Helen Hamilton Day 2019: “Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things”

The Law Women’s Caucus held their annual Helen Hamilton Day event in honor of the first female graduate of UND School of Law. This year’s theme was Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things. The topics included advocating for women’s rights, first females in a professional position and breaking the glass ceiling.

Advocating for Women’s Rights, which was the first panel of the day, included Maria Mitousis, Attorney at Petersen King, Missy Heilman executive director of Bio Girls, and UND School of Law visiting assistant professor Jennifer Cook. The topics discussed included facing adversity in legal practice, overcoming challenges, and how they began working in the law profession.

The second panel was titled Female Firsts and featured Judge Shon Hastings from the U.S Bankruptcy Court, Kylie Oversen, attorney at Schneider Law Firm and Meghan Compton, Chief Legal Counsel for Altru Health System. Each speaker shared their experience as the first woman in their respective positions. They discussed how the number of women in the legal profession has improved over the past three decades. They all agreed that having strong and supportive mentors was vital to their success.

“I think gender equity in the context of diversity makes a difference,” Hastings said. “We all come from a different perspective. So diversity in religion, gender and race makes a difference to our world. North Dakota is becoming more diverse, I think it’s important that we think very carefully as legislators, as lawyers to think about what that means for an individual’s day.”

Breaking the Glass Ceiling was the final panel of the day. The panel focused on how women were able to break different barriers within the work-force. Discussions included setting priorities, life choices, work, stress and self-confidence. The panel featured Grand Forks County States Haley Wamstad, Pitblado Law Firm attorney Tracey Epp, and Briggs and Morgan attorney Kodi Verhalen.

“The practice of law in 1989 compared to the practice of law in 2019 is completely different,” said Epp. “Things have changed so dramatically for the good. We’re not there yet, statistically it is still a challenge to keep women in private practice and in law, generally. We need to work towards change to find a resolution.”

To wrap things up, Epp said “We have to recognize the past. If it wasn’t for Helen Hamilton, most of the people in this room wouldn’t be here. Today we have to works toward eliminating those barriers. A firm with diversity makes us stronger, and diversity builds strength.”

Listen to the panel presentations here


By: Andrew Truckenmiller