Advancing the Ideals of the Profession: An Interview with 2009–2010 ABA President Carolyn B. Lamm
By Mason Wilson
Mason Wilson is an Associate Editor of The Affiliate and an Associate in the Memphis, Tennessee, office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC.
At the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago, July 30–August 4, 2009, Carolyn B. Lamm was sworn in as the new ABA President for the 2009–2010 bar year. Lamm, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of White & Case, agreed to share her thoughts on young lawyers and her goals for the upcoming year.
The Affiliate : How and when did you first become involved in the ABA?
Lamm : I have been involved since I started practicing law. I began my ABA work in the Young Lawyers Division, where many ABA leaders begin. The ABA YLD is a place where you can learn about the ABA and the profession, enhance your professional skills and network to better serve your clients, earn valuable experience dealing with issues facing the profession and the public, perform community service, and develop lasting relationships with other lawyers. It was a great learning experience that I enjoyed tremendously on a professional and personal level. I became ABA YLD Chair in 1983. Many of the friends I made then remain close friends today, and they were the foundation of a professional network that has since grown and helped me to become a better lawyer, better serve my clients and the public, and become a successful partner at my firm.
Over the years I have served in many other ABA positions. I was a member of the ABA House of Delegates, our policymaking body, from 1982 until the present. I served on our Board of Governors from 2002–2005. I chaired the Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary, which performs a peer review of nominees to the federal bench. I have been active in the Sections of Business Law, International Law, and Litigation, and I have served on many other standing and special committees and task forces.
The Affiliate : How did you progress through the ABA YLD?
Lamm : I progressed in much the same way I have progressed in the rest of the ABA and in my career. I worked hard, developed a strong network of colleagues and friends, tried to be helpful to other people, and always showed up prepared to do an excellent job. One can learn a lot about how to be a successful lawyer through participation in the ABA YLD: work ethic, relationship building, and preparation are important to success in nearly any venue.
The Affiliate : Have mentors been an important part of your legal career and ascension through the ABA ranks? If so, how?
Lamm : Mentors have been tremendously important both in my legal career and my ascension through the ABA ranks. Within my firm, I have had incredible mentors and role models who have opened doors for me and assisted me in the development of my career. The same is true in the ABA. So many wonderful men and women, senior to me and, at times, junior to me, have helped me along the way. That is something I shall never forget, and I, in turn, try to ensure that I help others achieve their professional and personal goals by being a mentor.
The Affiliate : Were you given any advice as a young lawyer that, when you reflect on it now, was particularly useful?
Lamm : Advice that I was given as a young lawyer that was particularly useful? It is very basic, but so often overlooked: Always do your very best. Other advice that was useful to me: Always be prepared; work in a collegial way with those in your firm; share praise with your team; and, always, take care of your clients. Each aspect of this advice has been tremendously important and I am grateful to those who gave it to me.
The Affiliate : Why did you decide to become President of the ABA? From your perspective, what does the ABA stand for and what does it mean to you?
Lamm : I wanted to become ABA President for the same reason I wanted to become a lawyer. When I was much younger, I remember watching the film, To Kill a Mockingbird , for the first time. I remember watching Atticus Finch, standing alone in the courtroom. I remember wanting to stand beside him, to stand for what he stood for, to help him fight and to win. It was not until some years later that I decided to study law, and it was later still that I decided to run for ABA President. But somewhere in the background, Atticus Finch and the need to make a difference on issues of importance for the public and the profession inspired those decisions.
Ours truly is a noble profession. Lawyers fight against injustice and tyranny, protect the impoverished and outcast, and safeguard our most cherished liberties. It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s the work of lawyers willing to stand up for what’s right that brings our own Constitution to life.
But the success of lawyers to advance our nation’s principles depends on more than the hard work, courage, and sacrifice of individual lawyers. It requires our collective action. That’s why we have the ABA. Together we in the professional bar association are keepers of the Constitution and the rule of law. As a leader of our profession, I want to make our collective efforts stronger and more effective by strengthening the ABA so that it will continue to be an effective force for justice.
