January 07, 2021 Feature


Respect is at the core of who you are and what you do every day.

James A. Reeder Jr.

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Two years ago, when I first realized that I would be chairing the Section of Litigation in the 2020–2021 bar year, one of the first things I did was to start thinking about what I wanted to accomplish. Over the 20 years that I have been in the leadership of the Section, I have witnessed many impactful and inspiring initiatives and programs from prior chairs. For several months, I was consumed with trying to identify an initiative that the Section could sponsor that would serve as the hallmark for my year and would be equally impressive.

At some point in the process, however, it dawned on me that I was trying too hard; whatever shape the year was going to take would have to be more of a reflection of me and less an effort to replicate what others before me had done. In 2001, when Scott Atlas tapped me to cochair the 2003 Section Annual Conference in Houston, he was explicit that one of the reasons was because he thought I was funny. I told my cochairs, Nancy Degan and Teddy Adams, to leave the money-raising and people parts of the conference to me, and I would leave the heavy content part to them. My dad had always emphasized to me that the legal profession is a people business. His friend and law partner Tommy Boggs used to say that the primary currency in Washington, D.C., was BS, and that in D.C., my dad was a billionaire. Thus, like my dad, I am naturally a people person.

And so, as I reflected on my own character and strengths, a theme for the year began to take shape. It would be about people. And relationships. And human frailty. And the qualities I learned as a Boy Scout: honesty, kindness, and courage, among others. Moreover, it would reflect all that I had experienced and observed and learned about people and relationships and viewpoints and emotions as a gay man. It would be about respect.

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