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Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association helped Michele Mirman early and late in her career

August 15, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Michele Mirman was able to turn to the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association early in her career when she had no one to turn to. Nearly 40 years later, she went back to the same bar association as an outlet for herself and a way to help women that are just starting out in their careers. Eagle photos by Mario Belluomo

Bar associations play different roles for attorneys from personal and professional, to helping some advocate for others and their communities, and some it is merely a way for them to keep up with their continuing legal education credits.

For Michele Mirman, the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association (BWBA) helped her as a young female attorney breaking into what was then a largely male dominated profession. It also helped her nearly 40 years later in life when she needed an outlet to help her get through personal issues.

“It was so important for me to become president of the Women’s Bar because it put me in a position where I could help and mentor other women. To teach them to support themselves, teach them about jobs, about negotiating, writing resumes, personal finance and investing.”

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Mirman, who is a third generation Brooklynite, grew up in East Flatbush and went to James Madison High School before she went off to Sarah Lawrence College and later Antioch School of Law. Influenced by her parents, Mirman became an activist and advocate from an early age.

“I was very active politically from grade school onward,” Mirman said. “We raised money for the freedom schools down south when I was 10 years old. In high school, I demonstrated every year against the Vietnam War. In college, I did the same thing and then I became interested in prisoner’s rights.”

She had initially intended to go to Columbia University to become a writer, but was convinced by her dad to apply for Antioch in Washington, D.C. instead. When she got there it was a major eye opening moment for her because Washington was so different from Brooklyn and the school attracted people from all backgrounds.

“I’m a girl from Brooklyn who had never been south of Philadelphia ever so Washington, D.C. was like the deep South for me,” said Mirman, who was still just 20 years old when she started law school. “When I started going around Washington and talking to people, nobody understood what I was saying because I talked so fast and they were so slow. More than once someone had to say to me, ‘Honey, can you slow it down?’”


While in law school, Mirman took part in a clinical program that represented local prisoners in disciplinary hearings. It was a first-of-its-kind program where previously prisoners had no due process rights and Mirman represented them at hearings. In her experience, that program didn’t do much to help prisoners, but it did inspire her to step up her advocacy for prisoner’s rights.

After law school, Mirman moved back to Brooklyn and began working at Spatt & Bauman, P.C. where she tried commercial and personal injury cases. In 1980, she joined her future husband, Paul S. Mirman, in his Brooklyn law firm where she became the first woman to get a multimillion dollar verdict. In 1991, she opened her own firm, Michel S. Mirman, P.C. and later Mirman, Markovitz & Landau, P.C., and moved to Manhattan.

Michele Mirman was recently honored by the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association and its current president Carrie Anne Cavallo, for her work as president of the organization.

When Mirman first started out in the courts, she was one of the few female attorneys trying cases. It wasn’t easy as she explained that she often had to deal with men talking about or to her in inappropriate ways, or even worse, physically assaulting her. At the time there was really no recourse either.

“I found some women law secretaries and I went and talked to them and they helped me,” she said. “They spoke to people on my behalf because there was no mechanism to complain or a sexual harassment board. They also encouraged me to join the BWBA.”

Over the years, Mirman explained that she got busier, and BWBA got smaller. Eventually, she left. But when her husband died in 2014 it was the same bar association that helped her through it.

“Marsha Steinhardt and Helene Blank had been my friends forever,” Mirman said, referring to two past presidents of the BWBA. “They came to my wedding and were my friends for years. When my husband died, they came to his shiva.

“I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do now.’ He had multiple sclerosis and was sick for a long time, about five years, really sick. Then all of a sudden part of my life disappeared. They said, ‘Don’t worry we have something for you to do.’ The next thing I know I was chairing the Christmas party.”

Mirman didn’t stop at the Christmas party, though. She quickly became a board member and helped organize various events. Eventually she became a vice president and moved up to become president. This was not just an outlet for her, but a mechanism for her to help and mentor other women like she had been helped by BWBA years before.

“It was important to me because I feel that you have to promote women in jobs,” Mirman said. “The more women who have important jobs and make money the better it is for women and families. My husband was also very pro women and I know that it sounds stupid, but I feel like I’m doing something that my husband would be proud of.”

 


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