U of A Law Professor, Dean Emeritus Recognized for Excellence, Leadership
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Cynthia Nance, dean emeritus of the School of Law at the University of Arkansas, has been selected for the American Bar Association’s 2018 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award. The honor, established in 1991 by the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, recognizes and celebrates the accomplishments of women lawyers who have excelled in their field and have paved the way to success for other women lawyers.
“This is a huge honor, and I can think of no one more deserving than Dean Nance,” said Stacy Leeds, dean of the law school. “The ABA Commission on Women has been giving this award for nearly four decades, honoring individuals with backgrounds as varied as small-firm practitioners and professors to U.S. Supreme Court justices and corporate general counsel, and she fits seamlessly into this illustrious list.”
Nance’s nomination included more than 20 letters of support. Many of them called her a trailblazer, citing her distinctions as the first woman and first African American to be dean of the University of Arkansas School of Law and the first woman law school dean in the state of Arkansas. Nance’s successor at the law school was also a woman, and in December, the University of Arkansas Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law announced the hiring of its first woman dean – leadership choices that are due, in part, to Nance’s successful tenure.
“She has forged a path for me and other female attorneys, particularly those of color, that allows us to continue to break barriers such as she has,” a former student wrote in a letter of support.
Nance is passionate about service in general and is particularly committed to her work as a mentor and positive example to women. She has influenced countless women to attend law school and pursue legal careers who now tell stories about the important role she played in their professional development and personal lives. She serves not only as a role model, but also as an inspiration and champion for others. She actively encourages, guides and advocates for her fellow legal practitioners and academics.
“I know that I stand on her shoulders and that whatever my accomplishments are in the future, it is her belief in me, her encouragement, her support and mostly her example that will make all of it possible,” wrote another student. “I hope to live up to her vision of my potential.”
Nance mentors students outside the law school as well. A member of the Phi Alpha Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., she currently serves as the faculty adviser to the local Kappa Iota chapter. She is also a member of the Graduate Advisor’s and President’s councils. Her commitment to the organization is evident in her leadership roles over the years, which have included terms as president, vice president and graduate adviser. In 2017, she received the Mary Louise Williams Guiding Star for Public Service Award from the sorority’s South Central Region.
Nance continues to instill her conviction for giving back in law students as the University of Arkansas School of Law’s first director of Pro Bono and Community Engagement. She is also the school’s Nathan G. Gordon Professor of Law, serves as the school’s representative to the U of A’s Diversity and Inclusion Core Team and is a member of the advisory board for the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas School of Law’s Women Students of Color Research Study.
In addition to donating her time and expertise, she has also established two scholarships. She created the Dennis Shields Award scholarship at the University of Iowa College of Law in honor of a former assistant dean and director of admissions who was instrumental in her decision to attend law school. She endowed the Eual Dean and Fern Nance Social Justice Scholarship in her parents’ names at the University of Arkansas.
Nance is committed to social justice issues. She is a champion for victims of domestic violence and volunteers to represent victims of domestic violence. She is an active member of the Fayetteville Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and has served on its prison ministry for several years, going to a women’s prison, having church service, sharing communion and blessing and praying over those who are being released.
Nance has achieved professional excellence in labor and employment law and as a legal educator. She is an elected member of American Law Institute and the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers. The list of her leadership positions in national, state and local professional organizations and affiliations is lengthy.
Her articles appear in journals including the Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, Brandeis Law Review, Iowa Law Review and Rutgers Law Review. She has given presentations on various legal and educational issues, nationally as well as in Mexico, Brunei and Singapore. She was invited by the U.S. State Department to speak in the Ukraine during Black History Month and served as keynote speaker during the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas’ inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration.
Nance is well known and highly respected within the American Bar Association for her professionalism, personal warmth and kindness and is sought after for her knowledge, perspective, insights and determination. She has held many leadership positions throughout the organization and currently serves as the Eighth Circuit Member of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, represents the ABA Labor and Employment Law Section in the ABA House of Delegates and is an academic member of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar.
Nance will accept the award at a ceremony and luncheon celebrating trailblazers and their achievements to be held at the Hyatt Regency Chicago on Sunday, Aug. 5, at the American Bar Association Annual Meeting.
Previous awardees have included U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1993) and Sandra Day O’Connor (2000), Ambassadors Madeline K. Albright (1996) and Mari Carmen Aponte (2015), U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno (1993), U.S. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (2005) and Mazie K. Hirono (2013), and U.S. Representatives Patsy Takemoto Mink (1992), Patricia Schroeder (1996) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (2002).
Margaret Brent, for whom the award is named, was the first woman lawyer in America, arriving in the colonies in 1638. She was a master negotiator, an accomplished litigator and a respected leader who was involved in 124 court cases over eight years and won every one. In 1648, she formally demanded a “vote and voice” in the Maryland Assembly, which the governor denied. More than 250 years later, Harper’s magazine noted: “By this action, Margaret Brent undoubtedly placed herself as the first woman in America to make a stand for the rights of her sex.”
Darinda Sharp, director of communications
School of Law
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