The Trailblazer

Jean Uranga took the LSAT on a dare and became one of the first female attorneys in Idaho

Published in 2009 Mountain States Super Lawyers magazine

By Andy Steiner on June 22, 2009


Though Jean Uranga is a genuine trailblazer—one of the first 50 women admitted to the Idaho State Bar and among the first in the state to open a law practice with her husband—Uranga prefers not to make a big deal out of her achievements.

“I never set out to be the first woman to do anything,” she says. “I just did what I wanted to do and as it turned out I was one of the first women to do it. Things just happened that way.”

In fact, Uranga never even set out to be an attorney. In the mid-1960s, girls in her blue-collar hometown of Bremerton, Wash., didn’t usually get a degree after high school. But in Uranga’s house, things were different.

Uranga says that in her family, “It was always assumed that you would go to college,” adding that she and her brother and two sisters all earned advanced degrees. “Boy or girl, we never thought that college wasn’t an option.” Uranga earned her bachelor’s from Western Washington State College, but never put her elementary education and sociology degree to use.

“When I graduated in 1971 there was a glut of teachers,” Uranga recalls. “I couldn’t find a teaching job anywhere. So instead I got a job on campus in the library.” Her supervisor, recognizing Uranga’s sharp mind and ability to hold her own in an argument, encouraged her to take the LSAT. The timing was perfect. “I was dating a boy who wanted to be a lawyer and was planning to take the exam,” Uranga says. Always up for a challenge, she “took the test on a dare” from her then-boyfriend with no preparation—and did well enough to get into two law schools. She decided on Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Ore., where she was one of only 10 women in a class of 125.

On the first day of law school, she met Louis Uranga, whom she would marry two years later and start a practice with in 1980. Uranga’s client base is broad, but she specializes in family law and mediation. “These cases are so highly emotional,” she says, “and I try to help as many families as possible get through the process without being hurt.”

Though Uranga doesn’t like to make a big deal out of her early accomplishments, she does like to think that she and other trailblazing women may have had a hand in equalizing the demographics of their profession.

“My daughter is now a lawyer in Portland,” she says. “Her law school class was 50 percent women. An equal split. For someone like me, that’s hard to believe. I think it’s awesome, just the way it should be.”

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