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ABA president-elect nominee speaks to value for members

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ABA president-elect nominee Patricia Lee Refo with her husband Don Bivens (right), accompanied by a parade of ABA leaders. Photo by Mitch Higgins/ABA Media Relations.

To Patricia Lee Refo, the story of how she first got involved in the American Bar Association is not all that uncommon.

When she was a first-year associate at Jenner & Block in Chicago, a senior partner looked at her and said she not only needed to join the ABA, but she needed to be active in the Section of Litigation.

“I was young enough that I did exactly what I was told and went from there,” says Refo, the ABA’s president-elect nominee. Refo has served in several other leadership roles in the association, including as chair of the Section of Litigation from 2003 to 2004.

Refo explains that she “grew up as a lawyer” in the ABA. In addition to her professional growth, she made many close friends and met Don Bivens, a Phoenix attorney who eventually became her husband.

“After a while we had enough frequent-flyer miles to go to Mars,” she says. “We joke that our wedding was a Section of Litigation meeting. They actually gave us a trophy the year we got married. It’s a little bride and groom on a trophy stand, and it says, ‘Best Use of Section of Litigation Leadership Meetings.’ ”

Refo, a partner with Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix, during her term as president plans to call on her experience both as a commercial litigator and with the ABA to emphasize the value that the association provides to members.

“Whether it’s through our CLE and publications, which literally make our members better lawyers, or the business development opportunities that a lawyer can have through the ABA in terms of networking and raising one’s profile,” she says, “I want to continue to talk about that and continue to make clear to the lawyers of America how important the ABA is.”

Refo also points out that the term for which she has been nominated includes a U.S. presidential election, which may present familiar challenges for the ABA.

“We try to remind the public of the proper role of the court system and the justice system and to remind everyone about the importance of the independence of the judiciary,” she says. “These are not new issues, but these are issues that we will be talking about always, because they are the core values for which our association stands and for which our democracy stands.”

Refo was nominated at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Las Vegas in January after a rare contested race with G. Nicholas Casey, a former ABA treasurer. She will face a vote by the House of Delegates at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco in August, after which she would become the president-elect.

Judy Perry Martinez is currently serving as president-elect and will automatically assume her one-year term as president at the close of the annual meeting. She would pass the gavel to Refo after the 2020 ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

The close of the 2020 annual meeting will also mark the end of Michelle A. Behnke’s three-year term as treasurer. Kevin L. Shepherd, a partner with Venable in Baltimore, was nominated to assume her position after another contested race with Timothy Bouch of Charleston, South Carolina. Shepherd has been a member of the Board of Governors since 2016 and serves as chair of its Finance Committee.

This article was published in the May 2019 ABA Journal magazine with the title "The Drive to Thrive."

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