If you take the job nobody wants, good things can happen.
Just ask Linda Klein ’80, the new president of the American Bar Association, who launched her career by taking on challenges most of her colleagues would avoid.
As a young lawyer, she represented a widower whose wife was killed by a falling tree at a public campground. Other lawyers declined the case, citing that sovereign immunity meant the government could not be sued. Motivated to help the man’s two young boys, Klein made a phone call and discovered that the campground had been leased to a private company.
“The joke in the office was that the young new lawyer made a phone call and got a big check,” she said. “But the reality was that two other lawyers didn’t bother to do the research.”
Her first role with the State Bar of Georgia was another job nobody wanted: to poll Georgia lawyers for their thoughts on the new uniform rules of the court. Her work was published in the Atlanta bar journal, then the state bar journal. That led to an invitation to run (successfully) for the Board of Governors of the Georgia State Bar.
“It all came from taking the job that nobody wanted,” Klein told students last spring during a campus talk.
Klein is the senior managing shareholder at the Atlanta, Ga.-based firm of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berlowitz. Her practice includes most types of business dispute resolution, including contract law, employment law and professional liability. She works with clients in the construction, higher education and pharmaceutical industries.
In 1997, she became the first woman (and the “first Yankee,” she noted) to serve as president of the State Bar of Georgia. During her term, she advocated for state funding to hire lawyers for indigent victims of domestic violence. She organized a statewide group of community organizations and local and minority bar associations that together convinced the General Assembly to appropriate $2 million. Since then, the annual appropriations have helped thousands in Georgia with legal issues related to domestic violence.
She served as chair of the ABA’s House of Delegates, the second highest office in the organization, from 2010−2012. She has also served as chair of the Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section, chair of the Committee on Rules and Calendar of the House of Delegates, chair of the Coalition for Justice, and chair of ABA Day, the Association's Congressional outreach effort. She is a member of the Council of the ABA Section of International Law and also serves as a columnist and on the Board of Editors of Law Practice Management Magazine. In 2004, the American Bar Association honored Klein with the prestigious Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award.
The author of numerous published works, she is a frequent lecturer in the southeast U.S. She also has given talks in France, Sweden, Spain, Russia, Great Britain and Canada.
After graduating from Union, she earned her law degree from Washington & Lee University.
Among her plans as president of the ABA, she will focus on coordinating legal services for veterans and their families, who face a range of challenges including evictions, child custody and denial of benefits.
“When our justice system fails veterans, the legal profession has to answer the call on their behalf,” she said. “Those who sacrifice so much for our freedom and for our country deserve nothing less.”