At a special gathering Wednesday, attorney Scott Barnhart pointed out the legacy of the late Shirley Shideler – women lawyers are now commonplace in the legal profession.
Barnhart, representing the Indiana Bar Foundation at the event, said he practices with so many female attorneys that he forgets individuals like Shideler had to break down the obstacles that were blocking women from entering the profession.
Barnes & Thornburg LLP honored its former colleague Shideler at the second annual Shirley’s Legacy reception at the firm’s Indianapolis office. As part of the evening event, Lauren Robel, provost of Indiana University in Bloomington and executive vice president of Indiana University, and Kristin Fruehwald, retired of counsel at Barnes & Thornburg, were recognized for their contributions to the legal profession.
Shideler became the first female at any major law firm in Indiana when she joined Barnes & Thornburg as an associate attorney in 1964. In 1971, she was promoted to partner, becoming the first woman to join the partner ranks at a large Indiana firm. Then in 1998, she became the first women president of the Indiana Bar Foundation.
“She wasn’t just a good legal mentor, she was a great lifestyle mentor,” said Fruehwald, who during her career at Barnes & Thornburg worked closely with Shideler. “She struggled. She was a single parent, she had a daughter, she had a lovely mother that helped her out but, you know, her life was harder than mine. I think she made sure that my life wasn’t as hard as it could have been.”
During the reception, Barnes partner Nicholas Kile presented the awards to Robel and Fruehwald and highlighted their accomplishments. He recalled as a student in Robel’s constitutional law class, he was inspired by her passion for the law. He described Fruehwald as exemplifying what it means to be an excellent lawyer.
Robel served as the first female dean of Indiana University Maurer School of Law from 2003 until she was named interim provost at IU Bloomington in 2011. She was inspired to pursue a career in the law by watching the fight for Civil Rights unfold around her home in Alabama in the mid-1960s.
“I loved it so much and I felt so privileged to be able to study the law,” Robel said. “There were always places along the way where I was the only woman in the room but that was just a condition of the time. I always felt that gave me a possibility to open the door for others.”
Shideler had been a legal secretary at Barnes prior to becoming an attorney. She continued to work at the firm while she went to law school at night and raised her daughter.
Robel feels a kinship to Shideler because she, too, had a daughter and worked while studying the law. She said honoring Shideler’s trailblazing career is important because it gives new attorneys, both women and men, a reminder that they can overcome any hardship.
Fruehwald joined the legal profession after a career as a special education teacher. Being a lawyer was something she always wanted and despite her father’s objections, she eventually decided to go to law school.
“I have enjoyed it and I would encourage women to go into the law,” she said. “I don’t see this as being a bad place for women at all. I see this as a welcoming place and a place where there are opportunities.”