February 20, 2013
Marian Mayer Berkett (L ’37), one of the Law School’s earliest women graduates and the first woman attorney hired by a law firm in State of Louisiana, will be the featured speaker at the Law School’s graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2013.
One of the Law School’s most distinguished alumni, Ms. Berkett has led a legendary and remarkable career spanning more than 75 years. After earning her bachelors and masters degrees at Louisiana State University in 1933 and 1935, Ms. Berkett first enrolled in LSU’s law school but soon transferred to Tulane Law School because her vocal opposition to the administration of then-Governor Huey P. Long had subjected her to surveillance and hostility. Looking back in a 1999 interview, Ms. Berkett called her decision to transfer to Tulane “the smartest thing I ever did.”
After graduating first in her class at Tulane in 1937, Ms. Berkett was hired as an associate by the leading New Orleans law firm of Deutsch & Kerrigan (now Deutsch, Kerrigan & Stiles), becoming the first woman ever hired by a law firm in the state. At the same time, Ms. Berkett continued her activism against the Long regime. With other classmates from the Class of 1937 (including Hale Boggs, who went on to become Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives), she founded the People’s League, a grassroots civic organization committed to exposing and uprooting corruption from New Orleans city government. In the ensuing decades, Ms. Berkett built a reputation as one of the finest and most respected trial lawyers in the American South. Ms. Berkett, who will celebrate her 100th birthday in March, retired from law practice only recently and continues to maintain her office at Deutsch, Kerrigan & Stiles.
“As one who graduated from law school at a time of enormous uncertainty, in the throes of the Great Depression and the prospect of war on the horizon, in a state where no woman had yet been hired as a lawyer by a firm, Ms. Berkett went on to build a path-breaking career of tremendous accomplishment and impact,” said Dean David Meyer. “It will be a great honor to welcome Ms. Berkett, a legend in the law, as our graduation speaker.”
The Law School’s graduation ceremony will be held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in downtown New Orleans.