by Sarah Rutledge Fischer | photo by Joan Allison
In the early 2000s, Maureen T. Holland was developing a philosophy of law. Though she was a successful attorney in a thriving private practice, she was not content to address each of her cases as a mere legal dispute separate from the individuals and communities in which it arose. She wanted to practice law with a focus on the way each decision and aspect of legal practice impacted the client and the community. She wanted to approach the practice of law in a manner that was focused on problem solving.
Holland has a deep respect for the power of naming things, and so she changed her business cards to read “Holistic Attorney”—an announcement of her intent to the world—and that title has been central to her practice ever since. These days she works to bring respect, humanity, a sense of interconnectedness, healing, teaching, and service into every case. Holland is most widely known for her work on Obergefell v. Hodges, but her favorite area of law is civil rights employment law. That is where she is able to apply her philosophy every day.
“I love what I do in Memphis. I love being a civil rights employment lawyer. I love helping the individuals that our law firm helps. I love the practice of law. I love using my education to help others advance social causes and social justice. I’m very enthusiastic about that, and Memphis provides an opportunity to practice in the area of law that I really enjoy and yet also practice in the way I enjoy practicing law. And I feel like if I can do that every day, that’s a win.”
For Maureen, it was not enough to hold this philosophy alone. Her enthusiasm for the good that holistic law practice can bring both attorneys and clients led her to spearhead a 2007 regional conference, titled Lawyers as Peacemakers, Lawyers as Problemsolvers, where members of the greater Memphis legal community spent three days exploring the possibilities of collaborative law, restorative justice, therapeutic jurisprudence, transformative mediation, holistic law, and problem- solving courts. The work that has come out of that conference has begun to change the legal landscape of Memphis, through holistic practices like Holland & Associates PC and collaborative legal organizations like the Memphis Collaborative Alliance.
LGBTQ+ Rights Champion
Nationally, Maureen T. Holland is most well known for her work on Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 landmark civil rights case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples under the Constitution. She came to the case in 2013 when she teamed up with fellow attorneys Abby Rubenfeld and Regina Lambert, and with the support of the National Center for Lesbian Rights undertook to challenge the lack of marriage equality in Tennessee. Their case, Tanco v. Haslam, made its way through the Sixth Circuit Court, was consolidated with three other cases from around the country, and set for review by the Supreme Court under the name Obergefell v. Hodges.
Holland worked closely with the Memphis plaintiffs, Ijpe DeKoe and Thomas Kostura. The two had married in New York in 2011, but when DeKoe, a Sergeant First Class and full-time reservist in the Army Reserves, was stationed outside of Memphis, they were relocated to a state in which their marriage was not recognized.
“There had been some individuals who were against same-sex marriage,” remembers Holland, “who thought—if you don’t like what Tennessee has to offer in terms of marriage recognition, well then, just leave the state. But if you’re assigned here by the federal government, you can’t just up and leave—not if you are on a military base, and you are part of that process.”
Holland spent a lot of time helping DeKoe and Kostura navigate the onslaught of media, and she was well prepared for her role. Before Obergefell, Holland had a long history of representing LGBTQ+ clients—fighting discrimination and sexual harassment and working with couples to create documentation to secure rights that couldn’t be obtained through marriage. Moreover, Holland was personally invested; she and her wife had married in 2011 in Vermont, but that marriage was not recognized in Tennessee. It was important that the focus stay on the clients, but Holland was able to draw on her own personal experience in her representation.
“When a reporter was asking me, ‘Well, why does this matter or how does this matter,’ I could use my personal experiences to explain how things matter without identifying myself in that explanation. It really helped me—because I was going through it also—to explain what was going on for our clients. I knew personally how that was.”
Mother of Wasps
In the Spring of 2020, when the world shut down in hopes of slowing the Covid-19 pandemic, and legions of people began baking bread and raising chickens, Maureen T. Holland became fascinated with a wasp who had built a nest in her recycling bin. Each time Holland threw out her recycling, she would see the wasp.
“She was very shy and hid on her little nest, and I’d think, ‘she’s not very smart. She’s going to end up having to move her nest.’ And I’d haul my bin to the street.”
But each time she brought back the empty bin, the nest was still adhered to its side, and each time the mother wasp would return to sit on her nest. Holland became fascinated and started doing research.
She learned that her wasp was a red paper wasp, a non-aggressive and beneficial pollinator who also eats bugs. She learned about the life cycle of the female wasp—the way she, like any single mom, works tirelessly to build the nest for her young, to feed them day in and day out. The way her children’s survival depends entirely on her.
Then one day, the unthinkable happened. The mother wasp did not return. And that is when Holland took on the most unusual of her many titles— Mother of Wasps—and began to raise the young by hand.
Her learning curve was steep.
“There is almost no information about how to [raise wasps]” she laughed. “As it turns out, there is no one who really has done this.”
But after much trial and error, she landed upon a homemade meal worm paste that the infant wasps would eat. (She would later supplement their diet with royal jelly from honeybees.) Eventually the first female wasp emerged from her custom- built cocoon area.
“She was enormous and beautiful and would be killed within a few days by a cardinal. But the other two females who also had emerged, they laid eggs, and those eggs became males. Those females would end up dead after a period of weeks. I then hand raised the males. They were attacked by ants. The saga goes on and on. But I learned a lot, and one survived. I watched him leave into the world.”
And with his flight, Holland succeeded in raising the grandson of that original mother wasp who had so entranced her. These days she uses the experience to advocate for the humane treatment of these gentle pollinators. And she still keeps a nest or two in a box on her windowsill.