The American Bar Association: Serving The Profession Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow

Sunday, April 1, 2007 - 01:00
McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP
Karen J. Mathis

Editor: Ms. Mathis, would you tell our readers something about your background and professional experience?

Mathis: I have been in practice since 1975 and am currently a partner with McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter LLP in Denver. Early in my career I began to practice with Sandra Rothenberg, who was a great mentor and saw to it that I was exposed to a variety of trial court experiences. She has been on Colorado's Appellate Court for the past 20 years. In addition to litigation, I have been engaged in significant receivership, real estate, corporate and creditors' rights work. In 1999, when I realized I was moving up the ladder in the American Bar Association, I restructured my practice to handle estate planning and transactional matters. That has enabled me to be on the road and service clients, something that is difficult for a trial lawyer.

Editor: How did you come to McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter? What were the things that attracted you to the firm?

Mathis: In 1986 I started a commercial law firm and remained there until 2004. At that time my law partner and I knew that we needed to be at a larger firm. In looking for a larger platform I had a pretty stringent set of requirements, including a commitment to diversity and a culture of inclusiveness, issues that have been lifelong passions of mine. The quality of the firm's work was also an essential requirement, as was an established presence in Denver. McElroy Deutsch fit all of these criteria. In addition to everything else, Ed Deutsch, the firm's Senior Partner, is a wonderful spokesman for the firm and for the values it upholds.

The firm has been in Denver since the mid-1990s. Overall, the firm has about 230 lawyers, with 25 residing at the Denver office. About 12 of the firm's lawyers are engaged in personal services work, so my clients are in good hands when I am on ABA business.

With respect to diversity, of the five resident partners in Denver when we joined the firm, four were women. Nationally, about 26 percent of the firm's partners are women. The firm supports a diversity scholarship at Seton Hall Law School, and it also conducts a summer internship program for law students, with about half of the participants being minority law students.

About a year ago New Jersey Business magazine found McElroy Deutsch to be the best place to work in New Jersey. The best place, not merely the best law firm. I think that is a pretty good validation of the choice I made to join the firm in 2004.

Editor: I gather that the firm is supportive of your ABA role?

Mathis: Absolutely. Being President of the ABA is more than a full-time job. In the year leading up to my term as President I was able to book about 500 hours of work for firm clients in addition to the more than 3,700 hours I spent on ABA work. At present, I spend about 400 hours a month on ABA activities, and there is simply no time for new clients. The firm has been enormously supportive.

Editor: Would you share with us some of the highlights of your ABA career?

Mathis: I started with the ABA back in the 1970s. I was hooked from my first meeting of the ABA Young Lawyers Association and my introduction to a group of people who really cared about pro bono and community service. These were the values that compelled me to go to law school.

In time, I became the first woman Speaker of the ABA Young Lawyers Assembly, which is the group's policymaking body. I came to represent Colorado as its state delegate to the ABA's House of Delegates. I also worked on a number of ABA sections and commissions, and I had the very great honor of chairing the ABA's Commission on Women, the first chair of which was Hillary Rodham Clinton. Eventually I became Chair of the House of Delegates.

I have been lots of places in the ABA over the years, and the privilege of serving with some of the very finest people in our profession has been one of the most satisfying things I have experienced in my career.

Editor: Each ABA President identifies issues he or she wishes to address during their term of office. Would you tell us about your principal initiatives?

Mathis: There are four initiatives. The first is the Commission on the Second Season of Service. There are about 1.1 million lawyers, and 400,000 practicing lawyers are in the Baby Boom generation; they will be retiring over the next ten years. Their talents are awesome, and they have seen an astonishing amount of change over the course of their professional careers. This is the generation, for example, that has seen women go to college in unprecedented numbers and then enter professional life, with increasing numbers choosing careers in the law. Because of all of the changes that this generation has witnessed, I think they are in a unique position to change the face of retirement as well.

Every man woman and child in America averages 50 hours of volunteer service a year. Every lawyer averages 79 hours. If you take the number of, say, 40,000 lawyers annually moving from full-time practice into an active retirement and multiply that by 50 hours, you have two million hours for good causes. The Commission is looking at how the ABA can help lawyers transition into a retirement that includes continuing to give back to the community. In late March we go live with an Internet service that connects to at least 2,000 different weblinks, organized by geography and subject-matter. The connections provide an enormous range of non-profit organizations, community projects, pro bono initiatives, and the like. There are opportunities for everyone.

