Goodell was the daughter of prominent abolitionist William Goodell. She worked at her father's newspaper, The Principia, and at Harper's Magazine before moving to Janesville, Wisconsin in 1871. She studied law on her own and was admitted to the Rock County, Wisconsin bar in 1874. After her petition for admission to the bar of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin was denied in 1876, Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly John B. Cassoday sponsored a bill expressly authorizing women to be admitted to the state bar. The bill passed in 1877, and Goodell was admitted to practice before the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1877.
In 1880, Goodell argued and won her first case in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, shortly before she died of cancer.
Betty Diamond's play Lavinia is about Goodell. Wisconsin Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, the State Court’s Office, and several notable professors of women’s studies brought Goodell's story to the Wisconsin Humanities Council for grant funding in 2012. The WHC first funded Diamond’s research and writing of the play, and then with a second grant in 2014 funded the performance of the play throughout Wisconsin.
- "Past Lavinia Goodell - Wisconsin Humanities Council - Wisconsin Humanities Council". Wisconsinhumanities.org. Retrieved 2015-03-19.
- Cleary, Catherine B. "Lavinia Goodell, First Woman Lawyer in Wisconsin", Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 74, no. 4 (Summer 1991), pp. 242–271.
- Schier, Mary Lahr. Strong-Minded Woman: The Story of Lavinia Goodell, Wisconsin's First Female Lawyer. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0-9671787-3-8
- Profile, Wisconsin Historical Society
- Rhoda Livinia Goodell, 1839 - 1880 at Dictionary of Wisconsin History
- Profile, Wisconsin State Bar
- Teresa M. Derichsweiler, "The Life of Lavinia Goodell: Wisconsin's First Woman Lawyer", Stanford Women's Legal History Project, spring 1997