Kelly-Ann Clarke: Making Lasting Connections
By Jill M. Kastner
Jill M. Kastner is an Assistant Editor of The Affiliate and General Counsel of in Glendale, Wisconsin.
If you’ve ever been to an ABA YLD Conference, you’d be hard pressed to find someone more energetic or dynamic than the ABA YLD’s incoming Chair, Kelly-Ann Clarke. At the New Orleans Spring Conference, I had a chance to sit down with Kelly-Ann to ask her about her plans for the coming year. This year, the ABA YLD will focus on the theme of making lasting connections both personally and professionally. Kelly-Ann promises we’re in for an exciting year, with a moving public service program and a useful member service project for young lawyers and affiliates.
“I want to do a great job this year, not for me, but, for everybody so the people who work hard this year are proud of what they’ve done,” said Kelly-Ann.
Although this year’s public service project will be officially introduced at the Fall Conference in Birmingham, Kelly-Ann is very excited about bringing They Had a Dream Too: Young Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement to affiliates. The program includes a video about civil rights leaders and others who, at a young age, challenged social injustice and made positive changes. Kelly-Ann received an Emmy for this film. “Yes, I’m an Emmy award-winning producer,” joked Kelly-Ann. But she modestly refused to take much of the credit.
“I helped create They Had a Dream Too because someone asked me to,” explained Kelly-Ann. “It was life-changing for me. It makes you stop and reflect on the long-lasting effects of what they did. We take those changes for granted today.”
“I hope that others will be as moved by this program as I was . . . and still am,” said Kelly-Ann.
She is also excited about the Member Service Project. “We are creating a sustainable product for our lawyers and a catalog of programs for affiliates to use,” Kelly-Ann explained. The YLD is working to create a series of soft skills programs, like networking-in person and online, working with staff, and so on, that eventually affiliates can then take and put on themselves. “The goal is to have the affiliate invite us to present the programs as an affiliate benefit,” said Kelly-Ann.
“Everything we’re doing this year, I feel is a reflection of part of me,” said Kelly-Ann. “I don’t know any other way to do it.” Kelly-Ann added, “I want others to understand the passion the ABA YLD gave me and for them to share that passion with others.”
There is no doubt that Kelly-Ann has enough passion for the ABA YLD and energy to share in the coming year. For now, however, it’s a lot of hard work. When asked to explain what the Chair does for the Division, Kelly-Ann explained that it was mostly “herding cats. You’re constantly juggling everything. You’ve got to be aware when someone’s not getting things done and then get someone else who can do it.”
That means hours of conference calls, letters, and e-mails to read and write—lots and lots of e-mails everyday. “I think if someone had told me that I’d have so many e-mails, I probably would have thought twice,” Kelly-Ann joked. “Some days, you just need to unexpectedly spend three hours on the phone. It sometimes requires you to put a hatchet to your plans.”
The most recent challenge has been making appointments and putting her team together. “You get 50–100 e-mails a day during the appointments process and go through hundreds of applications. I could never have done appointments on my own. We had a team of people working on it.”
“We want everyone to participate,” said Kelly-Ann, “but mostly we need people who will do a good job this year, as well as ensure we’ll have people in place to take over next year.”
When making her selections, Kelly-Ann looked for people who have done high-quality work in the past and not those who just want a title or an award. “I’m looking for people who are here for the right reason—for the ABA YLD, not just for the credit and the glory.”
“In appointing people I took a mixed approach,” said Kelly-Ann. “Some I wanted in certain spots, others I asked what they wanted to do, some have proven themselves in their current posts, and some I decided to give a chance to prove themselves.”
Kelly-Ann explained that when she was new, she was “put in a position where I could do my best. I want to put others into positions where they can be their best.”
• • •
The Affiliate : What made you want to become the ABA YLD Chair?
