August 02, 2015

Roberta Cooper Ramo receives ABA’s highest honor

After being awarded the ABA Medal on Saturday at the General Assembly of the American Bar Association Annual Meeting in Chicago, former ABA President Roberta Cooper Ramo said she proudly accepted it for all the lawyers who inspired her along the way.

ABA President William C. Hubbard awards the ABA Medal to Roberta Cooper Ramo


The first woman ABA president in 1995, Cooper Ramo is also the first woman elected president of the American Law Institute and the only person to have led both organizations. She was a trailblazer in the use of technology in law practice, and helped found what is now the Law Practice Division at the ABA. A champion for judicial independence and adequate funding for legal aid, Cooper Ramo also was the force behind the creation of the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence.

Calling her “truly a Renaissance woman,” who has left her mark on “not only the ABA, but the entire legal profession and indeed our nation and our world,” President William C. Hubbard said of Cooper Ramo: “Throughout her career, she has distinguished herself on every issue on which she focused:  domestic violence, judicial independence, gender equity, public understanding of the law, and the advancement of fair and equitable legal systems across the globe, and countless others.”

Cooper Ramo accepted the ABA Medal specifically in honor of three people who played pivotal roles in her career:

  • Phil Neal, who was the dean of the University of Chicago Law School when she attended and who helped her get her first job in 1967 at a foundation working to end racial discrimination and poverty.

  • The mother of golfer Nancy Lopez, who hired Cooper Ramo to figure out how her then-high school phenom could play on the boys golf team, which was forbidden. After Cooper Ramo got a settlement offer that allowed just the champion to play on the boy’s team, Mrs. Lopez told her to go back and not return “until all the little girls can play.”

  • Martin Luther King Jr., whom Cooper Ramo saw with a crowd gathered around him in a kitchen in Chicago in 1966. In town to organize for voting rights, Cooper Ramo heard King tell the gathering not to despair, that the lawyers and Constitution were on their side and that the lawyers would make sure that the Supreme Court heard them. “Suddenly, I understood the power of listening, the power of the American lawyer and the power of the American justice system to right the deepest wrongs,” Cooper Ramo said.

Saying she gave back the medal to each lawyer and each judge in the room, Cooper Ramo concluded, “This medal will be on my desk, but I hope it will also be in your hearts, and that as you see wrongs before you, you will say clearly, ‘not anymore.’ “