The Affiliate : What is your vision and what are your goals for the upcoming bar year?
Lamm : In the coming year, I have five priorities, and I will need the help of lawyers across America to address them.
First, the ABA must help lawyers and the public overcome the challenges of our down economy. We will help lawyers cope with the recession, and we will help the public with legal problems related to the recession—such as evictions, foreclosures, bankruptcies, and other issues—to find lawyers who can help. The help of a lawyer can make a big difference with all of these problems.
Second, we need to bring our twentieth century system of lawyer regulation and ethics into the twenty-first century. Technology and globalization present challenges that are not addressed by our current regulatory regime, which hurts lawyers and the public. The ABA was founded in part to provide national leadership on lawyer regulation and ethics, and we will continue to play a leadership role by performing a comprehensive review of our systems and rules. This review will be guided by three simple principles: protect the public, preserve our profession’s core values, and keep the legal profession strong, independent, and self-regulating.
Third, the ABA must become an even stronger advocate than it already is for the legal profession and for the values that make our profession so vital to our democracy. Our work to strengthen the rule of law and expand access to justice in our country has never been more important.
Fourth, to reach our full potential the ABA and the legal profession must look more like America. We must represent the broad range of experiences and viewpoints that make up the fabric of American life. We will work to make the profession more diverse so that we can improve the delivery of justice and better serve the public.
Finally, we must reach for a larger, more active membership so that we can be a stronger voice and a more valuable resource for lawyers and the public. The ABA is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world, but we must unlock the potential of those lawyers who are not yet members or who are not active.
The Affiliate : How do you plan to implement your vision and accomplish your goals?
Lamm : With regard to the economy, the ABA already has begun to respond. President Tommy Wells appointed a Task Force on Financial Markets Regulatory Reform to better understand how our economy failed and to prevent it from happening again. President Wells also launched a web portal of recession recovery resources designed to help lawyers who have lost their jobs or incomes to start their own practices, expand into new practice areas, or find new jobs. At the end of June, President Wells held a caucus on the economy’s impact on lawyers to determine what else the ABA can do to help lawyers and the public weather the storm. I will work to ensure we have the “go to” website for legal jobs. I will build on these efforts by appointing a Commission on the Impact of the Economic Crisis in the Profession to make recommendations about how else the ABA can help lawyers cope with the transforming economy and how the profession can position itself to better withstand future crises.
I also will appoint a Commission on Ethics 20/20 that will perform a thorough review of lawyer ethical rules and our system of lawyer regulation. The practice of law has been transformed by technology and globalization since the last comprehensive review of our rules, Ethics 2000, which began in 1997. Ethics 20/20 will bring our rules and our regulatory system into the twenty-first century.
To enhance our advocacy, I will work with Bill Robinson, Chair of our Standing Committee on Government Affairs, committee members, the ABA professional staff, and ABA leadership to make sure that the ABA gets a seat at the table when important policy is discussed that affects the profession, the justice system, access to justice, and the rule of law. We do an excellent job on certain issues, but we need to bring our expertise and resources to bear on many others.
I also will appoint a team to implement a project on diversity to help make our profession look more like America so that we can better serve the public. They will develop programs to help those who experience discrimination to attain leadership positions in law firms and corporate law departments. I also will carry forward a program from President Wells’ Diversity Summit this year.
Finally, we have already begun work on membership. With President Wells’ encouragement, I launched the Segment Value Membership Initiative, which created task forces representing various parts of our profession to better understand how to make ABA membership more valuable to a broad cross section of lawyers. These task forces produced reports that detailed products, services, and pricing structures that would make membership more valuable to their respective segments of the lawyer population. We have begun to implement some of their recommendations, and I will appoint a task force to work with the Standing Committee on Membership to implement their recommendations concerning relevance, value, and price.
The Affiliate : Will the ABA partner with any other national organizations to implement your projects?
