June 23, 2015

Trailblazing New Mexico attorney to be honored with ABA’s highest honor

CHICAGO, June 23, 2015Roberta Cooper Ramo, the first woman to head the nation’s largest lawyers group, has been chosen to receive the ABA Medal, the highest award of the American Bar Association.

Ramo, an Albuquerque, N.M., attorney, is a shareholder in the law firm of Modrall Sperling, where she concentrates her practice in the areas of mediation, arbitration, business law, real estate, probate and estate planning. She also is called on to assist large corporations with their strategic and long-term legal planning.

Besides making ABA history by becoming its first woman president in 1995, Ramo became the first woman elected president of the American Law Institute in 2008, a position she retains today. She is the only person to have led both organizations. In addition, she was elected in 2011 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is a member of the American College of Trust and Estate Council and has been awarded six honorary degrees. 

Ramo will receive the ABA Medal at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago during the General Assembly August 1 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Her success was not always a given. In a 1994 interview with The New York Times, Ramo recounted the difficulty she experienced landing her first job after law school even though she had graduated from one of the most prestigious schools in the country, the University of Chicago Law School.

“Basically, I sent letters to everybody in North Carolina and nobody returned my letters, and then I called and nobody returned my calls,” she said. She got a job — at the Ford Foundation — only when her law school dean, Phil Neal, asked Terry Sanford, the former governor of North Carolina, to intervene.

From there she moved to Shaw University, a historically black university in Raleigh where she taught for two years. A law firm in San Antonio hired her in 1970 when she was nine months pregnant with her second child. Two years later she moved to Albuquerque, her childhood home, where she worked for firms of various sizes, including one consisting solely of herself.

In the ensuing years, Ramo became active in legal and civic affairs, serving many organizations locally and globally and providing generously with her time and talent. In 2013, she was elected board chair of Think New Mexico, a nonpartisan think tank, and she serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Fe Opera and Albuquerque Economic Development. She served on the Board of Regents for the University of New Mexico from 1989 to 1995, and as its president from 1991 to 1993. She also served on the New Mexico State Board of Finance.

In 2003, Ramo was appointed by the U.S. Senate and served as co-chair of a committee to review governance issues of the U. S. Olympic Committee. She was named an honorary member of the bar of England and Wales and of Gray’s Inn in 2000. 

Since 1995 when Ramo broke the glass ceiling for women at the ABA, four subsequent presidents have been women: Martha Barnett of Florida (2000-01); Karen Mathis of Colorado (2006-07); Carolyn Lamm of Washington, D.C. (2009-10); and Laurel Bellows of Illinois (2012-13). The next three in line to become president are also women — President-elect Paulette Brown of New Jersey, Linda Klein of Georgia and Hilarie Bass of Florida.

The ABA Medal recognizes exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer or lawyers to the cause of American jurisprudence and is given only in years when the ABA Board of Governors determines a nominee has provided such  service to the law and the legal profession. Among previous recipients are legendary justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Felix Frankfurter, Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan Jr. and Sandra Day O’Connor. Other recipients include Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski; human rights activist Father Robert Drinan; co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, William H. Gates Sr.; and prominent attorneys David Boies and Theodore Olson.

The 2015 ABA Annual Meeting runs July 30 through August 4 in downtown Chicago. Reporters may request credentials online. To follow news about the Annual Meeting click here.

(For a photo of ABA Medal honoree Roberta Ramo please click here.)

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