September 11, 2014 Articles

Nancy Scott Degan: Leading the Section of Litigation

Two qualities are apparent in this year's chair: grace and an interest in service.

By Ghenette Wright Muir

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Nancy Scott Degan, who was recently sworn in as 2014–2015 Chair of the Section. Two qualities became apparent as we discussed her goals and plans for the future: grace and service.

A business litigator for over 30 years, Degan has planned a number of initiatives for her upcoming year. One is the Law School Outreach Program. Degan explained that “law students need the guiding hands of experienced practitioners.” Each leader in the Section will assist with advancing this initiative. Degan pointed out that everyone who accepted a leadership position for this year has committed to conduct a program designed to help law students while they are in law school and also show them how they can benefit by partnering with the ABA throughout their legal careers.

Degan, a member of the ABA for 31 years, has been a leader in the Section of Litigation for over 20 years. Her service to the ABA provides an example of how young lawyers can get involved and how serving others can help expand your knowledge, relationships, and ability to make positive impacts on the legal profession. Nancy recalled being a big fan of Litigation News when she was a young lawyer. In 1991, after speaking with her mentor, she decided to answer a call for editors for the publication. Bob Rothman was the editor-in-chief at the time, and Bob gave Degan a chance.

Since holding that first position, Degan states that she has held many Section leadership positions: cochair of the Business Torts Committee; Division V director; cochair of the 2002 Section Annual Conference; member of Council; managing director; and revenue officer. Degan believes that all of her leadership roles have prepared her well for the position as chair of the Section of Litigation.

In addition to her commiment to helping law students get involved in the ABA, Degan is passionate about expanding Project H.E.L.P (Homeless Experience Legal Protection), a project started in her hometown New Orleans. Project H.E.L.P provides pro bono services to homeless people on a regular basis. Degan has personally volunteered for the program and has seen how pro bono service to the homeless can change lives. “We have the power to help the people,” she said. Degan found that homeless people are often unaware that they are entitled to benefits such as veteran’s benefits or social security benefits, and assistance from a lawyer can make a world of a difference. Project H.E.L.P. is now in 20 cities throughout the United States, and Degan wants to expand the program to 10 more cities, including Miami, Houston, and Washington, D.C.

Degan also plans to zealously advocate for our members and points out that we are the voice of the litigators for the United States. "The American Bar Association is the biggest professional organization in the world with over 400,000 members. The Section of Litigation is the largest section in the ABA. Due to our size and prestige we are the voice for litigators, and I will continue to embrace that role and embrace resolutions that help our members,” said Degan.

Degan is also committed to diversity and inclusion and will keep her finger on the pulse of the fine work that the Section has been doing to ensure that “diverse members of the legal community have meaningful positions within our organization.” She commends the efforts of the LGBT Litigator Committee, Access to Justice, and the Leadership Fellows Program, which provides opportunities for diverse lawyers to participate in leadership roles within the Section. Degan also applauds the work of U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby for her commitment to and progress in promoting diversity and inclusion within the Section.

Degan is inspired by leaders who lead in order to assist others rather than those who lead to seek recognition. She is passionate about serving society and admires leaders such as Mother Teresa, who said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” The Section of Litigation is fortunate to have Nancy Scott Degan, a lawyer who humbly serves with passion and grace, as our next leader.

Degan was born and raised in New Orleans and is a shareholder in the New Orleans office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC. She received her BA in English from the University of New Orleans and her JD at Loyola University. She has been married for 34 years and is the proud mother of two daughters, one a naval flight officer and the other a certified public accountant.


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