Annual Meeting 2009

With Bill Gates Jr. Looking On, Gates Sr. Accepts ABA’s Highest Honor #ABAChicago

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With his son—the founder of a software company in Redmond, Wash.—looking on, Seattle attorney William H. Gates Sr. received the ABA Medal this morning at the House of Delegates meeting in Chicago. The award is the ABA’s highest honor, given to those who advance the jurisprudence of the United States.

“I’m in awe of the men and women who have won this award before me,” Gates said, citing such recipients as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Thurgood Marshall. “I’m not altogether convinced I belong in that company.”

Gates was a founder of the firm once known as Preston Gates & Ellis, and now called K&L Gates. It now has 1,900 lawyers in 32 offices. Gates retired from the firm in 1998 after 48 years in the practice of law.

During his long career, Gates served as president of King County Bar Association and the Washington State Bar Association. He served in ABA House of Delegates for 13 years and was a member of the ABA Commission on Public Understanding About the Law.

Gates is “a shining star of the legal profession,” said ABA President Tommy Wells. He has long been active in legal services, diversity in the legal profession and professional liability issues. “He’s extended his service to the world” as co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wells said.

In modestly accepting the ABA Medal, the elder Gates praised the ABA’s work in those areas, as well as its World Justice Project, which was founded by a lawyer who was an associate at Gates’ firm when newly formed Microsoft Corp. was its client—former Microsoft general counsel and ABA President William Neukom.

“One thing that sets lawyers apart from other professions is that they take responsibility for the institution in which they work,” Gates told the House. “Yes, we earn a good living. Yes, we do well for our clients. But there is an additional obligation: to serve justice. That is the North Star of our profession. Ours is not the commercial rule that the customer is always right.”

After the ceremony, Bill Gates Jr. talked to the Chicago Sun-Times about his father as a role model.

“When I was young, he was always getting up early to go do pro bono work,” the younger Gates said. “His sense of hard work and integrity and justice had a profound effect on everything I do. He’s been co-chair of the foundation and really set the course for what the foundation does.”

Related coverage:

National Law Journal: “Bill Gates considered his father’s profession, but got ‘sidetracked’”

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