Editor: Once this effort is underway, how can you insure that it will be perpetuated and become a permanent feature of our profession?

Mathis: The ABA has infrastructure and systems to accomplish just this. The Board of Governors, the Program Planning Committee and I have taken this up with Hank White, the ABA's new Executive Director. We have discussed the fact that over the next ten years more people are going to be leaving the profession than joining it, and we are focused on the need to hold on to these retirees through programs and services that resonate with them. I have every confidence that this is going to be an ongoing feature of the ABA.

Editor: A second initiative is your Commission on Youth at Risk. This is not a new issue. What prompted you to try to address it? Have we been losing ground in recent years?

Mathis: As President of the ABA, you try to do some good in areas that need help. Helping children has been an avocation of mine for many years, and I think of them as society's greatest asset. About a year and a half ago, we brought together 60 national experts at Hofstra University to consider whether the issues that young people face today are more complex than ever before, as well as what America's lawyers might do to help. The mission of the Commission on Youth at Risk derives from this discussion.

Fully half of the Commission's members are not lawyers. The group consists of educators, social scientists, psychologists, and people who serve in a variety of organizations serving children and young people. The views and the depth of expertise available to the Commission has made serving on it a very exciting experience.

We determined to look at specific issues, including what happens to children aging out of foster care where there is no safety net. We are looking at how the system handles, or fails to handle, some of the really intractable problems, such as status offenders, runaways, chronic truants or uncontrollable youths. Another issue is the rapidly increasing number of girls in our juvenile justice system.

The Commission has come up with a wonderful array of things that the profession can do to help. For example, in January we co-sponsored, with the U.S. Department of Justice, a national video conference on status offenders that was seen by 7,000 people. I believe that the work of the Commission will continue at full throttle as part of the mission of our Children and the Law Center, which is located in Washington, DC.

Editor: And the Task Force on Rule of Law Symposia?

Mathis: Goal 8 of the ABA is to promote the rule of law. The year prior to my presidency, the ABA hosted a wonderful symposium, attended by some 400 people from 40 nations, including NGOs, the donor community, bar associations, and so on. On becoming President of the ABA, I saw an opportunity to embed the rule of law concept into the very fabric of the ABA. This is crucial, I believe, because the concept affects every lawyer and every lawyer's client.

In September of last year we held a meeting of the leaders for all of the ABA's divisions and sections. As it happened, this was taking place at approximately the same time that the International Bar Association, which represents the bars of 198 countries, was holding its annual meeting in Chicago. We took the opportunity to hold a two-day symposium in conjunction with the IBA, and we were able to bring in a number of world-class speakers, including Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General of the UK, Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, and Martin Marty of the University of Chicago, probably the world's foremost living theologian. The symposium reviewed a variety of issues with rule of law connotations, including environmental degradation, economic development and the conditions necessary for an independent judiciary, and created working groups to work on these and other key issues on an ongoing basis. On April 16, we come together in New York to debate a series of white papers on these issues. That discussion will result in recommendations to the ABA House of Delegates on strengthening the ABA's rule of law policies.

My successor Bill Neukom, a partner at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis LLP who is former General Counsel of Microsoft, is engaged in a very important initiative called the World Justice Project. I know that, as President of the ABA, he is going to take what the ABA has accomplished already with respect to the rule of law and magnify it tremendously.

Editor: Please tell us about your fourth major initiative, the Director Women's Institute.

Mathis: As a consequence of Sarbanes-Oxley, there is now a requirement for independent directors on the governing boards of publicly-held corporations. At the same time, the first wave of women lawyers is now approaching the age of 60 and leaving senior positions in law firms and corporate legal departments. This confluence of events represents a unique opportunity to create a pool of independent directors for Fortune 1000 companies. At the end of March, we conduct our first training session, which we call the Director Women's Institute, for some 20 women selected from a group of 200, all of whom possess extraordinary qualifications as general counsel and senior partners at outstanding law firms. In meeting the demand to look beyond the traditional sources for board candidates, we believe the ABA is serving both the profession and corporate America.

Editor: How are you going to be able to adjust to a normal life and practice after having been, as ABA President, on this mountaintop?

Mathis: Good question! It is an enormous honor to serve our profession in this way and to initiate undertakings that may resonate for good in years to come. I'm passing the President's mantle to a fine lawyer. If Bill Neukom needs me, he'll call. As for me, I'm looking forward to returning to the practicing bar!