On Wednesday, May 4, senior managing shareholder at Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz Linda Klein ’80 visited Union to talk with Union students about her path to success in the law profession.
Klein received her B.A. from Union in 1980, and went on to earn her J.D. at Washington & Lee School in Virginia.
Recently assuming the position of president-elect for the American Bar Association in August 2015, Klein is on track to become full American Bar Association president in August 2016. Before her involvement in the nationwide ABA, Klein had been the first woman to serve as president of the State Bar of Georgia in 1997.
She is ranked in lists such as “The Best Lawyers in America,” “Who’s Who in America” and “Chambers USA,” along with acting as a columnist herself on the “Board of Editors of Law Practice Management Magazine.” She is well known for being one of the nine women titled a “Super Lawyer” in the state of Georgia.
Among her numerous achievements, Klein was awarded the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award in 2004, given to women in the law profession who “have excelled in their field and have paved the way to success for other women lawyers,” as stated by the American Bar Organization website. In 2009, Klein received the Randolph Thrower Award for Lifetime Achievement from the State Bar of Georgia in 2009, allowing her to be named in the YWCA Academy of Women Achievers.
“I was asked to tell you how I got where I am,” Klein addressed the audience during her speech on Wednesday, standing on the stage of Reamer Campus Center Auditorium. A fundamental part of her path to success, Klein stressed, was the liberal arts education of which she received from Union. “It [liberal arts education] is going to instill values in you that will lead you to a career in law, or anything you want to do.”
Klein began her talk commenting on how much of Union has changed since her graduation in 1980. She remarked that, among numerous other changes, applications have been more abundant and the student body has become more diverse. However, Klein subsequently added, “The formula for success is not that different.” According to Klein, Union is still one of the best places to begin building a career in law. “A liberal arts education prepares you to think on your feet,” Klein explains, emphasizing how the variability of law requires those who practice it to be versatile.
After she attained a B.A. and eventually a J.D., Klein explained her vocational success by stating, “There is one way to sum it up. I took the jobs nobody wanted.”
This theme first began to emerge during Klein’s years as a young lawyer, when she took on the seemingly unsolvable case of a widower whose wife had been killed by a fallen tree. Desperate to help the family, Klein worked the case until she was able to exact reimbursement for the family, helping them in a time of severe financial need.
The next unwanted job Klein accepted was that of writing about “Uniform rules of court” during her beginning years in the Georgia Bar Association. To her surprise, the article was published in the state bar journal. Consequently, Klein was appointed Chair of Uniform Rules. From this position, Klein took the opportunity to run an endorsement campaign to become the chair of young state bar lawyers. Klein achieved this position, and proceeded to run for and obtain a position on the executive board soon after. Klein eventually ran for chair of the state bar of Georgia and won. Now president-elect of the American Bar Association, Klein continues to endorse the fact that “it all came from the job nobody wanted.”
Klein continued the talk by pointing out some major campaigns she plans on spearheaded once she is officially ABA president. Klein intends to expand legal services for veterans, expressing her dismay at the statistic that the highest rising percentage of homeless people is female veterans.
Klein also aims to establish education as a civil right. “I wouldn’t be where I am without education. You wouldn’t be where you are without yours,” Klein points out, stressing that educational opportunity is not, but should be, attainable for all.
After giving an overview of her background, path to success, and goals for the future, Klein opened the floor to questions with the statement: “Someone wrote this long speech for me to give to you, and I think it’d be pretty boring if I did.”
Klein was first asked if she had been a part of the pre-law society while studying at Union. Klein replied, “We didn’t have that. I worked at the radio show. That was fun.”
Next, Klein was asked for advice on applying for law school. Klein responded that knowledge of a second language is highly recommended. “The world is changing, and we have to be prepared.” Klein emphasized how her understanding of the French language has helped her during several instances in her career.
When asked if the legal profession had changed since she has first started, Klein responded that yes, it had changed “a boatload.” When she officially became a lawyer in 1983, computers and other advanced technologies had not yet been incorporated into the profession. “Technology has changed the practice of law, just as it has everything else,” explained Klein. “We live in a more global society.”
Attendee Gillian Singer ’19, co-president of Women’s Union, inquired: “Have you had any experience with gender discrimination?” Klein affirmed that gender discrimination had been a factor in her vocational experiences since the very beginning of her career. According to Klein, many clients, even female clients, would ask her bosses to not assign her to their case due to her being a female. “Women still make three quarters of what men make in the legal profession,” Klein states. “But the future is going to get better, because we have to stand up for what is right.”
Klein was also asked to give her opinion on those who are unsure about going into law or are cautious about applying to law schools. Klein agreed that law school is expensive, and that joining without certainty is definitely a risk. “Don’t do it as an easy way to make a dollar,” Klein finalizes. “If you go into law school to make a difference, you will not regret that choice.”
Lastly, Klein was asked about factors that had made huge differences in her life. Klein replied with an anecdote about her first pro-bono case. African-American siblings whose father had just died and whose mother had Alzheimer’s were attempting to finalize paperwork for the mother to be medically looked after. The clients could not find the marriage license that would allow for the completion of such paperwork. After Klein did some research, she found that marriage licenses for African American couples were not kept during that time. Unable to prove a legal marriage, Klein collaborated with the family of the old woman to prove a common law marriage. Klein succeeded, allowing for the paperwork to be completed, and for the old woman to live out the rest of her life cared for and comfortably. Klein stated: “My client never ever knew what I did for her. But what I did for her changed my life.”
After the talk, President Ainlay commented, “Linda Klein is a wonderful example of a Union graduate making a difference in the world. Her selection as President of the American Bar Association is testimony to the confidence her peers place in her leadership. In our conversation today, she emphasized the important role her Union education played in her life journey.”