Lamm : I have met with the presidents-elect of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, National Bar Association, and Hispanic National Bar Association to see how we can work together to foster greater diversity in the profession and strengthen our respective memberships. We have not agreed on a formal partnership, but we have many common interests and I hope we will be able to work closely together. I would like the ABA to offer joint memberships.
The Affiliate : What can young lawyers do to help accomplish your goals?
Lamm : Unfortunately, many young lawyers are affected by the poor economy. Many young lawyers have been deferred or “rif’d” and the economy is impacting their careers most directly. The Task Force on the Impact of the Recession will consider what specific programs we can offer to assist young lawyers. I encourage the ABA YLD to consider what programs are a priority, including programs related to jobs, our website, and providing relief from student loans during the crisis. We will look to the ABA YLD as a resource to get through these tough times. The ABA YLD also can help connect young lawyers to information and activities that can help.
Young lawyers also are central to my efforts on membership and diversity. The ABA YLD is the future of the ABA and the ABA has lost significant market share with young lawyers since I was ABA YLD Chair. If the ABA YLD is strong, then the ABA will be strong for generations. The ABA YLD already has done great work developing recommendations about how to expand our membership. I urge young lawyers to work with me to implement their recommendations. Take personal responsibility for membership by enlisting friends and colleagues who are not involved in the ABA. The same goes for diversity. The ABA YLD already does great work to foster greater diversity in the profession, but we need your continued help to diversify our “pipeline” of talent into the profession. Get in touch with the ABA Diversity Center and ask how you can help reach young people of color and encourage them to begin careers in the law.
The Affiliate : Why should young lawyers become involved in the ABA?
Lamm : First of all, the ABA and the ABA YLD are great resources to enhance your professional skills and advance your career. You can learn about a wide range of substantive legal and policy issues. You can hone your debating skills. You have opportunities to develop practical experience working on various projects and activities. You can enhance your credentials by writing articles or appearing on panels. And, you can develop a professional network that will help you service the clients you have and develop others.
Second, getting involved in the ABA and ABA YLD is a way for young lawyers to advance the ideals of our profession. Unfortunately, business-related pressures can become overwhelming for lawyers, especially young lawyers. But we need to make sure that we never forget the importance of the rule of law to our system of government, and lawyers’ obligation to assure equal justice for all. These principles are sacrosanct to lawyers, and the ABA offers many ways to support these ideals. Serving the profession and the public through the ABA is important and rewarding.
The Affiliate : What advice would you give to young lawyers who aspire to become President of the ABA?
Lamm : Succeeding in the ABA requires a similar approach to success in your practice or nearly anything else. Work hard, develop a broad network of relationships, help other people, and prepare extremely well so that your performance is always excellent. If you follow this advice, you will be successful at whatever you do.
The Affiliate : What do you anticipate will be your greatest challenge during your presidency?
Lamm : Well, there will be many challenges, and some probably will be unexpected. But I expect that helping lawyers and the public to respond to the economy will be difficult because our problems are so large, and our ability to help may be limited. Also, reviewing our ethics rules and system of regulation will be challenging because the issues are complex and many approach them in a self-interested way. I am confident, however, that we will overcome these challenges through discussion, persistence, and hard work.
Informally Yours: Carolyn B. Lamm
Mac or PC?
Favorite song?
So many. “Ode to Joy” and many more from the seventies, eighties, ninties, and today.
Favorite book?
My favorite book is The Great Game by Lord Kinross. My weekly read is The New Yorker and monthly is Gourmet and Saveur magazines. Further, I am always reading the latest case out of ICSID or the latest treatise on international law.
Must-see TV show?
BBC World News ; CNBC: Market Edge and Opening Bell
What was the last good movie you saw?
Slumdog Millionaire.
If not a lawyer, what would you be?
I cannot imagine being anything other than a lawyer.
Who would play you in the movie about your life?
Julia Roberts.
Worst job (can be nonlegal)?
Anything stationary and rote.
Favorite outdoor activity?
Running, skiing, golf.
If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be?
My kids.