NHEH Publications

Monterey County Women Lawyers Association: Cooperation and Philanthropy

by Anne Secker, ESQ

Monterey County Women Lawyers Association is a group of lawyers made up these days of both men and women.  The organization raises funds through various events and contributes those funds back to the community in the forms of scholarships and donations to local charitable groups.

The organization which evolved into what is now known as the MCWLA was founded by a group of trail-blazing women attorneys in 1981.  Not only do they promote the common interest of women in the legal profession and the judiciary, but also support each other through cooperation and service to the community.  At the time the group was formed, less than 25 women practiced law in Monterey County and there were no women judges in the County.  Many women found that breaking the traditional barriers into what had been an all-male profession came with unique challenges. 

Times have changed.  Now more than one third of the 500+ members of the Monterey County Bar Association are women and 10 of the 20 judicial officers are women.  The Association has seen positive developments in the local legal community throughout its existence.

“We seek not only to support women in the legal profession, but also to help community organizations that focus on women and the family,” said Sarah Cavassa, the current president of the Association. 

Last year, the Association’s fund raising efforts resulted in scholarships to the Monterey College of Law and to Hartnell College’s Women’s Education Leadership Initiative.  All of the Association’s philanthropic efforts have one thing in common:  providing funds to programs that materially assist with the health, education and welfare of local people and their families.  “It has been rewarding to see our efforts benefit local programs, such as Girl’s Inc. of the Central Coast, Shelter Outreach Plus, Interim and the YWCA, in addition to the scholarships we grant.  We understand that improving women’s lives also improves the lives of their families, so when our philanthropic efforts help women, we are also helping the entire family,” commented Cavassa.

The Association sponsors lively continuing educational opportunities for local lawyers between 6 and 8 times a year.  Speakers include local lawyers talking about specific legal topics, as well as specialized practitioners from the San Jose and San Francisco Bay Area.  “We have the ability to bring in speakers from outside the area because most people love to visit Monterey County,” said Claire Borges, one of the Association’s program chairs. 

The Association is unique among professional organizations in Monterey County.  When the Association polled other professions such as medicine and accounting last year, there were no similar groups in those professions that focused on both professional support and philanthropy.  “It is an honor to be part of such a unique and great organization,” said Cavassa.

© 2013 Noland, Hamerly, Etienne & Hoss