, the Gender Violence Clinic, and the Levitas Initiative for Sexual Assault Prevention. Rubis was a student attorney in the Gender Violence Clinic for four of her six semesters in law school. Under the mentorship of a renowned authority on gender-based violence, Professor Leigh Goodmark, she worked on parole cases for incarcerated women who had experienced ongoing domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, pursued powers of attorney for relatives of incarcerated individuals when prisons were on lockdown during the pandemic, helped obtain a protective order for a client, and provided written and oral testimony in support of a domestic violence bill during the 2022 Maryland legislative session. 

Also contributing to the welcoming atmosphere for women at the law school are student organizations that offer events, mentoring programs, and advocacy opportunities around women’s issues. They include the Women’s Bar Association and Students Supporting the Women's Law Center, for which Rubis served as co-president. 

“We are proud of the environment we have built at Maryland Carey Law,” says Hutchins, who, prior to becoming dean, was co-director of the Clinical Law Program. “Our law school is intentionally a place where women excel and gain the support and skills to move into brilliant careers. And we are fortunate that many of our alumnae generously give back as mentors and advisers, building a professional network that is one of the hallmarks of our community.” 

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