Clarke : Who said this is what I wanted? Unlike others who plan and weigh all their options, I really made this decision under different circumstances. Because friends prompted me to run for Secretary-Treasurer, I fleetingly considered it. At the time, however, I would have had to run based on the age criteria, and I did not feel I was ready to lead the ABA YLD as Chair. A.J. Schaeffer was an ideal leader, had much more experience in the ABA YLD than I did, and he was running for the Secretary–Treasurer position that would lead to Chair. He was going to be great— why would I challenge that? Instead, I felt that by the end of that bar year, I would have enough experience to be ABA YLD Clerk and eventually Speaker. I also wanted to stay active in my state young lawyers association and the six-year commitment for Chair was more than I felt I wanted to accept.
Well, my great Aunt Sis always said that God works in mischievous ways, and whenever He closes a door, He opens a window. A.J.’s job responsibilities changed overnight and after being elected Secretary–Treasurer, he resigned. At this point, I felt ready to lead the Division at this level and so instantly weighed my options, withdrew my name for the Clerk position, and climbed right through the window!
People say I have great energy and passion—I just want to share that with others and let them shine the way I was allowed to in the ABA YLD.
The Affiliate : We’d like to know a little bit about your background. What’s your story?
Clarke : I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and moved to Houston, Texas, when I was six. I graduated high school in Houston and went to Duke University for college. I love Duke Basketball!
I returned home to go to law school at the University of Houston, graduating in 2000. I joined Greer, Herz and Adams, L.L.P. in Galveston, Texas, an island fifty miles south of Houston and I am still there.
I am one of those kids that always wanted to be a lawyer. I love mysteries and problem solving and briefly considered being a detective, but turned that down after ballerina. By third grade, I had my mind made up—lawyer. At twenty-six, I accomplished the dream.
The rest, as they say, is history!
The Affiliate : What do you do when you’re not working on the ABA YLD?
Clarke : I go out with friends, watch TV (love crime shows), read, and workout—sometimes. I’m crafty, so I make things. I spend time with my parents, two brothers, and a sister, who all live in Houston. I spend every Christmas with them.
My “family,” including friends and my aunts from Jamaica, will be in Chicago in August for the Annual Meeting to witness the gavel pass. I have to do a good job this year, because I can’t go home in shame!
They are very proud of me and very understanding of what I do and why I am gone so much.
The Affiliate : What do you foresee as the biggest challenge for affiliates this year?
Clarke : The biggest challenge for voluntary bars will be membership. As we tighten our belts, anything “voluntary” becomes a secondary concern.
For involuntary bars, the challenge will be fundraising and member participation. Many of our regional financial sources are giving less. So, while it will be a challenge, they will have to find ways to do more with less. At the same time, firms are putting more pressure on young lawyers to focus on billing. This will hurt the firms and the young lawyers in the long run.
The Affiliate : What advice do you have for young lawyers who want to rise in the ranks of ABA YLD leadership?
Clarke : At Duke we had a phrase “work hard, play hard”—that about sums it up. Do an excellent job at whatever it is you have been asked to do. Help out wherever it is needed. If you do it for credit and glory, you are doing it for the wrong reasons and everyone knows it!
Not everyone gets a “Star of the Quarter,” but more often than not, those in leadership notice those who work hard without a prize.
In short . . . don’t complain; step up and help out.
The Affiliate : How do we keep the ABA YLD strong?
Clarke : Good people make the ABA YLD great.
• • •
“I got involved the way most of us get involved. Someone asked me,” said Kelly-Ann. She hopes others will take the time to encourage other good people to get involved. Kelly-Ann explained, “If you want others to get involved, you need to go out, do good work, and invite others to join. We need to look for good people at home and bring them in. Give them a taste of the Kool-Aid, and, like the rest of us, they’ll be hooked!
“Those involved truly know the benefits,” said Kelly-Ann. “You don’t need an appointment to be a great advocate for the ABA YLD.
“So, go out and find the other hidden gems.”