Karen J. Mathis was still in Honolulu last August just after taking office as president at the close of the 2006 annual meeting. She was preparing for a long flight to St. John’s in Newfoundland and Labrador—the first of her many presidential travels—to attend a black-tie dinner sponsored by the Canadian Bar Association.
Unfortunately, her departure was scheduled for the day after authorities busted a terrorist plot to blow up jetliners flying between the United Kingdom and the United States. On the day Mathis left, Honolulu International Airport was in an uproar. And sure enough, when she arrived in St. John’s, nothing arrived with her.
“I had nothing with me but a pair of chinos and a golf shirt,” says Mathis. “I was sitting in my room—literally in a hotel bathrobe—because I had to send the only clothes I had to get cleaned. So I missed my first black-tie dinner as president of the ABA.”
Since then, it’s been a much better year, says Mathis of Denver, whose term ends in mid-August at the 2007 annual meeting in San Francisco.
In June, the ABA Board of Governors authorized continuation of the Commission on Second Season of Service and the Commission on Youth at Risk, ensuring that work will continue on those two issues at the core of Mathis’ presidential agenda.
Plans are under way to repeat the DirectWomen Board Institute held in the spring to prepare accomplished female lawyers to serve on corporate boards of directors. And the World Justice Project being launched by incoming President William H. Neukom is based partly on work that took place during Mathis’ term.
Mathis says she is equally proud of the ABA’s efforts on behalf of military lawyers and families with members in the armed forces.
The issue is close to the heart of Mathis, who describes herself as a fourth-generation military brat with a niece in the Air Force.
The ABA has a long tradition of addressing these issues through entities such as the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, but Mathis kicked things up another notch.
In an effort to expand the presence of military lawyers in the association, Mathis appointed 30 lawyers from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the various branches of the armed forces to ABA committees.
And at the Section of International Law’s spring meeting, Mathis led a roundtable discussion on the legal and moral challenges military lawyers face each day in upholding the rule of law and respecting human rights. A similar program will be held at the annual meeting.
The ABA also focused on legal needs of military families during Mathis’ presidential term. In February, the House of Delegates adopted recommendations that states enact laws to allow military children to continue their schooling with as little disruption as possible when their parents have been deployed away from home.
“Here we’ve got these young men and women going off to Afghanistan, Iraq or wherever it is we send them,” Mathis says. “They shouldn’t have to worry about whether little Johnny can go to school, or whether Grandma will have to pay.”
The House in February also asked Congress to provide civil legal help for all low-income, active-duty service members. Crucial areas include estate planning, counseling on financial pressures that can lead to bankruptcy, and other legal needs. The ABA also is urging legislation to curb predatory lending to service members, and it pledged to help train private lawyers to represent veterans in administrative benefits appeals in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Once her term ends, Mathis, a partner at Denver’s McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, might not show up at the office right away. “I’m hoping to take a little time off,” she says. “It has been a very exciting year, but it’s really grueling. It’s even too exciting to want to sleep.”