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Gender, Power, Law & Leadership

California Western Professor Hannah Brenner

“The first step to getting power is to become visible to others.”

That quote by Sandra Day O’Connor, from a speech she gave in 1990 aptly overarches the whole concept of a new casebook authored by California Western’s Vice Dean for Academic and Student Affairs and Professor of Law Hannah Brenner and University of Houston Law Center’s Joanne & Larry Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics and Professor of Law Renee Knake.

The casebook, Gender, Power, Law & Leadership, published by West Academic, will be released October 29 and has its roots in a number of gender-related seminars Brenner created when teaching at Michigan State University College of Law.

“I created a course called Gender, Power, Law, and Leadership, among others,” says Brenner. “In part, the class was created in response to the historic underrepresentation of women in the legal profession and of the barriers that prevented them from advancing.”

Brenner would pull together case articles and readings because there was no specific textbook to use in her class. She would give the students handouts and assign them different articles every week, but it was a cumbersome process. The only available casebooks were very traditional and focused on areas of law that affected women like employment, sexual harassment, and affirmative action—but not on gender bias and empowerment. “If you wanted to offer a traditional Women in the Law course there was an array of books you could pick from, but my Gender, Power, Law, and Leadership idea was a little more modern in its intent, and there was really nothing in the market covering that as far as casebooks.”

Nonetheless, Brenner taught the course for 7 years at Michigan State, and when she came to California Western, she retained that course as a part of her teaching package.

The class has proven to be very popular at California Western explains Brenner. “I try to cap the seminar at 20 students because I think of a seminar as a conversation or the exchange of ideas, and you can't really do that in a large class setting. But I usually take 25 students because of the high demand.”

2019 California Western graduate, Yesenia Acosta bears testimony to this saying the class empowered her to be an agent for change in our patriarchal culture.

“Instead, we can create a legal culture that encourages women and provides opportunities for them to become partners at a firm, CEO’s, director’s, dean’s, or other positions of leadership,” continues Acosta. “This course made me aware of the many complex issues and challenges women face in the legal profession, but more importantly, it taught me that I can effectuate positive change and strive for gender equality.”

Brenner and Knake state that they have written this book in direct response to the glaring omission of women from positions of power and leadership. They envision it being used in upper-division law or graduate school seminars that address the issues of gender and law. As they write in the introduction, although the focus of the textbook is lawyers and the legal profession, the content has applicability far beyond these confines, including corporate settings, politics, and in many other fields.

Following the fall release, Brenner is very excited to teach this class now that she’ll have the casebook based on her syllabus. Her responsibilities as Vice Dean for Academic and Student Affairs permitting, she hopes to offer this class again within the next few years.

“The education we provide our law students is multi-faceted and includes but is not limited to preparation for the bar exam,” says Brenner. “Reading about the lives of transformative lawyers and leaders, which students are asked to do as a requirement of this class, helps them to grow, mature, and find role models and mentors.”

For more information or to preorder Gender, Power, Law & Leadership, go here.