February 22, 2017 Articles

Spotlight on Roula Allouch, Civil Rights Activist and Litigator

By Mark A. Flores

Roula Allouch currently serves as chair of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) national board. She previously served on CAIR's Cincinnati chapter board, between 2008 and 2013. She is also very active in the ABA and is licensed to practice law in Kentucky and Ohio. Roula earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky in 2002, graduating summa cum laudewith a BBA in economics, and earned her juris doctor from the University of Kentucky in 2006. She talked with Mark Flores about various issues related to her leadership roles, her practice, and her life.

Can you describe the various functions and roles you take in your community?
I've volunteered in a variety of ways. My service as chair of the CAIR national board takes up a primary amount of my time. I have also volunteered in my community at mosques and interfaith leadership discussions. I think that this is an important part of bridge building among our communities.

What are your responsibilities in these positions?
Locally, I seek to serve as a leader who can be a voice for the Muslim community in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. My goal is to really connect with the community. I have served at the Ronald McDonald House and volunteered at local events. My responsibilities typically involve maintaining a media presence and taking part in speaking opportunities so as to create a better understanding of who an American Muslim is and what the religion teaches. This is important because there is so much misinformation.

Nationally, within CAIR, I have all the obligations you would expect of a chair. We have a strong board of nine people who work really well together. We work to focus on policies that the organization needs. We also work on maintaining our legal obligations. Of course, CAIR is the largest Muslim advocacy group, and we are working to protect and defend the rights of our community. This has led to multiple speaking opportunities, including on national broadcasts, as well as speaking opportunities at legal conferences and interfaith conferences. One of the biggest blessings associated with this position is the chance to visit our chapters across the country to meet staff and volunteers working tirelessly for our community.

How did you become the national chair of CAIR?
When I moved to Cincinnati, I got involved with the local chapter because I believe strongly in CAIR's mission. It connects well with my personal passion and commitment to advocating for justice. As my term in Cincinnati was ending and I was looking for other organizations to volunteer with, I got a call that I had been nominated to the national board by a former professor who has always been a mentor and friend. I certainly wasn't expecting that nomination and was honored to be elected to the national board. Once on the board, the then chair encouraged me to accept the position as chair. I hesitated, thinking I didn't yet have the experience to serve in that role, but as a younger female attorney, I realized it was a teaching moment for me and I did have a skill set that could serve the organization. I had a gut check moment and took a deep breath before saying I'd be interested in taking on the role.

Why do you feel the need to be so involved?
I've always been driven by the need to serve. As a result, I have specifically focused on civil rights for all people. It comes from my religious beliefs and an obligation on all of us to help our fellow human beings. We are all one, and the more we focus on our common humanity, the better off we all are. As an attorney, I find an additional calling to public service through the use of my legal background to serve the community. Working with CAIR and volunteering with the ABA is a natural fit since it combines my desire to assist people and advocate for their rights with my legal background.

What impact does this mean for you in your role as an attorney?
My volunteering broadens my experiences and gives me a chance to speak publicly, both of which easily transfer to my role as an attorney. Being prepared for a national Fox News interview certainly helps you prepare for your work in a courtroom. It also allows me to be a well-rounded attorney, which, when combined with the broad experiences I have, serves me well as a civil rights activist.

Do you feel your role as a "civil rights advocate" as stated in the New York Times makes you a better litigator?
Yes. It impacts my ability to engage with people who may think differently and helps me with my arguments and discussion with counsel in my own cases.

Do you think this has a negative impact on your ability to be an effective advocate?
No. My obligation is always to my client first. My first role is as someone's attorney. They deserve someone who will give them their full attention. My role as a civil rights advocate, however, leads to less personal things to do. That said, this is how I chose to spend my time and it is an honor to serve in the roles that I have. The weekend regarding the immigration ban executive order is a good example. I spent all weekend working with our CAIR team. It was long and tiring, but we had a really good time, and I wouldn't change it for anything. We are blessed with the privilege to serve and have an impact on people's lives.

How do you balance your life as an active member of your community, an attorney, and just being Roula?
I think that the two first parts, being an active member of my community and being an attorney, are what make up just being Roula. I believe in the saying "To whom much is given, much is expected." I feel so blessed to be in a unique role as an American Muslim woman who is also an attorney. I want to use this position to protect the civil rights of all of us and protect American values of liberty and justice for all. It's my heart and my passion, and it doesn't feel like I'm separating out Roula time.

Of course, I struggle sometimes with self-care and making sure I spend enough time with family and friends, particularly now, but overall I think that the balance comes from loving what you're doing.

That said, I remember when I used to have time to watch University of Kentucky basketball, one of my favorite pastimes. Go CATS!

What role has the ABA played in your career and life?
I've had tremendous personal benefit from the ABA. I remember when I first got involved in the ABA and I would hear about the friendships people made. I remember having some skepticism about the idea of building close friendships with people across the nation, but now I understand as some of my dear close friends are ABA members. The reality of adult life means we don't have time to socialize. For instance, I see a local attorney more at ABA conventions than around town. Being able to connect with these attorneys from across the country is also an excellent source of referrals and broadening my legal network.

Do you feel it is equally important for the ABA to maintain diversity among its leaders?
Absolutely. Overall, it's important for the ABA to continue to have diverse attorneys in leadership positions so that we are adequately representing the diverse communities we serve and protect.

If you had it all to do over again, what would you change?
I don't think in those terms. I think things happen the way they are supposed to happen. I certainly appreciate the profession and mentors who encouraged me along the way, including those at the ABA, and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to advocate for civil rights through my work with CAIR.

Keywords: litigation, minorities, Roula Allouch, Council on American-Islamic Relations, civil rights

Copyright © 2018, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).